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'Persona non grata': Canada expelling Chinese diplomat after threats to Tory MP

OTTAWA — The Liberal government moved Monday to expel Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei, who Canada's spy agency alleged was involved in a plot to intimidate Conservative MP Michael Chong and his relatives in Hong Kong.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly makes an address at the 2023 Liberal National Convention in Ottawa, on Thursday, May 4, 2023. The Trudeau government is expelling Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei, whom Canada's spy agency alleged was involved in a plot to intimidate Conservative MP Michael Chong and his relatives in Hong Kong. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

OTTAWA — The Liberal government moved Monday to expel Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei, who Canada's spy agency alleged was involved in a plot to intimidate Conservative MP Michael Chong and his relatives in Hong Kong.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly wrote in a statement Monday that Canada has declared the Toronto-based diplomat as "persona non grata."

"We will not tolerate any form of foreign interference in our internal affairs," she wrote.

"Diplomats in Canada have been warned that if they engage in this type of behaviour, they will be sent home."

Joly's statement came just as MPs were voting in favour of a Conservative motion calling for certain diplomats to be expelled and for the government to call a public inquiry into foreign interference.

Calls for Zhao to be expelled began last week after a report in the Globe and Mail that CSIS had information in 2021 that the Chinese government was looking at ways to intimidate Chong and his relatives in Hong Kong. The federal government has confirmed that report. 

"This should have happened years ago," Chong said Monday.

"I hope that this makes it clear not just to the People's Republic of China, but other authoritarian states who have representation here in Canada, that this crossing the line of diplomacy into foreign interference threat activities is utterly unacceptable here on Canadian soil."

The federal government took its time to decide whether to proceed, with both Joly and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warning about backlash.

"This is a serious and significant question," Trudeau said Sunday in London, where he was attending the coronation of King Charles.

"This is a decision not to be taken lightly and the foreign minister is leaning into this very, very carefully."

Last week, Joly said that Beijing could threaten the safety of Canadians and the prosperity of the country in retaliation for any expulsion, but Joly now says that is worth that risk.

"This decision has been taken after careful consideration of all factors at play," she wrote. "We remain firm in our resolve that defending our democracy is of the utmost importance."

The threats against Chong came after he successfully sponsored a motion in the House of Commons labelling Beijing's treatment of Uyghur Muslims in China a genocide.

On Monday, China's embassy in Ottawa issued a statement that accused Canada of breaching international law and acting based on anti-Chinese sentiment. It said the move has "sabotaged" relations between China and Canada, according to an official English translation provided by the embassy, and promised unspecified retaliatory measures.

Early Tuesday morning, Beijing announced it will be expelling a Canadian diplomat in China.

In a statement posted to its English website, the Foreign Ministry said China was deploying a "reciprocal countermeasure to Canada's unscrupulous move,'' which it said it "strongly condemns and firmly opposes.'' 

It said Jennifer Lynn Lalonde, consul of the Consulate General of Canada in Shanghai, has been declared persona non grata and asked to leave by May 13.

The statement goes on to say that China reserves the right to further react.

China has previously insisted it does not interfere in other countries' internal affairs, but says it will respond to what it calls provocations.

After the first report on the threats last week, Trudeau said CSIS did not tell anyone outside the spy agency about them, and that neither he nor the public safety minister were briefed.

Chong later said he was told the national security adviser was briefed.

The Liberals have now issued a directive that any such information involving members of Parliament be elevated to the highest levels, even if it seems minor.

The revelation about Chong is the latest in a string of foreign interference attempts allegedly made by the Chinese government in Canada in recent years, including efforts to meddle in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.

Trudeau has appointed former governor general David Johnston as a special rapporteur to dig into the issue, including whether a public inquiry is needed.

The Conservative motion, which passed easily Monday with the support of every opposition party, does call on the government to move to an inquiry but it is not binding on the government to act. 

NDP MP Heather McPherson said the expulsion is the"bare minimum" and the government needs to do more to ensure all MPs are safe from foreign interference.

The Conservative motion also asks Ottawa to create a foreign-agent registry, close down so-called police stations in Canada run by the Chinese regime, and "expel all of the People's Republic of China diplomats responsible for and involved in these affronts to Canadian democracy."

The government is in the process of consulting about creating such a registry but hasn't said when it would proceed with creating one.

The House was also debating Monday a motion to decide whether Chong's privilege as an MP was infringed on, or contempt was committed. All House matters are suspended until a final vote on the motion is made. If MPs agree his parliamentary privilege was violated, the matter will be studied further at a House committee. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 8, 2023.

—With files from Mickey Djuric 

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press