CSIS report on intercepted call about ‘Two Michaels’ released at inquiry

By Touria Izri Global News
Posted April 2, 2024 7:23 am
Updated April 2, 2024 9:27 pm

A declassified intelligence summary made public at Canada’s inquiry into foreign election interference alleges former Liberal MP Han Dong discussed the imprisonment of two Canadians with a Chinese envoy, as first reported by Global News.

The summary highlights Dong’s discussions with the envoy including his alleged thoughts on how any action from Beijing in the matter could be viewed by Canadians and the Liberals’ political opposition.

China detained Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in late 2018 on widely condemned espionage charges. They spent two years in prison before being released shortly after Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, detained by Canada at the behest of the U.S., was released from house arrest.

On Tuesday, the inquiry heard Canada’s spy agency recorded a phone call between Dong and China’s consul general in Toronto discussing the detentions of the “Two Michaels” in early 2021, when the Canadians were still in custody. It is the first time the intelligence report describing that discussion has been made public.

The document, primarily created by CSIS, is described as an “incomplete” intelligence summary and its allegations have not been proven. It alleges Dong speculated that freeing the pair right away would bolster opponents of the Liberal government.

“Mr. Dong expressed the view that even if the PRC released the ‘Two Michaels’ at that moment, opposition parties would view the PRC’s action as an affirmation of the effectiveness of a hardline Canadian approach to the PRC,” read the report.

The CSIS intelligence summary also alleges Dong “stressed that any transparency provided by the PRC in relation to the ‘Two Michaels’ such as a court hearing or a court date, would help to placate Canadian public opinion and provide some valuable talking points to his own political party against the opposition.”

When asked about the call, Dong testified it was “possible” he said that but did not “recall that conversation.” He added that the discussion was “mostly Mandarin” and that “whenever I talked about the ‘Two Michaels’ … [I] always advocated for their early release” along with “improving their conditions.” He also testified that he was confused by information in the report and “didn’t quite get the logic.”
The report is among the declassified information presented at the inquiry, including a secret memo that said the People’s Republic of China is Canada’s “biggest concern” when it comes to foreign election interference.

“The PRC is highly capable and motivated against Canada,” it reads. “Their activities often transcend political party lines and may involve supporting many candidates who promote PRC views.”

Dong – who represents the Toronto-area riding of Don Valley North resigned from the Liberal caucus last year.

His departure came after Global News reported Dong advised the senior Chinese diplomat that Beijing should hold off freeing the Canadian men, according to two separate national security sources.

Dong now sits as an independent, denies the allegations and is suing Global News.

The inquiry also heard that 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 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.

“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.

With files from The Canadian Press.