Han Dong left the Liberal caucus in March following allegations made by Global News that he had been advising a Chinese diplomat against a premature release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor – two Canadian citizens that had been detained by China since 2018 following the arrest of Huawei Executive Meng Wanzhou.
Dong gave an emotional speech in the House of Commons when he announced he would leave the Liberals as an independent, which received a standing ovation from Liberal Party members.
David Johnston, Justin Trudeau’s “special rapporteur” on foreign interference, testified before the standing committee on procedure and house affairs (PROC) on June 6.
Johnston released his first report on May 23, concluding that the allegations against Dong were “false,” and that the prime minister was unaware of Dong’s many interactions with People’s Republic of China (PRC) diplomats.
Johnston clarified during the PROC session that he felt the intelligence used by Global in its reporting was “misinterpreted.” However, he agreed in the report that Dong had discussions about the two Michaels with Chinese diplomats and maintained a close relationship with consulate officials.
Johnston further conceded that there were “irregularities” surrounding Dong’s 2019 federal nomination to the Liberal Party of Canada, which were suspected to be tied to the PRC consulate in Toronto.
Dong does not deny engaging in at least a dozen discussions with Chinese diplomats and suggested that they are “common practice” for any MP, though Dong was a low-profile backbencher at the time of the meetings. After the release of the Johnston report, Dong stated that he felt “vindicated,” but that he would proceed with his defamation case nonetheless.
In Global’s statement of defence to the suit, which names Global News, Corus Entertainment Inc., journalists Sam Cooper and Mackenzie Gray, along with anchor Antony Robart and others, ongoing concerns about foreign interference in Canada are clearly outlined, and argues there was “immense public interest” in releasing the articles.
The reply also includes allegations that “he [Dong] was investigated by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) is of itself a matter of significant public interest.”
Dong’s statement of claim "relied, in part, on Cooper’s use of confidential sources."
"Confidential sources," the defence states, "play a key role in bringing stories of public interest to light," and they "are a tool that are at times necessary to be employed by the media in support of freedom of expression and in the interests of a healthy democracy."
Global claims to have based reporting on "knowledgeable security sources," which alleged that "Dong was a witting affiliate in China’s election interference;" that CSIS "was concerned about election and voting irregularities;" that Dong “met with a senior official from China’s United Front Work Department;" and that “Dong suggested that China delay freeing Mr. Korvig and Mr. Spavor.”
"Certain allegations," it reads, "were based on information from two, or in some cases, three confidential sources with knowledge of CSIS investigations."
CSIS has vowed to track down the sources of the anonymous intelligence leaks, whom the agency believe "may have been frustrated with Justin Trudeau." David Johnston echoed that sentiment in his report.
Johnston was only appointed after the security breaches highlighted concerns about foreign interference, causing demands for an investigation.
Justin Trudeau has left the door open to Han Dong rejoining the Liberal Party if his name is cleared.