Commission of Inquiry into Foreign Interference | MP Han Dong knew foreign students came to vote for him

(Ottawa) Former Liberal MP Han Dong met with international students from China and encouraged them to register as members of the Liberal Party during his 2019 nomination race – but the MP did not spoke to the ongoing federal investigation into foreign interference until he took the stand Tuesday.

The revelation was made during Dong’s public hearing at the Commission of Inquiry into Foreign Interference in Electoral Processes, which responded to unproven allegations that China tampered with the nomination process of Mr. Dong by pressuring foreign students.

The federal MP left the Liberal caucus following reports that he willingly participated in Chinese interference and won his Toronto seat with Beijing’s help in the 2019 general election.

Mr. Dong, who now sits as an independent MP in the Commons, denies the allegations and has filed a lawsuit against Global News and its parent company, Corus Entertainment.

Global reports alleged that Chinese students with false addresses were bused to the Liberal nomination rally in the Toronto riding of Don Valley North and forced to vote for Mr. Dong if they did not want to lose their foreign student visa.

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

“Reports after the election indicated that veiled threats were issued by the (People’s Republic of China) consulate against Chinese international students,” the summary reads.

This intelligence implied that “their student visas would be at risk and there could be consequences for their families back in the PRC if they did not support Han Dong.”

Special Rapporteur David Johnston noted in May 2023 in his report that “irregularities” had been observed in the appointment of Mr. Dong in 2019. Mr. Johnston reported “well-founded suspicions that the irregularities were linked to the consulate (Chinese ) of Toronto, with whom Mr. Dong maintains ties,” but that Mr. Dong was not aware of these issues.

It turned out that Mr. Dong met international students from a private school called NOIC Academy during his nomination battle at their residence at Seneca College, he confirmed to the commission on Tuesday.

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

He did not mention this meeting with the lawyers in charge of the investigation during his interview in February.

Mr Dong also neglected to mention that a busload of international students showed up to vote for his nomination – although he claimed he did not see it himself. He said he was told about the bus and assumed it was organized by the school itself.

“I did not pay attention to the busing of international students because… I did not understand it as an irregularity,” he maintained.

Mr. Dong’s campaign manager, Ted Lojko, said he knew nothing about the busload of students.

The commission’s lawyer asked Mr. Dong why he did not provide the information before Monday, but the lawmaker explained that his wife only reminded him after his interview with the commission.

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

“The campaign lasted a short time and I contacted as many groups as possible,” Mr. Dong testified.

It is not illegal for international students to vote for Liberal candidates, provided they can prove they live in the riding. Mr. Dong denied knowing that the students used falsified documents to vote for the nomination.

“I would be the first to condemn him. I think it’s an insult to our democratic system,” he said.

The work of the commission of inquiry aims to identify possible foreign interference by China, India, Russia or other countries during the last two federal general elections.

No irregularities, according to the director of the PLC

The national director of the Liberal Party of Canada (PLC), Azam Ishmael, denied on Tuesday any irregularity in the appointment procedures, despite the contrary conclusions of rapporteur Johnston. “The only thing that surprises me a little is that this was organized by the college, since it was a partisan political event,” Mr. Ishmael said.


National Director of the Liberal Party of Canada Azam Ishmael

Mr. Ishmael assured that the PLC appointment rules and procedures were generally effective in eliminating attempts at interference.

Mr. Dong was also asked about a conversation he had in 2021 with a Chinese consular official regarding the detention of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in the context of China-Canada relations.

A summary of declassified and unproven intelligence suggests that Mr. Dong told the Chinese official that if China were to release the “two Michaels,” opposition parties would see it as evidence of a tough Canadian approach to China was functioning.

Mr. Dong said he did not remember the conversation and claimed that this particular allegation made no sense.

In his final report, Mr. Johnston concluded that Mr. Dong did not advocate the prolonged detention of the two Canadians.

Foreign interference was not really a priority for the parties in the last two elections, the commission heard Tuesday.

All parties were offered briefings by the Working Group on Security and Intelligence Threats to the Elections, but most representatives said the briefings contained little information on specific threats.

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

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, ministers and various senior government officials are also expected to testify at the public hearings, which are scheduled to conclude on April 10. A first report on the commission’s findings is expected on May 3.

The Hogue Commission’s investigation will then move toward broader policy issues, examining the government’s ability to detect, deter and counter foreign interference. A final report is expected by the end of the year.

Note to readers: In the 1er paragraph of an old version of this text, it was written that the nomination race was in 2021, but it was instead in 2019.


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