John McCallum, the former Liberal cabinet minister and ambassador to China, says he doesn’t believe it would be useful for Ottawa to set up a registry that tracks the work Canadians do for foreign states.
The United States and Australia have passed laws that are designed to monitor foreign influence in domestic affairs, arising out of concern about growing Chinese lobbying efforts.
Opposition parties in Canada and critics of China, including the Canadian Coalition on Human Rights in China, have called on the Liberal government to set up a similar register for former politicians and public servants who take on paid roles for foreign governments and companies linked to these states.
Mr. McCallum was fired in 2019 after repeatedly speaking in support of the release of Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei executive accused of fraud in the United States and arrested in Canada, where she is in the midst of extradition hearings.
The former envoy, who now represents Chinese clients and works as a senior adviser for the law firm McMillan, told the House of Commons Special Committee on Canada-China Relations on Tuesday evening that he would abide by such a law – but questioned its usefulness.
“Right now the advice I give to Chinese companies is advice that they are seeking to invest in Canada and create jobs in Canada, but they are already subject to all the restrictions of the Investment Canada Act and also other laws of Canada. … I am just not sure that this additional information would be useful to the government,” he said.
Former Canadian ambassador to China, David Mulroney, has been a prominent voice calling for such a registry, saying there’s an increasing risk today that foreign governments are using Canadians to mould public opinion and lawmaking here.
Human rights groups, Mr. Mulroney and the opposition parties have proposed that Canadians paid to lobby or communicate political messages on behalf of foreign states or enterprises owned by a foreign government would be required to disclose their activities in a federal registry.
Mr. McCallum was one of the biggest users of China-sponsored travel between 2008 and 2015 when he was a backbench MP. He took trips valued at $73,300 from China or pro-Beijing business groups. After he was fired as ambassador to Beijing in January, 2019, he worked as a speaker for Wailian Group, a Shanghai-based immigration agency that helps people immigrate to Canada, among other countries.
Mr. McCallum told MPs he has no regrets about saying that Ms. Meng had a strong legal case to avoid extradition to the U.S. and that she didn’t do anything criminal under Canadian law.
“I made some comments about how the burden of proof is lower in extradition cases and that went against her but I also commented on some of the legal arguments she might have had, which I picked up from the media. The case was not at the time before the courts so I am not sure what I said was inappropriate,” he said.
However, Mr. McCallum said he regretted telling China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry before the last federal election that further “punishments” against Canada over the arrest of Ms. Meng could help the Conservatives win the fall 2019 vote – a result he had warned would be far less favourable for Beijing
“The comment about the election was inappropriate. The overall comments about the situation with our two detainees and Meng Wanzhou, I thought, were okay,” he said.
While Mr. McCallum was appearing before the committee, NDP MP Niki Ashton and Green Party MP Paul Manly were among those who lent their names to a virtual panel discussion calling for the release of Ms. Meng. Ms. Ashton did not appear on the panel but sent a speech to be read out by “Free Meng Wanzhou” organizers. In the text she decried “growing Sinophobia” and said she’s worried the world is entering a “new Cold War.”
Gloria Fung, president of Hong Kong Link, criticized the two MPs for calling for the release of Ms. Meng.
“I am appalled to hear members of Parliament proposing that we surrender to [Chinse President] Xi Jinping’s hostage diplomacy. That would put a target on the backs of other Canadians in China,” she said. “Furthermore we would be abandoning oppressed people, especially the Uyghur people of Xinjing, whose only hope of relief is international pressure on the oppressors.”
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Monday that Britain is considering pulling its judges out of Hong Kong’s highest court, in its latest response to what it considers China’s breaches of international law in the former British colony.
A Canadian, former Supreme Court chief justice Beverley McLachlin, also sits on the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal.
On Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said he would leave it to Ms. McLachlin to decide whether to quit.
“I have all the belief that Ms. McLachlin will make her own judgment and will take the right decision when it comes to her role on the court in Hong Kong,” Mr. Champagne said.
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