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John McCallum, Canada's former ambassador to China, arrives at a fund-raising event at a Chinese restaurant in Vancouver on Jan. 25 ,2018.

BEN NELMS/The Globe and Mail

Former Canadian ambassador and cabinet minister John McCallum’s work for a Chinese immigration company should be investigated by the federal Ethics Commissioner, opposition MPs and a watchdog group say.

As The Globe and Mail reported earlier this week, Mr. McCallum has been working as a speaker for Wailian Group, a Shanghai-based immigration agency that helps people immigrate to Canada, among other countries.

Mr. McCallum served in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet as immigration minister before he was appointed Canada’s ambassador to China in 2017. He was fired in 2019 after repeatedly speaking in support of the release of Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei executive accused of fraud in the U.S. and arrested in Canada, where she is in the midst of extradition hearings.

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Last fall, Wailian paid to have Mr. McCallum speak to clients in five Chinese cities, according to a person familiar with the arrangement. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the person because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

In July, Mr. McCallum delivered remarks to another event organized by Wailian, this one online, in which he pitched Canada as a worthwhile destination for people from China, and cited his friends in the current cabinet.

Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch, said he thinks Mr. McCallum should be investigated for a possible breach of Section 33 of the Conflict of Interest Act, where the law says: “No former public office holder shall act in such a manner as to take improper advantage of his or her previous public office.”

Added Mr. Conacher: “Being paid by the Wailian Group to speak to their clients in China who may want to immigrate to Canada and would be dealing with Canadian government institutions through that process is, in my opinion, unsuitable and wrongful because it essentially amounts to McCallum cashing in on his public service as the former Canadian government ambassador to China and former immigration minister.”

NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus said anyone using “incredible insider access” gained during public office to “set up a shingle and sell themselves” would merit investigation.

The Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner declined to answer whether it’s already looking into Mr. McCallum’s work for Wailian, citing confidentiality rules. It also declined to say whether the ex-envoy consulted with the office before taking on this work.

Mr. Angus said he thinks the government shouldn’t be appointing politicians or people with major political party ties to ambassadorial posts but should instead limit the pool of candidates to career diplomats.

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In June, The Globe reported that the Ethics Commissioner is investigating whether David MacNaughton, former Canadian ambassador to the United States, broke conflict-of-interest rules in his subsequent work for American data-analytics company Palantir Technologies. As a past co-chair of the Liberal Party of Canada’s 2015 federal election campaign, Mr. MacNaughton has extensive ties to the governing party.

Conservative immigration critic Peter Kent said he is concerned that Mr. McCallum’s work with Wailian “does not pass the smell test.” He said “it would seem to be a legitimate cause for the Ethics Commissioner to at least investigate the information that is publicly available now and perhaps to consider a [formal] investigation.”

Mr. Kent said there should also be a review of the conflict-of-interest rules for political appointees to ambassadorial posts.

Less than six months after he left his ambassador’s job in 2019, Mr. McCallum became a senior strategic adviser for McMillan LLP, a Canadian law firm.

The Globe reached out to Mr. McCallum Friday for comment by e-mail, by telephone and through an assistant at McMillan, but he did not immediately respond.

Mr. McCallum first made public appearances for Wailian last October and November, when he went to China to deliver remarks and pose for photographs. Over two weeks, he appeared at Wailian events in Qingdao, Beijing, Suzhou, Shanghai and Shenzhen.

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In each city, he spoke to a room with dozens – in some cases more than 100 – prospective clients for Wailian. The company paid for his attendance through an agreement with McMillan, according to the person familiar with the events.

Mr. McCallum’s July presentation, he told listeners at the Wailian event last month, was based in part on a conversation with Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino. The minister’s office later said that Mr. Mendicino himself reached out to Mr. McCallum in June to discuss immigration and refugee issues and that Mr. McCallum never mentioned Wailian.

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