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The Canadian government has expelled Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei for interfering in this country’s politics after a week of cabinet-level preparations bracing for a range of potential retaliatory responses.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, who announced the rare measure Monday, said the decision was taken following “careful consideration of all factors at play” in the matter.

“I have been clear: We will not tolerate any form of foreign interference in our internal affairs,” she said in a statement.

China expels Canadian diplomat, threatens further retaliation in election interference row

The extraordinary expulsion – the first of a Chinese diplomat in decades – carries substantial consequences given the size of Canada’s economic and social ties with China. It is Canada’s second-largest trading partner and second-highest source of immigration.

A senior government official told The Globe and Mail that it was clear early last week that that the government would expel the diplomat. The delay in announcing the decision was to allow time for Ms. Joly to meet with cabinet colleagues who hold trade-related responsibilities so they could prepare for any potential economic consequences, the official said.

Canada has given Mr. Zhao five days to leave the country, the official said.

The Globe is not identifying the official as they were not authorized to comment publicly about internal government deliberations.

As The Globe first reported May 1, Mr. Zhao was part of efforts by the Chinese government to target Conservative MP Michael Chong and his family following his work in spearheading a parliamentary motion that declared Beijing’s treatment of the Uyghurs to constitute genocide.

Since The Globe’s report, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government have faced heavy criticism as to why Mr. Chong was not notified of the targeting when it took place two years ago. On Monday, opposition politicians from across the political spectrum expressed shock that it took the government this long to expel Mr. Zhao, saying it was the minimum required.

Mr. Zhao has been working at China’s Toronto consulate since 2018. In February, The Globe reported that a national-security source described Mr. Zhao as a “suspected intelligence actor.”

The Chinese embassy in Canada issued a strongly worded statement Monday that condemned Canada’s decision and promised “countermeasures,” without describing specific actions.

The statement said Canada’s decision to expel one of its consular officials is based on “hyped up” rumours, insisting that “China never interferes in other countries’ internal affairs.”

The embassy said Canada’s decision has “sabotaged” relations between the two countries.

“The Chinese side will take resolute countermeasures and all consequences arising therefrom shall be borne by the Canadian side,” the embassy said. “We urge the Canadian side to step back from the brink and refrain from moving further down the wrong path. If the Canadian side acts wantonly and arbitrarily, it will be met with China’s resolute and strong reactions.”

Speaking to reporters after the expulsion was announced, Mr. Chong said the government’s two-year failure to respond to the targeting levelled at him and his family and the failure to disclose it to him further risked his safety.

“It’s clear in recent years, the government of Canada hasn’t stepped up to protect Canadians and to protect democratic institutions against foreign interference threat activities,” Mr. Chong said.

Asked about the risk that China will retaliate against Mr. Zhao’s expulsion, Mr. Chong said Canada should not tiptoe around authoritarian regimes. “Nothing is more important in the current context than defending our values,” he said.

“It’s clear the authoritarian model of governance is gaining traction around the world and it is a direct attack on the fundamental principles of freedom, human rights, democracy and the rule of law that all democracies are based on.”

Mr. Chong said his family in Canada is okay, but he doesn’t know what’s happened to his family in Hong Kong since 2021 because out of an abundance of caution he had already cut off communications with them.

Gloria Fung, president of Canada-Hong Kong Link, an advocacy group that raises concerns about Chinese interference in Canada, called Ms. Joly’s decision “long overdue.”

She said more needs to be done to investigate foreign interference and that Chinese immigrants who do not have a large public profile can be even more at risk of intimidation.

“If something like this could have happened to Michael Chong, who’s the official shadow foreign minister of the Conservative Party, we could imagine how much worse it will be on ordinary Canadians,” she said in an interview. “And that’s why for our government to keep this information from Michael Chong, it’s really unbelievable.”

Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, predicted Beijing would expel a Canadian diplomat in a tit-for-tat move, but added, “I don’t expect economic sanctions as China is trying to convince foreign companies to come back to China and this would send the wrong message.”

