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Trudeau leaves door open for Independent MP Han Dong to come back to Liberal caucus

Provincial Liberal candidate Han Dong celebrates with supporters while taking part in a rally in Toronto on Thursday, May 22, 2014. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is leaving the door open should Independent MP Han Dong decide he wants to rejoin the Liberal party. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

OTTAWA — Independent MP Han Dong could rejoin the Liberal caucus if he wants to, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday.

The Toronto MP resigned from the government caucus in March saying he wanted to clear his name following allegations published in media reports.

Global News reported, citing unnamed national security sources, that Dong told a Chinese diplomat in February 2021 that releasing Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor would benefit the Conservatives.

Dong immediately denied the reports and said he only encouraged the Chinese government to release the two men, who were detained in December 2018 after Canada arrested Chinese telecom executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of the United States.

He is suing Global over the report.

David Johnston, whom Trudeau appointed to investigate the government's response to foreign interference, said that allegation was "false" and has had an adverse effect on Dong.

"I look forward to conversations with Han about whether he wants to come back, and whether his fight to clear his name is ongoing, or his perspective on this," Trudeau said Wednesday in Winnipeg. 

"It's his choice but I look forward to that conversation."

Dong said in a statement Tuesday that he felt vindicated by Johnston's report. 

He told CBC News on Wednesday that he wants to once again sit with the Liberals in the House of Commons: "I absolutely want to get back to caucus."

He did not respond to a request for further comment on Wednesday.

In a statement on Wednesday, a spokesperson for Global News said that as the media organization investigated and prepared stories about alleged Chinese interference in Canadian elections, it "spent months" reviewing dozens of documents, including from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

It spoke with "highly qualified sources on multiple occasions" and "made painstaking efforts to verify the information prepared by senior intelligence officials, many of whom have spent decades investigating security threats to Canada," the spokesperson said.

"Our sources risked their careers and livelihoods to warn Canadians about the extent to which the People’s Republic of China was interfering in Canada’s democratic processes and government institutions," the statement said.

"We believe in the integrity of our journalism in all the reporting in this series, and the critical role it plays in seeking accountability and transparency on issues vital to the public interest."

Johnston's report said ministers and Trudeau went out of their way to defend Dong when the allegations emerged because they believed he was "badly harmed by the reporting."

"They did not believe the media reports when they came out, as they found Mr. Dong to be a loyal and helpful member of caucus. They received no recommendations about this allegation, as it is false."

The Canadian Service Intelligence Service is responsible for gathering intelligence, analyzing it and then sending it to relevant government departments to act upon, typically by creating new policies. 

Johnston said he was advised that there was just one piece of intelligence that spoke to the allegation against Dong, which led him to his conclusion: "The allegation is false."

Johnston said that while Dong maintained "close relationships" with Chinese consular officials at least through the 2021 election, and did discuss the case of Kovrig and Spavor with the Chinese diplomat, "he did not suggest to the official that (China) extend their detention."

Dong was first elected to Parliament as the Liberal MP for Don Valley North in 2019, and was re-elected in 2021. He resigned from the Liberal caucus March 22 in a tearful speech in the House of Commons.

“The allegations made against me are as false as the ones made against you," he said on March 22 while addressing the two Michaels. 

"To my family and in particular to my parents who brought us here to Canada … the truth will protect us.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 24, 2023. 

Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly spelled Han Dong's name in a headline.

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