233673
235084
Canada  

Foreign interference inquiry: Han Dong sought support from international students

MP sought student support

UPDATE 2:35 p.m.

Former Liberal Han Dong met with international students from China and encouraged them to register as Liberal members during his nomination race in 2019 — but the MP didn't mention that to an ongoing federal inquiry into foreign meddling until he took the stand Tuesday.

The revelation came to light as Dong testified at a public hearing and responded to unsubstantiated allegations that China tampered with Dong's nomination battle by coercing international students.

Dong left the Liberal caucus following media reports of allegations that he willingly participated in Chinese meddling and won his seat in 2019 with Beijing's help.

He denied the claims and countered with legal action against Global News and its parent company, Corus Entertainment.

The reports alleged that Chinese international students with fake addresses had been bused into the riding and coerced to vote for Dong's nomination to avoid losing their student visas.

The allegations also appear in a declassified summary of unconfirmed government intelligence that was released as part of the federal inquiry.

"Intelligence reported after the election indicated that veiled threats were issued by the (People's Republic of China) Consulate to the Chinese international students," the summary reads.

That intelligence implied that "their student visas would be in jeopardy and that there could be consequences for their families back in the PRC if they did not support Han Dong."

Special rapporteur David Johnston found last May that there were "irregularities" observed with Dong's nomination and "well-grounded suspicion" they were tied to China's Toronto consulate, but that Dong was not aware of such issues.

It turned out Dong did meet with international students from a private school called NOIC Academy during his nomination battle at their residence at Seneca College, he confirmed for the commission Tuesday.

He encouraged the students, who mostly spoke Mandarin, to volunteer for his campaign and vote in his nomination battle, he said.

He had not mentioned the meeting to inquiry lawyers when they interviewed him in February.

Dong also neglected to mention that a busload of international students showed up to vote for his nomination — though he said he didn't see it himself. He said he was told about the bus and presumed it had been organized by the school itself.

"I didn't pay attention to busing international students because ... I didn't understand it as an irregularity," he said.

Dong's campaign manager, Ted Lojko, testified that he didn't know anything about the busload of students.

The commission lawyer grilled Dong about why he failed to come forward with the information until Monday, but the now-independent MP said his wife reminded him about it only after his interview with the commission.

He decided to let the commission know about the additional information after a recent discussion with his lawyer, he said.

"It was a short period of time for the campaign and I was reaching out to as many groups as I can," Dong testified.

It's not illegal for international students to vote in Liberal nominations, as long as they can prove they live in the riding. Dong denied any knowledge of the students using falsified documents to vote in the nomination.

"I would be the first one condemning it. I think it's an insult to our democratic system," he said.

The hearings are part of the inquiry's work examining possible foreign interference by China, India, Russia and others in the last two general elections.

Earlier in the day, the The Liberal party's national director testified that the party doesn't consider nomination races to be particularly vulnerable to foreign interference, despite the irregularities surrounding Dong's nomination.

Azam Ishmael denied any irregularities during the nomination process, even though Johnston's findings were to the contrary.

"The only thing that catches me as a bit peculiar is that it was organized by the school, given that it was a partisan political event," Ishmael told the commission, commenting on the international students' participation in the race.

Ishmael defended the Liberal nomination rules and processes as being generally effective at weeding out meddling efforts, and said an anonymous ballot stymies foreign attempts at coercion.

Foreign interference wasn't exactly top of mind for parties during the last two elections, the commission heard Tuesday.

All parties were offered briefings by the Security and Intelligence Threats to Elections Task Force, but most representatives said the briefings included little information about specific threats.

"We went through this whole process to get security clearance, we had these meetings with these very high-level people in all of these agencies," said NDP national director Anne McGrath, who was designated by her party to receive briefings from the task force.

"It still felt very much to me like a bit of a pro forma, box-checking exercise."

The Conservative campaign shared examples of possible interference in 13 ridings after the 2021 election, said Walied Soliman, the campaign chair for former Conservative leader Erin O'Toole.

But he said he didn't feel those concerns were taken seriously.

"We were being managed, as opposed to folks taking seriously what were quite concerning issues," he told the commission.

Former national security adviser Jody Thomas testified last week that the government provided a response to Soliman's concerns, and nothing was found to suggest that "the ridings that he was concerned about were affected by attempts at foreign interference."

The commission of inquiry, led by Quebec judge Marie-Josée Hogue, expects to hear testimony from more than 40 people including community members, political party representatives and federal election officials.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, members of his cabinet and various senior government officials are also slated to appear at the hearings, which are set to conclude April 10.

An initial report of findings from the commission is due May 3.

The inquiry will then shift to broader policy issues, looking at the government's ability to detect, deter and counter foreign interference. A final report is expected by the end of the year.


ORIGINAL 5:30 a.m.

A federal inquiry into foreign interference is set to hear from the Independent MP at the centre of allegations about foreign meddling in Canadian elections.

Han Dong left the Liberal caucus after it was alleged he willingly participated in Chinese interference efforts and won his seat with Beijing's help in 2019 — claims he denies.

Special rapporteur David Johnston found last May that there were "irregularities" observed with Dong's 2019 nomination and "well-grounded suspicion" that these were tied to China's Toronto consulate, but that Dong was not aware of these issues.

Dong is slated to testify this afternoon, as is former Ontario cabinet minister Michael Chan, who is now the deputy mayor of Markham, Ont.

Chan is suing the CSIS and others over allegations the spy agency surveilled him and had concerns about improper activities with Chinese officials.

This morning, campaign directors for the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP will testify on a panel.

The inquiry will hear from Walied Soliman, the Conservative campaign co-chair in the 2021 election, as well as Azam Ishmael, who ran the Liberal campaign that year, and the NDP's national director Anne McGrath.

This afternoon, the inquiry is set to hear from Chan, followed by Dong's former chief of staff Ted Lojko and then Dong himself.

The hearings are part of the inquiry's work examining possible foreign interference by China, India, Russia and others in the last two general elections.

Soliman was the Conservative representative on the Security and Intelligence Threats to Elections Task Force during the 2021 race, and he has said that the party had never been notified of any threats to the electoral process.

"Our party was seeing clear signs of tampering in ridings with substantial Chinese diasporas," he wrote on social media in February 2023. "Our concerns were never taken seriously."

Former national security adviser Jody Thomas testified that the government provided a response to Soliman's concerns, and nothing was found to suggest that "the ridings that he was concerned about were affected by attempts at foreign interference."

The commission of inquiry, led by Quebec judge Marie-Josée Hogue, expects to hear testimony from more than 40 people including community members, political party representatives and federal election officials.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, members of his cabinet and various senior government officials are also slated to appear at the hearings, which are set to conclude April 10.

An initial report of findings from the commission is due May 3.

The inquiry will then shift to broader policy issues, looking at the government's ability to detect, deter and counter foreign interference. A final report is expected by the end of the year.



More Canada News

233138