Expelling Mr. Zhao would “reassure our allies that we can push back on China’s interference,” Mr. Saint-Jacques said, and the move comes a week before Mr. Trudeau will be in Japan for the G7 leaders’ summit. Should China retaliate more than expected, Mr. Trudeau will be able to use the summit as an opportunity to push for support from allied countries, all of which are taking a firmer stand toward Beijing amid similar concerns to Canada’s.

In the past, China has responded in kind to the expulsion of diplomats and similar actions. In July, 2020, the Donald Trump administration ordered the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston amid allegations it was linked to espionage and intellectual property theft. As Chinese officials in Texas frantically burned sensitive documents before the building was taken over by the U.S., Beijing ordered Washington to close its own mission in the Chinese city of Chengdu. Both remain shuttered, though China’s foreign minister, Qin Gang, last year expressed hope the Houston consulate would reopen soon.

Ms. Joly did not discuss the decision publicly Monday. “Canada has decided to declare persona non grata, Mr. Zhao Wei,” read the statement from Global Affairs Canada tweeted by Ms. Joly this afternoon.

The statement came around the same time MPs in the House of Commons were voting on a Conservative motion calling on the government to take a range of measures in response to China, including expelling diplomats, establishing a public inquiry on foreign election interference, close down police stations in Canada tied to the People’s Republic of China and to create a foreign agent registry.

The motion was approved in a 170 to 150 vote. Liberal MPs voted against the motion but were outvoted by the opposition parties.

Mr. Chong said that it was “inexplicable” that Liberals opposed additional steps.

Shortly after that vote, House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota issued a ruling in response to a question Mr. Chong had raised, in which he said Mr. Zhao’s targeting of him and his family on behalf of China was a breach of parliamentary privilege. Liberal government House Leader Mark Holland had argued against Mr. Chong’s appeal, stating that it was beyond Parliament’s jurisdiction, among other points.

The Speaker, a Liberal MP, sided with Mr. Chong and ruled there is a “prima facie” question of privilege that should be studied further by a committee.

It is still not clear how intelligence information about the targeting of Mr. Chong was shared beyond Canada’s spy agency. Mr. Trudeau originally said the Canada Security Intelligence Service had decided the report didn’t meet “a threshold that required them to pass it up – up out of CSIS.”

However, Mr. Chong later said that the Prime Minister’s national-security adviser, Jody Thomas, informed him that the 2021 intelligence report about his family being targeted by China was circulated beyond CSIS.

The Globe reported on May 1 that a CSIS report from 2021 said China’s intelligence service, the Ministry of State Security (MSS), “has taken specific actions to target Canadian MPs” linked to the parliamentary motion about Uyghurs and genocide.

In the same story, The Globe cited a national-security source that the MP targeted was Mr. Chong and that Mr. Zhao was involved.

Following The Globe’s reporting, CSIS director David Vigneault confirmed to Mr. Chong last Tuesday that he and his family were indeed targeted by Beijing.

Mr. Chong met with Mr. Trudeau, Ms. Thomas and Mr. Vigneault in a West Block office on Parliament Hill. Mr. Trudeau attended for about 10 minutes and left, after which Mr. Vigneault told Mr. Chong that Mr. Zhao was involved in the campaign.

China interference timeline

A breakdown of Canada’s increasingly fraught diplomatic relations with China

Feb. 18, 2021: Michael Chong sponsors parliamentary motion declaring Beijing’s treatment of Uyghurs constitutes genocide.

Feb. 22, 2021: House of Commons votes unanimously in favour of motion.

July 20, 2021: A top-secret CSIS report presents an overview of China’s foreign interference in Canada.

May 1, 2023: The Globe reports China’s intelligence service MSS targeted Mr. Chong.

May 2, 2023: Mr. Chong meets with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and his national-security adviser and CSIS head.

May 3, 2023: Mr. Trudeau says he didn’t know Mr. Chong was being targeted; blames CSIS for not informing the MP.

May 4, 2023: Mr. Chong says Mr. Trudeau’s national-security adviser told him that CSIS shared threat with government.

May 8, 2023: Ottawa expels Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei.

With a report from James Griffiths and The Canadian Press

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