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Conservative MP for Wellington-Halton Hills Michael Chong leaves the Public Inquiry Into Foreign Interference in Federal Electoral Processes and Democratic Institutions after appearing as a witness on April 3 in Ottawa.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Everyone has been on the receiving end of a social cold shoulder when you start out wondering if you’re imagining things, realize you aren’t, then re-examine all kinds of interactions from the past, wondering what was going on under the surface.

This week, the public inquiry into foreign interference heard from a pair of MPs who are among China’s primary targets in Canada. What they described was chilling for how it mirrored that human experience, but with a malign foreign government with colossal reach playing the bully.

The NDP’s Jenny Kwan, who represents the riding of Vancouver East, and Michael Chong, the Conservative MP for the rural Ontario riding of Wellington-Halton Hills, were both detailed, precise and calm in laying out their experiences.

Early on, in establishing Ms. Kwan’s personal connections to China, one of the commission lawyers asked if she currently has any family ties in Hong Kong, where she was born.

“I do not,” Ms. Kwan said with a wan smile. “To know that I’m being targeted, I’m particularly grateful for that. I don’t have to worry about family members or relatives that are there.”

Ms. Kwan described the pattern by which she began to believe she was being ostracized within the Chinese-Canadian community in Vancouver, where she’s been an elected politician for three decades.

She’d always had a good relationship with the many Chinese organizations there, collaborating with them on policy issues and supporting community events, Ms. Kwan said. But starting in 2019, something changed.

“My office were noticing that we would not receive some invitations to our office, as an example. Some of the community leaders were not engaging with me,” she said. She traced the contours of an invisible ocean with one hand, like waves becoming bigger and bigger. “In the beginning, it was a little more subtle, and then it became more and more obvious over time.”

A look at what happened this week at the foreign interference inquiry

A timeline of events that led to the public inquiry into foreign interference

In 2022, a big Lunar New Year celebration returned for the first time since COVID-19 took hold. She was not invited, and when she read about the event in the newspaper, she realized politicians from outside Vancouver had been included.

Then there was the splashy 2023 opening of the Chinese Canadian Museum, located in Chinatown within Ms. Kwan’s riding. She attended, but she was ostentatiously ignored while other officials were included.

“It was just a very curious thing, and I suppose in some ways on a personal level, a little bit of a hurtful thing,” she said, sounding almost embarrassed. “Some [people] came up to me afterwards and said, ‘Why didn’t they acknowledge you? Why don’t you go up on stage, why didn’t you speak?’”

Ms. Kwan believes it was her outspokenness on anti-democratic crackdowns in Hong Kong and China’s treatment of its Uyghur minority that raised the ire of the Chinese Communist Party.

“I’m noticing nervousness and fear from some of my constituents, and particularly the elderly Chinese Canadian members,” she said. “I’ve had people come up to me to whisper, worried about their support for me and that it might be found out by the CCP, and that there might be repercussions for themselves or for their family members.”

Mr. Chong’s father immigrated from Hong Kong, and he still has family there. At the inquiry, he described a pattern of outright hostility.

Shortly before the 2019 election, he received an e-mail that looked like it had come from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, telling him he had been banned from entering Chinese territory, including Hong Kong. He alerted a staff member in Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s office and sent the e-mail to them, he said, but he didn’t hear back.

“My understanding was that an individual had decided to e-mail me a veiled threat. What I wasn’t certain about was whether or not this was a proxy agent, acting on behalf of the government of the PRC,” Mr. Chong said, using the acronym for the People’s Republic of China. “Or whether this was simply somebody freelancing.”

Ottawa suspects China targeted Conservative MP Michael Chong in second smear campaign

Then during the 2021 election campaign, Mr. Chong was participating in an all-candidates meeting in Puslinch Township, a rural municipality of 8,000 people. The meeting was on Zoom owing to the pandemic, and at one point someone in the audience directed pointed comments at Mr. Chong.

“This individual spoke in Mandarin-accented English and asked me two questions that were really in the form of two accusations,” he told the inquiry. The person accused Mr. Chong of fomenting anti-Asian racism by being critical of China, and also suggested Canada was letting the United States dictate its foreign policy.

When he asked around after the meeting, no one in the tight-knit community recognized the person, Mr. Chong said.

Mr. Chong and Ms. Kwan both described alerting various authorities – the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Commissioner of Canada Elections and the Security and Intelligence Threats to Elections task force – to these things that just didn’t seem right, and getting nowhere.

CSIS was aware that Mr. Chong and his family members in Hong Kong were the target of a Chinese diplomat in Canada, but the MP himself had no idea until The Globe and Mail contacted him. Near the end of his testimony at the inquiry, Mr. Chong talked about the eeriness of realizing that he had often been at the University of Toronto, near China’s consulate, totally oblivious.

“Just up the street, a mere matter of blocks, is the PRC consulate where this particular diplomat, Mr. Wei Zhao, worked,” Mr. Chong said. His voice was calm, but tinged with acid. “So, it would have been nice to know that this individual was targeting me so that I could have at least been aware of my surroundings.”

The one thing worse than realizing too late that someone was messing with you is finding out a friend knew about it and didn’t say anything.

Editor’s note: This article had previously incorrectly stated that Conservative MP Michael Chong had alerted a staff member in Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly’s office and never heard back. He, in fact, alerted a staff member in then-Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s office.

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