China’s Foreign Ministry on Friday angrily protested a Canadian intelligence report that asserted Chinese diplomats tried to intimidate a Canadian member of parliament for his criticism of Bejing.
China’s strong comments come after Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly on Thursday summoned China’s ambassador to Canada, Cong Peiwu, and said she was considering expelling the diplomat.
The 2021 report by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, or CSIS, first surfaced in an article this week in Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper. The article said that according to the intelligence agency, opposition lawmaker Michael Chong and his relatives in Hong Kong were targeted after Chong criticized China’s treatment of its Uyghur minorities.
The report identified a Toronto-based Chinese diplomat allegedly responsible for the intimidation.
The intelligence agency also said Beijing had tried to influence the outcome of Canada’s federal elections in 2019.
Speaking Thursday in Parliament, Joly said such interference cannot be tolerated, and she assured lawmakers there would be actions, including the possibility of expulsion of diplomats.
During a regular briefing Friday in Beijing, Foreign Affairs Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning called the allegations in the intelligence report “totally nonsense,” “groundless slander” and “smears.” She said the Chinese ambassador, when summoned to the Canadian Foreign Ministry, lodged a strong protest.
The report also has been controversial within Canadian political circles. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday he first heard about the threats against Chong and his family from the Globe and Mail report.
He said when he inquired with the CSIS, the intelligence agency said the information did not meet a threshold to pass along to him.
The agency did give Chong a briefing in 2021, but the lawmaker said he was not told of the threats to him or his family, saying he learned the details from the Globe and Mail report.
The issue became a point of debate Thursday in Parliament as members of Trudeau’s Liberal Party insisted that Chong, a member of the opposition Conservative Party, had in fact known the details of the report all along.
On Wednesday, Trudeau insisted that going forward, any intelligence report that specifically mentions a threat to a member of Parliament or their family must be elevated, and those parties need to be informed.
Relations between Canada and China have been tense in recent years. In 2021, China released two Canadians – former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor – who had been detained by China for nearly three years.
Their arrest on espionage charges came in late 2018, less than two weeks after Canadian officials arrested Chinese businesswoman and Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. warrant related to the company’s business dealings in Iran.
Some information for this report was provided by the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.