OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he accepts Han Dong's decision to leave the Liberal caucus after an allegation he spoke to a Chinese diplomat about delaying the release of two Canadians.
Trudeau sidestepped a question Friday about whether he believes the allegation, saying only that Canadians should watch Dong's "strong" speech for themselves.
He said at a news conference alongside U.S. President Joe Biden, who was visiting Ottawa, that he fully accepts Dong left the Liberal caucus "to vigorously contest these allegations."
The prime minister also added that he and Biden discussed foreign interference, and said it is "unacceptable," whether from China or from other countries such as Russia and Iran.
Dong, a Toronto MP, announced he would sit as an Independent on Wednesday night, telling the House of Commons that he would defend himself against "absolutely untrue claims" regarding his alleged involvement in Chinese interference.
Global News published a report that night, citing unnamed security sources who alleged that Dong spoke about Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who at that time had been detained in China for just over two years, with a Chinese diplomat in Toronto in February 2021.
The two Canadian men had been detained by China in December 2018, just over a week after the RCMP arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on a U.S. extradition warrant.
Global News alleged that Dong told China's consul general in Toronto that releasing the men would benefit the Conservatives, but also that showing some "progress" in the case would help the Liberals.
The Canadian Press has not independently verified the allegations.
The MP said he met with the diplomat but disputes any suggestion he urged China to delay releasing Kovrig and Spavor, telling the House of Commons he did nothing to cause them harm.
Kovrig and Spavor were treated as honoured guests when Biden addressed the House of Commons on Friday.
Members of Parliament and others who packed the gallery gave the men no fewer than four standing ovations. It was their first time in public together since returning to Canada in September 2021.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre told reporters it was moving to see Kovrig and Spavor, whom he described as "two courageous men who survived unimaginable hell."
Poilievre added: "I was very heartened that everyone in the chamber gave them such a warm welcome."
The Tory leader declined to weigh in on the allegations against Dong, but repeated his position that holding a public inquiry is the only way to get to the bottom of China's alleged meddling in Canadian affairs.
He noted that all opposition parties agree on that — and pointed out that even Dong himself voted in favour of a motion that called for a public inquiry, the day after he left the Liberal caucus.
"So for his sake and for everybody's sake, and most importantly, for the sake of the truth, the prime minister has to end his cover up and call a full public inquiry," Poilievre said.
Trudeau has not ruled out the possibility of calling a public inquiry, but he has said that any recommendation to do so will have to come from former governor general David Johnston, who was recently appointed to probe the issue as a special rapporteur.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 24, 2023.
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press