National security advisor knew of CSIS report about targeting of family: Chong

Wellington-Halton Hills MP, foreign affairs minister have heated exchange at committee meeting

OTTAWA — About an hour before Question Period in the House of Commons on May 4, Wellington-Halton Hills MP Michael Chong received a phone call from national security advisor Jody Thomas.

According to Chong, who spoke of the development in the House, Thomas told him that information from the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) about Chong and his family being targeted for sanctions by Beijing, with the assistance of a Chinese consular official in Toronto, had in fact reached the government’s Privy Council Office (PCO) in 2021.

The intelligence was first brought to light in reporting by the Globe and Mail on May 1.

“The CSIS intelligence assessment … was sent by CSIS to the relevant departments and to the nation security advisor in the PCO,” Chong told the House.

That information contradicts statements made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to reporters on Parliament Hill on May 3.

“We asked what happened to that information, ‘Was it ever briefed up out of CSIS?’” Trudeau told reporters. “It was not.”

“CSIS made the determination that it wasn’t something that needed to be raised to a higher level because it wasn’t a significant enough concern.

“They didn’t feel it was necessary to do anything else.”

Chong said it’s possible either Mike MacDonald or David Morrison — who both served in acting national security advisory capacities before Thomas was appointed to the role in 2022 — received the report.

According to Chong, Thomas “indicated that the prime minister did not receive this information, nor did his chief of staff.”

Later in the Commons, he said that fact “should shake everyone in Ottawa to the core.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly told the Commons on May 4 that People’s Republic of China (PRC) Ambassador Cong Peiwu has been summoned by her deputy minister.

“We are … assessing all the interests that are at stake,” Joly said in response to the repeated demands from Conservatives that Chinese consular official Wei Zhao be expelled from Canada.

On May 5, the Chinese Consulate in Toronto released a statement criticizing “certain Canadian media and politicians” for hyping up accusations of “so-called intimidation” of Chong and his family.

The statement called the accusations “totally groundless” and said Canadian media and politicians are working to “damage the reputation and image” of the Chinese consulate.

Referencing the experiences of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who were returned to Canada in 2021 after more than 1,000 days in detention in China, Joly said, “We know … that when it comes to the PRC, it will take action that will have an impact on our diplomatic, consular and economic interests.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly speaks to Wellington-Halton Hills MP Michael Chong during a committee meeting on May 4. (ParlVu livestream photo)


Joly’s comments in the House followed a tense back-and-forth earlier in the day between her and Chong during a Foreign Affairs and International Development committee meeting.

Chong asked Joly why Zhao was still in Canada, and referenced Article 9 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which states that at any time and without reason a state can expel a diplomat.

“Why is this diplomat still here, a diplomat that has more rights and immunities than the Canadians around this table, to go around and conduct his foreign interference threat activities?” Chong said.

“You have given accreditation to the diplomat here who is using his diplomatic immunity to target not just me and my family, but other members of parliament.”

“So why, do you minister, continue to allow this diplomat to be accredited in this country, on Canadian soil?” Chong said with evident frustration in a raised voice.

“That is the question, and you haven’t answered the question.”

“Of course, Michael, I understand your frustration and I understand your anger,” Joly responded before Chong interrupted, noting the feds haven’t expelled any PRC diplomats.

“No, no, Michael, Michael, I can, can I just finish?” Joly said, before calling on the committee chair to intervene.

“We’re assessing the consequences that we will be facing in case of diplomatic expulsion,” Joly said, adding “there will be consequences.”

Chong interrupted Joly again, saying he couldn’t fathom any interest more important than Canadians’ safety.

“Michael, I just want to finish my answer because this is very important; it’s about you, but it’s also about also the interest of the country,” Joly said.

“I know that we’re under pressure to go fast, we need to make sure as well that we protect our democracy, and that is why we will take action.”

“I can’t think of an interest more important to the Canadian state than the protection and the safety and the security of its own citizens here on Canadian soil – that trumps all other interests,” Chong said.

Not ejecting Zhao, Chong said, will send a global message that “we are open for foreign interference threat activities on Canadian soil, targeting Canadian citizens, and you can conduct these activities with zero consequences.”

Wellington-Halton Hills MP Michael Chong speaks to Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly during a committee meeting on May 4. (ParlVu livestream photo)


Chong asked Joly about her department receiving the CSIS intelligence, to which she responded, “Michael, the [prime minister] has asked [for] an investigation on this, you know that, you had many conversations with the prime minister himself about this issue, you’ve been briefed about this issue at least six times, so you’ve had access to that information.”

Chong has acknowledged to the Advertiser and other media that briefings occurred, but he told this newspaper “the briefings are of [a] general nature” and that he has “never been briefed about a specific threat to me or my family.”

According to a public CSIS report tabled in the House on May 4, 49 MPs have received defensive briefings in 2022.

Liberal MP Mark Gerretsen emphasized that point repeatedly in the House during questions and debate on a Conservative motion calling on the government to respond immediately to Beijing’s interference in Canada.

“The member for Wellington-Halton Hills had a defence briefing on this two years ago, so he knew about this when it actually happened,” Gerretsen said.

Chong had sanctions imposed upon him by Beijing in 2021, following his successful motion to recognize China’s treatment of Muslim minorities as genocide.

Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux also said Chong “has known for two years.”

“The question is whether that member has brought it up with … any member of the Conservative caucus,” Lamoureux said.

“Has he brought it up inside the chamber? Has he done anything on the issue?”

The remarks drew angry calls from across the isle for an apology and accusations of “victim blaming” and “outright disinformation.”

Lamoureux later said he has “absolutely no idea what [Chong] was told” and apologized “unreservedly” for his choice of misleading words.

Chong asserted to the Commons that it is “false” to say he knew two years ago about what was going on regarding him and his family.

The public CSIS report states that last year, “sub-national affiliates” of the PRC’s Ministry of Public Security established three “police stations in Canada” without Canada’s permission.

“CSIS has observed instances where representatives from various investigatory bodies in the PRC have come to Canada, often without notifying local law enforcement agencies, and used threats and intimidation in attempting to force ‘fugitive’ Chinese-Canadians and permanent residents to return to the PRC,” the report states.

Speaking to a reporter in Ottawa, Chong said, “It’s not new information that the PRC targets the family of individuals that they are trying to coerce and intimidate.

“We’ve known about this for years, in fact there have been numerous reports highlighting this inappropriate action on the part of the PRC.”

A vote on the Conservative’s motion is scheduled to take place on May 8.