OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday morning that no decision had been made yet on whether to expel a Chinese diplomat who allegedly targeted a member of Parliament and his family.
As China reacted forcefully to the accusation, Trudeau told reporters at the Liberal convention in Ottawa that removing another country's envoy from Canada is a major decision.
"This is a big step, not a small step, to expel a diplomat. So it's one that has to be taken with due consideration on all the potential impacts and all the very clear messages that it will send," Trudeau said.
His comments came as a Chinese government spokesperson in Beijing reacted with "strong protest" to the notion that its diplomat engaged in any wrongdoing and said that "serious démarches" have been made to Canada's ambassador in China.
"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.
Mao said reports that Beijing targeted Conservative MP Michael Chong are a "fabricated story" and a "political stunt," adding that diplomatic personnel abide by the law and international conventions.
Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly summoned China's ambassador to Canada, Cong Peiwu, on Thursday. In a statement, Cong said that "should the Canadian side continue to make provocations, China will play along every step of the way until the very end."
Trudeau said Joly will make a decision "in due course" about any further actions, after "very carefully" looking at all the information.
Chong said Wednesday he learned that allegations China was targeting his family members in Hong Kong were shared with the prime minister's national security adviser in 2021.
In an interview that aired on CTV, Chong elaborated on the nature of the threats, saying he learned that the diplomat and officials in China were trying to collect information about his family members — something he saw as a clear intimidation tactic.
Trudeau has maintained that the information never rose to a political level, and reiterated on Friday that he has directed security agencies to change their reporting process so he is made aware of any future threats against MPs.
"It’s obvious now that those processes need to be changed," he said.
"Information that was released on Monday through the media never made it to me, to my office or to the (public safety) minister at the time. Going forward, such information would absolutely have to be raised to the highest political levels."
Chong said this week that Trudeau's adviser was made aware of threats to other MPs, too, without specifying whom the targets were.
But Trudeau would not directly answer when asked in French whether other federal politicians were being targeted in 2021, when Chong and other MPs were sanctioned by China after they criticized its human-rights record.
He only repeated that any such threats will now be automatically elevated to the highest political level.
Bill Blair, who was the public safety minister in 2021 when the Canadian Security Intelligence Service first became aware of threats against Chong and his family, said he was never told that any MPs from any party were at risk.
"With hindsight, it would have been useful to have that information at the time," Blair said, speaking to reporters at the Liberal policy convention Friday.
"I have a lot of respect for Mr. Chong and for all my colleagues in Parliament, and none of them should ever be subject to threats or intimidation — and certainly not against their families.
"I think Mr. Chong needs to have appropriate answers."
The current public safety minister, Marco Mendicino, called it "a serious problem" that neither Blair nor Trudeau were briefed by CSIS.
"We're rectifying that by giving CSIS new instructions so that any case involving foreign interference and a parliamentarian has to be directly briefed to me, to the prime minister, so that we can be sure that there is accountability."
Mendicino avoided saying whether anyone would be disciplined for failing to tell cabinet or Chong at the time.
"We're on top of the situation," he said.
Former Liberal cabinet minister Catherine McKenna said on social media Thursday evening that it is appalling officials have faced "no apparent consequences" for failing to tell Chong about threats to his family.
She said in a tweet that this was "not surprising based on my experience," however.
"The idea that others get to decide whether a threat to you or your family is serious or not is bonkers. You get the information with whatever caveats they want to put on it. This has to change. Now."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 5, 2023.
The Canadian Press