During a tense press conference, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau refused to give straight answers to questions about Chinese interference in Canada's elections. Instead, he implied the line of questioning was racist.
When asked about Liberal MP Han Dong and potential foreign influence, Trudeau said: "One of the things we've seen, unfortunately, over the past years is a rise in anti-Asian racism linked to the pandemic and concerns being raised or arisen around people's loyalties."
The prime minister faces intensifying pressure to explain whether the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) warned his office about their concerns with Dong, who allegedly received support from the Chinese consulate in Toronto during his election bid.
Dong is the former marketing director of the Canada-Shanghai Business Association and a longtime Liberal aide at the Ontario legislature. He was also a Toronto assembly member before winning a contested federal nomination in Don Valley North in 2019.
The Globe and Mail, citing anonymous security sources, reported that Chinese diplomats and their proxies worked to defeat Conservative politicians considered "hostile" towards Beijing during the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.
Though Trudeau has said Beijing attempted to meddle in Canada's elections, he referenced two intelligence reports studying foreign influence in elections that said any interference did not affect the outcome of the 2019 and 2021 elections.
Intelligence services urged senior Liberal Party staff to rescind Dong's nomination over alleged foreign interference, which he vehemently denies.
"I strongly reject the insinuations in media reporting that allege I have played a role in offshore interference in these processes and will defend myself vigorously against such inaccurate and irresponsible claims that come from an unverified and anonymous source," wrote Dong, co-chair of the Canada-China Legislative Association.
There was "no indication of any irregularities or compliance issues regarding my candidacy or election," he said.
When asked about the allegations, Trudeau cited rising anti-Asian racism predating the pandemic and said: "There are 1.7 million Canadians who proudly trace their origins back to China. Those Canadians should always be welcomed as full Canadians and encouraged to stand for office."
"In a free democracy, it is not up to unelected security officials to dictate to political parties who can or cannot run."
In an attempt to seek clarification, CBC reporter Lorenda Reddekopp asked: "Are you saying that they didn't warn you? Or were you warned and chose to dismiss it for those reasons?"
Trudeau responded: "I want to make everyone understand fully: Han Dong is an outstanding team member, and suggestions that he is somehow not loyal to Canada should not be entertained."
In a written statement, Dong said he would comply with parliamentarians to investigate alleged election interference.
"Safeguarding Canada's democracy is integral to public service," he said. "I will support all fact-based efforts from parliamentarians to investigate alleged offshore interference and, if called upon, look forward to refuting these anonymous and unverified allegations."
According to Blacklock's Reporter, Global News named Dong a "witting affiliate in China's election interference networks" on February 24.
Global said CSIS surveilled Dong as early as June 2019, months before his election to Parliament, and named him in a CSIS memo distributed through the Prime Minister's Office.
A Conservative-led investigation of alleged Chinese interference in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections is underway at the House affairs committee. Bloc Québécois and New Democrat MPs joined Monday, demanding an independent public inquiry.
"Serious allegations that individual candidates may have been impacted by foreign interference deserve a thorough, transparent and independent investigation," said NDP leader Jagmeet Singh.
"When Canadians learn about possible foreign interference through leaked documents, confidence in our democracy is at risk."
Should Ottawa pursue a federal inquiry into election interference allegations, it would mark the first inquiry since a 1946 Royal Commission into contacts between public officeholders and the Soviet Embassy.
According to Blacklock's Reporter, ten individuals were convicted, including Fred Rose, a Communist Party MP, who served six years in prison for violating the Official Secrets Act.