Government still investigating why threats against Chong not passed up to cabinet
OTTAWA — The government is still investigating why warnings that a Conservative member of Parliament was being threatened by the Chinese government never made it to the desk of any cabinet minister, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said Saturday.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the Liberal policy convention in Ottawa, he said the possibility of holding someone accountable for that decision remains "under consideration."
"It's important that we unearth their reasons as to why this was not brought directly to the attention of the public safety minister at the time, as well as the prime minister because we take these issues seriously," he said.
The government has now made clear to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service that any intelligence related to parliamentarians must be passed on to both the prime minister and the minister of public safety, regardless of how confident the spy agency is in the information.
Michael Chong discovered only last week after a report in the Globe and Mail that CSIS had information in 2021 that the Chinese government was looking at ways to intimidate him, and his extended family in Hong Kong. Chong had sponsored a motion in the House of Commons labelling Beijing's treatment of Uyghur Muslims in China's Xinjiang province a genocide,
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said CSIS did not tell anyone outside the spy agency about information it had about the threats, but Chong was told the national security adviser was told about it two years ago.
Trudeau and Bill Blair, who was the public safety minister in 2021, say they were never told.
The revelation about Chong is the latest in a string of foreign interference attempts allegedly made by the Chinese government in Canada in recent years, including efforts to influence the results of the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.
All political parties have agreed any attempted interference did not affect the final outcome of those elections, but Trudeau has appointed a special rapporteur to dig into what has happened and how Canada has and should respond.
Former governor general David Johnston, who was appointed to that role, is to decide in about three weeks if a public inquiry is necessary and report back on all his findings by the fall.
The Conservatives and NDP want to go right to a public inquiry.
China denies all of it, including the allegations that one of its Toronto-based diplomats tried to start an intimidation campaign against Chong and his family.
"We deplore and reject the Canadian side’s groundless smear of the Chinese diplomatic and consular mission in Canada, which is merely fulfilling its duties," said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning, according to a Chinese government translation.
Mendicino said Canada's priority is determining what consequences should befall China's mission in Canada, including the possibility of expelling diplomats. But no decision has yet been made as Canada weighs its abilities under international conventions and the possible consequences of expelling diplomats.
"At the very top of that hierarchy of priorities is the need to hold those who are animating and orchestrating foreign interference accountable for those actions," he said.
On Thursday, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly summoned the Chinese ambassador to discuss the allegations.
Mendicino said he rejects any accusations from the Conservatives that the government is not taking this issue seriously, and said keeping the political rhetoric around foreign interference low is critical to ensuring China or any other foreign actors do not think attempts to interfere in Canada are going to work.
"The whole point of foreign interference is to undermine our democracy, and if you politicize that debate and suggest or impugn some kind of ill motive, you are feeding into that," he said.
Foreign interference is not working now and "it won't work," Mendicino said.
"And those who are orchestrating these foreign interference activities need to know that they are not going to succeed."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2023.
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press