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Canadian diplomat expelled from China in retaliation for similar move by Ottawa

OTTAWA — Beijing declared a Canadian diplomat as "persona non grata" Tuesday in retaliation for Ottawa's expulsion of a Chinese consular official over allegations of foreign interference.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to reporters on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 9, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA — Beijing declared a Canadian diplomat as "persona non grata" Tuesday in retaliation for Ottawa's expulsion of a Chinese consular official over allegations of foreign interference.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said she would speak Tuesday afternoon with Shanghai consul Jennifer Lynn Lalonde. Joly described her in French as "a very respected career diplomat."

Earlier Tuesday, Beijing declared it would expel Lalonde in retaliation for Canada sending a Chinese envoy packing.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service hasalleged Zhao Wei, a consular officer for China in Toronto, was involved in a plot to intimidate Conservative MP Michael Chong and his relatives in Hong Kong.

On Monday Canada declared Zhao as "persona non grata," ordering him to leave the country days after noting that such a move would likely lead to consequences.

"What we decided to do was based on us considering all factors," Joly said Tuesday in English.

"It needed to be thoughtful, it needed to take some time, and we needed to make sure that we did this in a very serious manner."

China's Foreign Ministry said in a statement posted to its English website early Tuesday that China was deploying a "reciprocal countermeasure to Canada's unscrupulous move,'' which it said it "strongly condemns and firmly opposes.''

The statement said Lalonde, a consul working out of the Consulate General of Canada in Shanghai, has been asked to leave before May 13, and that China reserves the right to further react.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government would stand firm.

"We will take whatever action is necessary to continue to protect our democracy and show that we're standing up for our values and our principles," Trudeau told reporters Tuesday morning as he headed into a meeting with his cabinet on Parliament Hill.

"We understand there is retaliation but we will not be intimidated," he added. "We will continue to do everything necessary to keep Canadians protected from interference."

Joly said the federal government will update its guidance to travellers if it perceives the risk to Canadians in China as rising higher than its current level.

The current travel advisory asks Canadians to "exercise a high degree of caution in China due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws."

Calls for Zhao to be expelled began last week after a report in the Globe and Mail that Canada's spy agency, CSIS, had information in 2021 alleging the Chinese government was looking at ways to intimidate Chong and his relatives in Hong Kong. The federal government has confirmed that report.

Following Joly's announcement 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 "sabotaged'' relations between China and Canada, according to an official English translation provided by the embassy, and promised unspecified retaliatory measures.

Trudeau said Tuesday that his government had taken the potential for retaliation, including economic countermeasures, by China into account when it decided to expel the envoy.

"We will always do whatever is necessary to keep Canadians safe," Trudeau said.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino would not say Tuesday who is at fault for Chong not being notified in 2021 that CSIS believed Beijing might target him and his relatives.

"Of course I've got confidence in CSIS. I mean, these are individuals who work to protect our national security every day," Mendicino testified to the House foreign-affairs committee.

"The only people that I think that we need to be united in holding accountable are the hostile actors who are attempting to undermine our democratic institutions."

Mendicino noted that Trudeau has now directed CSIS to always brief the public safety minister and the prime minister when the agency believes a member of Parliament might be targeted by a foreign state. He said Ottawa might expand this to directive to include elected officials at the provincial and municipal levels.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner told reporters Tuesday that Ottawa needs to act to restore trust in democracy. She argued tools like a foreign agent registry would add transparency and prevent the public from linking diaspora communities with foreign states.

"I hope that across the partisan spectrum in Canada, people understand how serious this is, and this is actually a threat to our sovereignty and our democracy," she told reporters.

"Government is causing a threat to our pluralism and this needs to be dealt with really quickly, to restore trust in government institutions."

The government is consulting about setting up a registry but has not provided a timeline for when one may come into existence.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 9, 2023.

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

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