Trudeau took ‘no steps’ to investigate Toronto MP over foreign interference allegations

Foreign Interference Commissioner Marie Josée Hogue asked if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would revisit MP Han Dong’s status in the Liberal Party after the 2019 election. ‘Yes,’ he replied. Trudeau never followed up on the allegations.

Trudeau took ‘no steps’ to investigate Toronto MP over foreign interference allegations
The Canadian Press / Tijana Martin
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau kept Han Dong as the 2019 Liberal candidate in Don Valley North for fear he would lose the Toronto riding, according to a China inquiry report. 

“In his in-camera testimony before me Mr. Trudeau noted that un-endorsing Mr. Dong would have direct electoral consequences as the Liberal Party expected to win Don Valley North,” Commissioner Marie Josée Hogue wrote in her interim report to Parliament. 

The Liberal Party lost 20 seats and its parliamentary majority in that year’s election, reported Blacklock’s Reporter.

During the 2019 campaign, the prime minister knew Dong was under surveillance over his contacts with the Chinese Consulate, according to declassified records.

“A primary example of observed foreign interference was the Liberal Party nomination race in Don Valley North,” wrote Hogue, a Quebec Court of Appeal justice who served as commissioner for the Foreign Interference Commission. 

Evidence suggested Dong’s campaign bused foreign students from New Oriental International College Academy — outside the riding — where they were alleged to have voted under duress from China’s Toronto Consulate.

“There were clear indications there were concerns by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service that China might have been behind this and that those students or those individuals on the bus may have been mobilized to vote in that way,” Trudeau told Foreign Interference Commission lawyers last month.

On September 30, 2019, the prime minister received an in-person briefing on the nomination before boarding a plane to campaign voters for the general election.

“I asked to the extent they were certain that it happened,” said Trudeau. “The extent to which they were certain China was indeed behind the mobilizing of the buses.” 

“I also asked whether or not CSIS had information Han Dong knew about this, whether he was witting and aware Chinese officials had mobilized buses for him or not.”

Trudeau claimed the intelligence agency did not provide clear answers at the time. The PMO did not take action on the intel provided. 

“We are not a forensic organization,” he clarified. “We know we are limited in what we need to go and look into.”

Trudeau permitted MP Dong to remain in caucus, where he stayed until March 22, 2023. He resigned after Global News reported frequent contacts between him and members of the Chinese Communist Party.

“Mr. Trudeau emphasized in his public testimony that he was faced with a binary choice: remove Mr. Dong or leave him in place,” wrote Justice Hogue. “But he testified that having chosen to allow Mr. Dong to remain as the Liberal Party candidate, this was a matter ‘we would have to revisit.’”

Justice Hogue asked if the matter had been revisited after the election. “Yes,” replied Trudeau. He never followed up on the allegations of foreign interference but believes party officials might have. 

“By the party?” asked Hogue. “By the party, I am sure, yes,” he replied.

Trudeau did not elaborate further, urging further inquiry to be directed at Elections Canada. An investigation by the Elections Commissioner is ongoing.

Ted Lojko, MP Dong’s then-campaign manager, described the Don Valley North meeting as “chaotic” that election and said he expected Dong to lose. 

“Given that Don Valley North was considered a ‘safe’ Liberal seat, if foreign interference did impact the nomination race this would likely not have affected which party held the riding,” wrote Justice Hogue. “It would however have affected who was elected to Parliament. This is significant.”

The riding association did not keep a detailed record of the vote, which Dong narrowly secured. Several hundred people voted, claimed manager Lojko.

According to Justice Hogue, the mandate of the Foreign Interference Commission was not to determine what transpired at the nomination meeting. “I would not be able to do so on the record before me in any event,” she wrote. 

“I cannot exclude the possibility that if China did interfere in the Don Valley North nomination this may have impacted the result of the nomination contest,” reads the interim report. “The nomination was ‘very close’ and it is not possible to determine the number of students who were on the buses or how they ultimately voted.”

“This incident makes clear the extent to which nomination contests can be gateways for foreign states who wish to interfere in our democratic processes.”

According to Lojko, “this nomination was heavily scrutinized” by Liberal Party brass — one day after the prime minister called the election. It was the only open contest in Toronto that campaign. 

“They wanted to know whether there was anything the media could pick up on to tarnish the campaign,” he said.

Azam Ishmael, national director of the Liberal Party, testified he was satisfied there were no irregularities in Don Valley North.

"We examined our own nomination process ... And based on that review we saw nothing that stood out as irregular," said Jeremy Broadhurst, an adviser with the Prime Minister’s Office.

The PMO also received an intelligence memo urging the Dong’s nomination be rescinded. They refused the advice.

MP Dong remains an Independent member of Parliament.

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