Foreign affairs minister says Cong Peiwu was summoned to express frustration over attempts to meddle in Canadian politics
By Leyland Cecco in Toronto
May 4, 2023
Mélanie Joly, Canada’s foreign affairs minister, at the UN in February. Photograph: Mary Altaffer/AP
Canada has summoned China’s ambassador as Justin Trudeau’s government considers expelling a Chinese diplomat accused of involvement in a harassment campaign against a MP lawmaker and his family in retaliation for the lawmaker’s criticisms of Beijing.
The foreign affairs minister, Mélanie Joly, told a parliamentary committee on Thursday that her office had summoned Chinese ambassador Cong Peiwu to express frustration over attempts to meddle in Canada’s domestic politics.
“We will not tolerate any form of foreign interference,” she said, adding that “all options are on the table”.
Joly, who is under pressure to take action against China, said the federal government could order the diplomats to leave Canada, but added that there were concerns that any expulsions could prompt retaliation from Beijing.
Joly said that the case of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig – Canadians detained in China apparently in retaliation for the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wangzhou showed that “the People’s Republic of China will take action” against Canadian interests. “These interests, including economic interest, consular interests and also diplomatic interests will be affected,” she said.
Earlier this week, lawmaker Michael Chong was recently identified as a target of a Chinese-led harassment campaign against both him and his family in Hong Kong.
Joly called the allegations of harassment against Chong “completely unacceptable” and confirmed previous reports that Canada’s spy agency believes a diplomat in China’s Toronto consulate, Zhao Wei, played a role in the harassment and threats.
Her remarks followed a tense exchange with Chong, who expressed frustration that Zhao had not yet been expelled from the country.
“If we do not take that course of action, minister, we are basically putting up a giant billboard for all authoritarian states around the world that says we are open for foreign interference threat activities on Canadian soil targeting Canadian citizens, and you can conduct these activities with zero consequences,” he said.
Chong has criticized the federal government for taking no action after learning about threats against him in 2021.
“The government did nothing about a person in Canada that was targeting me and my family and targeting other members of parliament,” Chong told reporters on Wednesday afternoon. “The government knew about this two years ago and did nothing.”
Trudeau has blamed the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) for not notifying lawmakers of the threats, saying even he wasn’t briefed on the allegations.
The Conservative leader, Pierre Poilievre, has called on Trudeau’s government to take a tougher stance on the issue of Chinese interference, and has questioned why no diplomats have yet been expelled, calling the situation of his caucus member facing threats with little consequence “insane” .
On Wednesday, the Chinese consulate in Toronto denied allegations against its staff, claiming there was “no factual basis and is purely baseless”.