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Han Dong, right, walks with lawyer Mark Polley as he arrives to appear as a witness at the Public Inquiry Into Foreign Interference in Federal Electoral Processes and Democratic Institutions in Ottawa on April 2.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Former Liberal Han Dong, now an Independent MP, acknowledged at the foreign-interference inquiry Tuesday that he spoke to a top Chinese diplomat about the two Michaels. But he testified that he doesn’t recall advising the consul-general that releasing them would affirm “the effectiveness of a hard-line Canadian approach” to the People’s Republic of China, as just-released intelligence alleges.

Mr. Dong was responding to questions arising from a summary of Canadian Security Intelligence Service reporting about a phone call between him and then-consul general Han Tao from February, 2021 that was tabled at the commission Tuesday.

“I don’t remember but it doesn’t make a lot of sense here,” he replied when asked whether he said the immediate release of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig would not change the opposition party’s hard-line stand.

A summary of a CSIS document, based on taped conversations, tabled Tuesday shows that 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.”

Mr. Dong insisted that he had always pressed Chinese diplomats for the early release of the two men.

He also said he doesn’t recall, as the CSIS intelligence said, that he told the diplomat that having China set a court hearing for the two Michaels would help “placate Canadian public opinion and provide some valuable talking points to his own political party against the opposition.”

Mr. Dong told the inquiry: “I don’t recall saying that.”

In his testimony about the conversation with the consul-general, Mr. Dong complained that it was recorded by CSIS.

Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig were locked up by China in 2018 in apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on behalf of the United States. They were not released for nearly three years.

Shortly before his appearance Tuesday, Mr. Dong updated evidence he had already provided to commission staff, revealing that before his 2019 Liberal nomination race he had met with international students from China to encourage them to register as Liberal and that some were bussed by their school to the September, 2019 contest.

Much of Mr. Dong’s testimony before the Foreign Interference Commission dealt with alleged irregularities in the 2019 Liberal nomination contest in the riding of Don Valley North, which he won.

In a previous in-camera interview with the commission, Mr. Dong never mentioned meeting international high school students from China and said his campaign had rented only one bus to bring seniors to the nomination contest.

Political parties kept in dark about Chinese foreign interference in 2019 and 2021 elections

On Monday, the day before he was to testify, Mr. Dong sent in supplementary evidence to the inquiry, outlining his outreach to students from the New Orient International College Academy, a private high school for mainly Mandarin-speaking students from China.

He also clarified that there was an additional bus for seniors and a third, organized by the school, that carried Chinese international students to vote in the race.

On Tuesday, commission counsel asked Mr. Dong why he only informed the inquiry about the students Monday, nearly six weeks after the original interview.

“Why did I tell you about it yesterday? I was having a conversation with my lawyer and it just came to me,” he said.

Later, he said his wife had reminded him about bussing the students, which he explained jogged his memory.

“I didn’t pay attention to busing international students because … I didn’t understand it as an irregularity,” Mr. Dong testified.

A summary of a CSIS report, tabled at the inquiry, alleged that China had compelled students to vote for Mr. Dong’s nomination under the threat of losing their student visas and possible consequences for their families back home. The summary also alleged some students carried false documents.

Mr. Dong said he would be the first to condemn anyone who used false documents because it would be an “insult” to democracy.

Asked if there was Chinese intervention in Canadian elections, Mr. Dong said: “I see reports about that. I presently don’t see any evidence.”

A transcript of a previous commission interview with Liberal Party national director Azam Ishmael, tabled at the inquiry Tuesday, indicated he said signing up international students with the Liberal Party and bussing them to voting sites for nomination races is “compliant with the Liberal Party’s rules.” Mr. Ishmael said people may vote in nomination contests if they are over the age of 14 and “ordinarily reside in Canada.”

The CSIS intelligence summary tabled Tuesday also said Mr. Dong and the consul-general discussed a House of Commons vote that declared what China is doing against its Muslim Uyghur minority as a genocide. Mr. Dong told the commission he abstained from that vote because “I haven’t seen documents to convince me yes, there is a genocide, or no, there isn’t a genocide.”

In his testimony before the inquiry last week, Chief Electoral Officer Stéphane Perrault acknowledged that CSIS had alerted his office in 2019 to a “fact situation that could involve foreign interference related to voting in the nomination contest in the riding of Don Valley North.”

Mr. Perrault said the matter was referred to the Commissioner of Elections but he also told the inquiry that the allegations were not related to foreign interference.

In his May, 2023 findings on foreign interference, then-special rapporteur David Johnston ruled that “irregularities were observed with Mr. Dong’s nomination in 2019,” and “there is well-grounded suspicion that the irregularities were tied to the PRC consulate in Toronto, with whom Mr. Dong maintains relationships.”

But Mr. Johnston said his team did not conclude that those “strange practices” could be attributed to the Chinese consulate in Toronto despite “well-grounded suspicion.”

Michael Chan, currently the deputy mayor of Markham and formerly an Ontario provincial cabinet minister, also testified at inquiry Tuesday. He acknowledged that over the years he crossed paths with Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei, who was expelled by the Canadian government in 2023.

Mr. Zhao was kicked out of Canada in May, 2023, after The Globe revealed he was behind efforts to intimidate Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong and family members in Hong Kong in 2021 to retaliate for the MP sponsoring a parliamentary motion critical of Beijing human-rights abuses against its Uyghur minority.

Mr. Chan estimated for the inquiry that he “ran into” Mr. Zhao perhaps four or five times in total. This included encountering him during a meeting with an official from the Chinese government’s Toronto consulate. At the time, he was seeking an introduction to China’s ambassador to Cambodia to assist with a Cambodian business he was helping set up. Mr. Chan said he didn’t know why Mr. Zhao was also present at the meeting.

He told the commission in a pre-hearing interview in February, made public Tuesday, he has helped more than 40 members of Parliament and Ontario members of Provincial Parliament with campaigning over the decades: both door-knocking and fundraising. He named a number of Liberal politicians from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, former prime minister Paul Martin to former Liberal cabinet minister John McCallum and former Ontario premier David Peterson.

The Markham politician characterized his relationship with Mr. Dong as “a business colleague, a political colleague.”

Mr. Chan recalled calling Mr. Dong to encourage him to run for the Liberal nomination in Don Valley North after news broke that the incumbent was not running again. “Maybe you should consider,” he recalled saying.

Back in 2019, The Globe and Mail and other media reported on how Mr. Chan denounced acts of violence during the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong as the work of foreign actors intent on undermining the state of China.

Asked Tuesday at the inquiry whether he agreed with how the Hong Kong police dealt with protesters in 2019 and 2020, Mr. Chan replied in the affirmative. “The police are there to maintain law and order,” he said.

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