Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Liberal MP Han Dong is loyal to Canada, defending him Monday in response to a media report that said he was helped by the Chinese consulate while running to be the party's candidate in a Toronto-area riding in 2019.
Trudeau also says it's not up to Canada's spy agency to "dictate to political parties who can or cannot run" in elections.
A Global News report last week cited anonymous sources alleging the Canadian Security Intelligence Service had urged senior Liberal party staff to rescind Dong's nomination, but that Trudeau approved his candidacy.
The report and others about Chinese meddling in Canadian elections have led opposition parties to call for a public inquiry into foreign election interference — something Trudeau has rejected.
The prime minister did not directly answer a question about whether CSIS warned the Liberal party about Dong's alleged involvement with China before the 2019 election.
"In a free democracy, it is not up to unelected security officials to dictate to political parties who can or cannot run," Trudeau told reporters Monday. "That's a really important principle."
Trudeau said his government relies on expertise from security intelligence agencies, which are meant to protect democratic processes, but cautioned about the role they play in elections.
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"Suggestions we've seen in the media, that CSIS would somehow say, 'No, this person can't run or that person can't run,' is not just false, it's actually damaging to people's confidence in our democratic and political institutions."
He said Dong is an "outstanding member of our team" and added that "suggestions that he is somehow not loyal to Canada should not be entertained."
Dong, who was re-elected in 2021, said his nomination and campaign teams have found no indication of irregularities or compliance issues regarding his candidacy or election.
He says all procedures and processes related to his campaign and political career have been continually, transparently and publicly reported as required.
"Safeguarding Canada's democracy is integral to public service," Dong said in a statement posted on Twitter on Monday.
"I will support all fact-based efforts from parliamentarians to investigate alleged offshore interference and if called upon look forward to refuting these anonymous and unverified allegations."
The Liberal government has acknowledged China has tried to influence Canadian votes but Trudeau said he stands behind the work of a panel of civil servants tasked with alerting the public to instances of inappropriate interference during the 2019 and 2021 elections.
An assessment of the work done under the Critical Election Incident Public Protocol during the 2021 federal election is now complete and has been sent to the Prime Minister's Office and the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians.
Trudeau said Monday he hopes the committee will study that assessment, which was completed by Morris Rosenberg, a former senior public servant.
An assessment report on the panel's 2019 election work said the government should consider activating the election-interference warning system not just during the next general campaign but also in the pre-writ period.
The national security committee also called for that to happen in its 2020 annual report, saying the election incident protocol should be re-established "well in advance of the next federal election and that its mandate be extended to include the pre-writ period.”
Trudeau did not directly answer when asked about the status of that recommendation.
"We will always look at the recommendations made, we will always continue to step up on keeping our citizens and our democracy safe," he said. "It's extremely important and we will continue to do that."
Meanwhile, the procedure and House affairs committee is set to hear from national intelligence adviser Jody Thomas and the deputy minister of foreign affairs, David Morrison, this week as it studies foreign interference.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 27, 2023.
This is a corrected story. A previous version said Global News reported that Liberal MP Han Dong was allegedly helped by the Chinese consulate in the 2019 federal election.