The diplomat, Zhao Wei, who was declared “persona non grata,” had been accused of gathering information on a Canadian lawmaker critical of Beijing’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims.
By Yonette Joseph
May 8, 2023
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada speaking in March about a public inquiry into reports of Chinese interference in Canada’s election.Credit...Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press, via Associated Press
Canada on Monday expelled a Chinese diplomat accused of intimidating and gathering information on a Canadian lawmaker who had been critical of China, a decision that increased tensions between the two countries.
Mélanie Joly, Canada’s foreign minister, said in a statement that the diplomat, Zhao Wei, had been declared “persona non grata.” Ms. Joly said the decision has been taken “after careful consideration of all factors at play.”
“Diplomats in Canada have been warned that if they engage in this type of behavior, they will be sent home,” she added. “We will not tolerate any form of foreign interference.”
In response, China said that Canada had “seriously violated” relations and vowed to take “resolute countermeasures.”
Allegations of election interference have rocked Canada in recent months. The Globe and Mail newspaper and other prominent Canadian news organizations have published a series of leaked intelligence reports accusing the Chinese government and its diplomats in Canada of trying to manipulate the last two elections to ensure that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party won.
The goal, according to the reports: Prevent a victory by the Conservative Party, which the Chinese viewed as taking a hard line toward China. The reports set off a political firestorm, raising questions about the integrity of Canada’s democracy. China has denied any influence campaign in Canada.
An independent report, made public in March, concluded that while China, Russia and Iran had tried to interfere in the 2019 and 2021 elections, they had no effect on the results.
The Globe, citing a top-secret document from 2021, also reported that Mr. Zhao had been involved in gathering information about the Canadian lawmaker Michael Chong, who is a Conservative member of Parliament, and his family in China in a possible effort to “make an example” of him.
Michael Chong, a lawmaker from Canada’s Conservative Party, has drawn the ire of Beijing.Credit...Fred Thornhill/Reuters
In 2021, Mr. Chong drew the ire of Beijing for sponsoring a motion to declare China’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority as genocide. Beijing then imposed sanctions against Mr. Chong, barring him from entering the county and prohibiting Chinese citizens from conducting business with him.
That year, a report by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service on a possible Chinese influence campaign also included information about potential threats to Mr. Chong. China’s Consulate in Toronto, where Mr. Zhao is based, said in a statement last week, “The claim has no factual basis and is totally groundless.”
It was not clear if Mr. Zhao had been given a deadline to leave the country.
Diplomatic expulsions are not common. In 2018, Canada joined Western allies in booting Russian envoys in the wake of accusations that Kremlin agents used a nerve agent to poison a former Russian spy, Sergei V. Skripal, 66, and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, 33.
After Ms. Joly’s announcement, Mr. Chong told reporters, “It shouldn’t have taken two years for the government to make this decision.” He has said he was “profoundly disappointed” to find out about the potential threat to his family from a newspaper, and criticized Mr. Trudeau’s government for inaction. He had persistently called for Mr. Zhao’s expulsion since the Globe’s report.
After Mr. Trudeau said he had not been aware of accusations that Chinese diplomats were targeting Canadian lawmakers, Mr. Chong responded on Twitter last week, “This is a complete failure of leadership on part of the PM.”
On Monday, the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa said in a statement that China “strongly condemns and firmly opposes” the action against Mr. Zhao and had lodged a “stern protest” against the expulsion, which it said had been based on “rumors of the so-called ‘China Interference’ hyped up by some politicians and media.”