Trudeau's top staffer claims she did not discuss dropping MP Han Dong as 2021 Liberal candidate

'I was never involved in a conversation on the subject,' testified Katie Telford, Trudeau's chief of staff, when questioned about MP Han Dong. 'There was no conversation I was part of on this subject.'

Trudeau's top staffer claims she did not discuss dropping MP Han Dong as 2021 Liberal candidate
The Canadian Press / Adrian Wyld
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Justin Trudeau's chief of staff, Katie Telford, testified at the House of Commons Friday to discuss election interference by China. During the deliberations, she said there was no talk involving her on dropping MP Han Dong as a Toronto candidate over allegations of secret contacts with proxies to Beijing. 

"I was never involved in a conversation on the subject," testified Telford when questioned about Dong. "There was no conversation I was part of on this subject." 

Telford added that she discussed all important matters with the prime minister.

"I know if it had ever been brought to my attention if it was ever brought to the prime minister's attention...we would have acted on it," she said. "I would have ensured he knew about it, and I know he would have acted on it."

Telford has served as chief of staff to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau since he first assumed power in 2015. She also attends most national security briefings, where Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) warned about Chinese meddling in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.

On February 17, top-secret CSIS documents unveiled that China actively protected its "Canadian friends" network that covertly gathered information from MPs and senators. They desired a minority Liberal government to defeat Conservatives deemed "unfriendly" to Beijing.

Former Conservative MP Kenny Chiu said he believed a coordinated campaign from Beijing cost him his seat in the 2021 federal election. Chiu said his private member's bill to establish a foreign-agent registry provoked China's network in Canada to ensure he did not win in his re-election bid.

"When I [went] door knocking … there have been supporters of mine who just shut the door in my face," said Chiu. "There [was] so much hatred that I sense."

DisinfoWatch, a foreign disinformation monitoring watchdog, also warned of a coordinated campaign against the Conservative party in 2021. Experts said the campaigns stemmed from WeChat, a Chinese instant messaging service.

The Globe and Mail reported that Ottawa determined CSIS had no "actionable evidence" of election interference in 2021. However, the leaked documents suggest Beijing's influence exceeded election interference, as they also targeted Canadian legislators to sway public opinion through proxies in the business and academic communities.

On March 22, Dong quit the Liberal caucus after allegations surfaced that he made personal contact with China's Consul in Toronto on not freeing Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in February 2021. 

According to anonymous security sources, they allege Dong spoke with Han Tao and said that releasing the two Michaels would benefit the Conservatives in the polls. Dong denied the allegations but acknowledged the two spoke privately, according to Blacklock's Reporter.

The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) claimed they only learned of the two-year-old conversation following the media report.

"Did you recommend to the Prime Minister against removing the candidate from Don Valley North?" asked Conservative MP Michael Barrett of Telford. She replied: "I am not quite sure what is being referred to." 

"The question is exactly as stated," said Barrett. "I can say I was never involved in a conversation on the subject," exclaimed Telford.

Barrett then asked Trudeau's chief of staff if conversations concerning Dong occurred. "No, I'm saying I was not privy to a conversation. I don't have an answer for you on this because there was no conversation I was part of on this subject," replied Telford.

Conservative MP Michael Cooper told the House affairs committee that China's Consul did participate in the 2021 campaign. "Ten weeks before the 2021 election, Bob Saroya, then-MP for Markham-Unionville, received a cryptic and threatening text message from Beijing's Consul General in Toronto suggesting he would no longer be a Member of Parliament after the 2021 election," said Cooper.

"Were you, the prime minister or anyone in the Prime Minister's Office briefed or otherwise knew about that text message?" he asked Telford. "I can't speak to that information," she replied.

In 2021, two-term Conservative MP Saroya lost his riding by 2,999 votes to Liberal candidate Paul Chiang, a former York Region Regional Police sergeant.

MPs in all opposition parties have demanded a public inquiry into allegations of election interference by Chinese Communist agents. On March 23, the Commons voted 172 to 49 for a full investigation headed by a judge selected by all House leaders.

Independent MP Dong joined opposition parties in passing the non-binding NDP motion Thursday afternoon that called for Ottawa to launch an inquiry into "allegations of foreign interference in Canada's democratic system." 

"What is the resistance?" asked New Democrat MP Rachel Blaney. "Why can we not move forward in this way so Canadians have assurance their institutions are working?"

Former governor general David Johnston is currently reviewing the results of the closed-door panels as a "special rapporteur" and has until May 23 to decide whether to call for a public inquiry. 

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