China wanted statue of Chairman Mao with Pierre Elliott Trudeau, says University of Montreal

Over the past week, Trudeau has consistently dodged questions about Chinese interference in Canadian elections, going as far as calling the inference 'racist.'

China wanted statue of Chairman Mao with Pierre Elliott Trudeau, says University of Montreal
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Wealthy donors with ties to Beijing pledged $1 million to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation years ago. Now, the University of Montreal informed the media it intended to construct statues of the former prime minister with Chairman Mao Zedong with a portion of that donation.

Zedong, the Chinese leader of the Communist Party, oversaw policies that led to millions of deaths from famine and violence in China. The elder Trudeau re-established a repertoire with the controversial figure in 1970, which resulted in Taiwan's Ottawa embassy closing as China's Communist leadership became part of the global community.

"They suggested one of Trudeau and Mao together," Geneviève O'Meara, the University of Montreal spokesperson, confirmed to The Globe and Mail.

According to a national security source, the billionaire Bin Zhang discussed the federal election expected for 2015 with a Chinese diplomat concerning the possibility of the Liberals forming the next government. 

Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) captured their conversation and learned the diplomat instructed Zhang to donate $1 million to the Trudeau Foundation and told him the Chinese government would reimburse him for the entire amount.

Zhang served as a political adviser to the government in Beijing and a senior official in China's network of state promoters globally.

The Globe has not identified the source who risks prosecution under the Security of Information Act.

Seven months into Trudeau's first term as prime minister, Zhang attended a Liberal fundraiser at the Toronto home of Chinese Business Chamber of Canada chair Benson Wong, which Trudeau attended as the guest of honour.

Weeks after the fundraiser, the Trudeau Foundation and the University of Montreal announced that Zhang and Niu Gensheng donated $1 million "to honour the memory and leadership" of Pierre Trudeau, who, as prime minister, opened diplomatic relations with China in 1970.

Of the $1 million, they pledged $750,000 to the University of Montreal's law faculty to fund scholarships, including grants that help Quebec students visit China. 

A spokesperson for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told The Globe he had not been involved in the Trudeau Foundation since he entered federal politics.

In a since-deleted statement from UofM, $50,000 of that donation was for erecting the statues of the elder Trudeau and Mao before its law faculty, but they never got built.

At the time, the head of the university, Guy Breton, praised the "bold, courageous hand that Pierre Elliott Trudeau held out to China in 1970."

In the 1970s, the elder Trudeau met Mao in Beijing on the first official visit by a Canadian prime minister to Communist China. The two exchanged a lengthy handshake and talked about Canadian agricultural production, the Arctic and "problems of peace in the world." 

"He met me, walked me to the door, [and] said, 'don't forget to say hello to your wife,'" said the elder Trudeau.

In a newsletter published by the law school, O'Meara said no mention of the proposal to erect an accompanying statue of Mao — an idea that they rebuffed.

"Since Mao had no connection to the university, that suggestion was not an option for us," she said.

O'Meara added that a statue of the elder Trudeau made more sense as he attended the university's law school and subsequently taught there. 

However, she admitted that the former prime minister "showed a great openness to China."

"Including Mao was designed to be something of a twofer," said David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China.

Giving money for the statue of a foreign leader alone "could leave a Chinese business person open to criticism for being insufficiently patriotic," he said. "Adding Mao balances things out politically and evokes the image of Trudeau — from his 1973 meeting with Mao — that Chinese people know best."

However, Mulroney admitted that a statue of Mao "would be abhorrent to Canadians" by "[reflecting] the China-centric thinking and focus of Chinese tycoons."

Over the past week, Trudeau has consistently dodged questions about Chinese interference in Canadian elections, going as far as calling the inference "racist." 

However, his National Security Adviser, Jody Thomas, confirmed that Beijing remains a growing threat to Canada.

Thomas testified in a Conservative-led investigation into alleged Chinese interference in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections at the House affairs committee. She refused to speak on specifics of the leaked, top-secret CSIS report on alleged Chinese interference but cautioned the leaks don't tell the whole story.

"Given the very nature of intelligence, individual reports taken out of context may be incomplete and misrepresent the full story," said Thomas.

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