Trudeau denies security officials told Liberals to rescind MP's candidacy

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at a news conference at the Canadian head office of AstraZeneca Canada in Mississauga, Ont., on Monday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at a news conference at the Canadian head office of AstraZeneca Canada in Mississauga, Ont., on Monday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is pushing back against a recent news report that alleges security officials urged the Liberal Party to rescind the nomination of one of its MPs.

"In a free democracy, it is not up to unelected security officials to dictate to political parties who can or cannot run," the prime minister told a news conference Monday.

Trudeau was responding to a question about a Global News report that suggests Liberal MP Han Dong was allegedly helped by the Chinese consulate while running in the Toronto-area riding of Don Valley North during the 2019 election.

WATCH | Trudeau says CSIS can't tell parties who should and shouldn't run for office:

The report cites anonymous sources that alleged the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) urged senior Liberal Party staff to rescind his nomination, but Trudeau approved his candidacy.

"The suggestions we've seen in the media that CSIS would somehow say, 'No this person can't run or that person can't run,' is not just false. It's actually damaging to people's confidence in our democratic and political institutions," Trudeau said Monday.

Stephanie Carvin, associate professor of national security at Carleton University, questioned the suggestion that CSIS would ask that a nomination be rescinded.

"CSIS's mandate allows it to report on threats to the security of Canada. I do not think this would extend to 'asking' the [Prime Minister's Office] to rescind a nomination," Carvin wrote in a tweet.

WATCH | Trudeau defends Liberal MP Han Dong: 

Dong said in a media statement that his nomination and campaign teams have found no indications of irregularities or compliance issues regarding his candidacy or election.

"I have the utmost regard for the integrity of our democratic institutions and electoral processes," the statement reads.

Dong said all procedures and processes related to his campaign and political career have been publicly reported as required.

Trudeau also defended Dong during Monday's press conference.

"Han Dong is an outstanding member of our team and suggestions he is somehow not loyal to Canada should not be entertained," he said.

Opposition parties have called for a public inquiry into allegations of foreign election interference by China.

Trudeau was asked if he would consider calling a public inquiry, but pointed to a House committee study as a means to get answers on foreign interference.

"Openness and transparency is extraordinarily important for our democracies and for active defence of our democracies," he said, adding that security officials will be appearing before the committee in the coming days.

But committee MPs appeared frustrated by a perceived lack of transparency from security officials during a hearing earlier this month.

Witnesses from CSIS, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) — Canada's foreign signals intelligence agency — and the RCMP told the committee they could only provide them with a non-classified briefing and could not comment on operational specifics.

At one point, Conservative MP Blaine Calkins held up documents tabled with the committee that were covered with blacked-out redactions.

"It's really difficult to figure out what we should be doing if we actually don't know what's going on," he said.

"I'm very frustrated right now, with the lack of information, the lack of transparency and the responsibility of trying to figure out how to solve this problem."

WATCH | Former Trudeau adviser on calls for public inquiry: 

Former CSIS director Richard Fadden said the a public inquiry would be the best place to get answers about foreign interference.

"The House has become very very partisan and I think it will be almost impossible for members of Parliament to look at this in a totally objective way," he said. "In fact, I think it's unfair to ask them to do that."

Fadden also suggested that it would be possible to give those working on a public inquiry access to classified information.

"That does not mean that the commission can make that information public. But it does mean that in publishing their report, we would have the assurance of an objective commissioner that they've looked at the material and their conclusions make sense," he said.

WATCH | Senator urges more 'transparency' on alleged Chinese election interference: 

But Sen. Ian Shugart, who once served as clerk of the Privy Council, said that while allowing an inquiry access to classified information might be useful, it might not satisfy calls for transparency.

"There is still going to be in some quarters an appetite for that information," Shugart told CBC News Network's Power & Politics host David Cochrane. "I'm afraid that appetite, in large measure, can never be satisfied."

Still, Shugart said the government "should be as transparent as possible."

"I would even venture to say that at this time the government should err on the side of transparency," he said.