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Canada to expel Chinese diplomat after threats to lawmaker

OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government moved Monday to expel a Chinese diplomat whom Canada’s spy agency allege was involved in a plot to intimidate an opposition lawmaker and his relatives in Hong Kong.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said in a statement that Canada has declared Toronto-based diplomat Zhao Wei as “persona non grata.”

“We will not tolerate any form of foreign interference in our internal affairs,” she wrote.

“Diplomats in Canada have been warned that if they engage in this type of behavior, they will be sent home.”

Calls for Zhao to be expelled began last week after a report in the Globe and Mail that CSIS had information in 2021 that the Chinese government was looking at ways to intimidate Conservative lawmaker Michael Chong and his relatives in Hong Kong. The federal government has confirmed that report. Chong has been critical of Beijing’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province.

“This should have happened years ago,” Chong said Monday.

“I hope that this makes it clear not just to the People’s Republic of China, but other authoritarian states who have representation here in Canada, that this crossing the line of diplomacy into foreign interference threat activities is utterly unacceptable here on Canadian soil.”

The federal government took its time to decide whether to proceed, with both Joly and Trudeau warning about backlash.

“This is a serious and significant question,” Trudeau said Sunday in London, where he was attending the coronation of King Charles. “This is a decision not to be taken lightly and the foreign minister is leaning into this very, very carefully.”

Last week, Joly said that Beijing could threaten the safety of Canadians and the prosperity of the country in retaliation for any expulsion, but Joly now says that is worth that risk.

“This decision has been taken after careful consideration of all factors at play,” she wrote. “We remain firm in our resolve that defending our democracy is of the utmost importance.”

The threats against Chong came after he successfully sponsored a motion in Parliament labelling Beijing’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims in China a genocide.

On Monday, China’s embassy in Ottawa issued a statement that accused Canada of breaching international law and acting based on anti-Chinese sentiment. It said the move has “sabotaged” relations between China and Canada, according to an official English translation provided by the embassy, and promised unspecified retaliatory measures.

China has previously insisted it does not interfere in other countries’ internal affairs, but says it will respond to what it calls provocations.

The revelation about Chong is the latest in a string of foreign interference attempts allegedly made by the Chinese government in Canada in recent years, including efforts to meddle in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.

Trudeau has appointed former governor general David Johnston as a special rapporteur to dig into the issue, including whether a public inquiry is needed.