Judge finds no documentation to support Global News reporting on Han Dong allegations

OTTAWA — An Ontario Superior Court judge has found no documented evidence to support allegations made against former Liberal MP Han Dong in a series of Global News stories last year.

The judge made the comments as he rejected an application from Corus Entertainment to throw out Dong's lawsuit against the news agency, saying it is in the public interest to hear the case.

"The matter of Mr. Dong's communications with the Chinese are worthy of the freedom of expression of an open court system," Justice Paul Perell said in his judgment Wednesday.

The Global report early last year cited unidentified sources and suggested Dong privately advised a senior Chinese diplomat to hold off on freeing Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, Canadians who were being held in arbitrary detention in China.

As a consequence of the story, Dong's reputation and life in politics were destroyed, Perell said in his judgment.

Dong left the Liberal caucus in March 2023 to become an Independent, saying he sought to clear his name after those and other allegations related to foreign interference emerged.

He has denied the allegations against him, and filed a lawsuit against Global, its parent company Corus and several journalists just weeks after the story ran.

"While we are disappointed in the decision, we are encouraged by the recognition of foreign government interference as a matter of public interest in Justice Perell's ruling," Corus said in a statement Thursday.

"As the matter remains before the courts, we will not comment further at this time."

Wednesday's ruling spelled out concerns about the lack of documentation to support the investigation behind the news report.

"The defendants have no tangible and no documentary corroboration of the information derived from the confidential sources about the conversation between Dong and the Chinese Consul General," the ruling said.

Perell found the reporter who wrote the story did not see a transcript of the conversation between Dong and the diplomat and did not keep all of the notes that were used as part of the reporting process.

The ruling said the notes the reporter did keep, based on conversations with sources, do not contain any reference to Dong advising a Chinese diplomat to "delay" or "hold off" on releasing the Two Michaels.

The sources got their information through "some indeterminate degree of hearsay," the judge added.

He ordered Corus to reimburse Dong for his legal fees, arguing that Corus's application to throw out the lawsuit resembled an abuse of court processes.

In a statement Thursday, Dong said Global should apologize and retract the reporting.

"Until they do, I will fight to clear my name in the courts," he said.

Global's story was part of a wave of reports on foreign interference that grew into a major political controversy. In response, the government appointed former governor general David Johnston as a special rapporteur to investigate allegations of foreign interference.

The judge noted that Johnston concluded Global's reporting on the issue was "false."

A subsequent, ongoing federal inquiry into foreign interference in Canada's elections also heard evidence about the call between Dong and the Chinese diplomat, but the commission hasn't released any findings or conclusions about what took place.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 20, 2024.

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press