Conservative MP Michael Chong speaks to reporters on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 3, 2023. MPs are set to vote this afternoon on whether to have the a parliamentary committee examine if MP Michael Chong's parliamentary rights were breached by what Canada's spy agency alleged says was a plot by China to target him. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

MPs unanimously vote to probe Chinese envoy’s alleged targeting of Michael Chong

The House of Commons has unanimously asked a parliamentary committee to look into allegations that the Chinese government waged an intimidation campaign against Conservative member of Parliament Michael Chong.

MPs voted Wednesday in favour of a motion the Conservatives tabled Monday to have the House procedural committee examine whether Chong’s parliamentary privilege was violated by a foreign state.

Canada expelled a Chinese diplomat this week over a newly surfaced 2021 report by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, which alleged that the Toronto consular officer sought to intimidate Chong and his relatives in Hong Kong because of the MP’s criticism of China’s human-rights record.

China responded by expelling a Canadian diplomat from Shanghai, and Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly warned in advance that Beijing could do more than just expel envoys.

“Economic interests, consular interests and also diplomatic interests will be affected,” she testified last week. That has leftindustries bracing for blowback.

Yet Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, a China expert at the University of Ottawa, says the government should instead assume that Beijing is taking a tit-for-tat approach, and will only escalate things further if Canada goes beyond expelling a diplomat.

She took note of the Tuesday statement from China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin that announced the expulsion of Canadian consular Jennifer Lalonde.

“We urge Canada to stop its provocation at once. If Canada decides to continue its wanton act, China will react firmly and all consequences arising therefrom must be borne by Canada,” Wang is quoted saying in the official English translation of his remarks.

McCuaig-Johnston said Ottawa should latch on to that interpretation rather than stoking fears about a hit to Canada’s economy or danger for its citizens in China.

“My interpretation suggests that it would be additional action on Canada’s part that might be cause for further retaliation, rather than them planning to do anything further as a result of Mr. Zhao being sent home,” she said.

“It also is a threat. If we do few future things, there would be other retaliation.”

McCuaig-Johnston noted that China sees itself as an important player, but Canada should still treat it with the same amount of deference as any other country. She also said Canada should diversify its supply chain to lessen its exposure to Beijing’s whims.

“We certainly accept that Canada and China will always have a fairly comprehensive amount of trade going in both directions, because we they need our resources and we need their products,” she said.

“Beyond that, they don’t want to have much to do with Canada.”

Meanwhile, Chong declined an interview request Wednesday as questions surrounded his recent briefing with the current national security adviser, Jody Thomas.

The Ontario MP has said in Parliament that Thomas told him CSIS informed her predecessor in 2021 about the matter, yet it’s unclear who just who that was, as the role was held by different people at different times that year.

Three people who held the role have told media they don’t recall seeing the document in question or did not hold that position when CSIS raised the issue.

In any case, McCuaig-Johnston said Canada is going to have to “calibrate” its approach to China through a series of developments.

She noted that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s special rapporteur David Johnston is due to report by May 23 with any “interim recommendations on the advisability of additional mechanisms or transparent processes” to help weed out foreign interference in Canada.

Johnston will release a full report by October. McCuaig-Johnston said she expects the Liberals will call an inquiry after that, given how much pressure they’re already facing.

“These issues are not going to fade from attention. If anything, they’re going to become more focused,” she said.

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