Canada on Monday expelled Toronto-based Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei after an intelligence report accused him of trying to target a Canadian lawmaker critical of China’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority.
“We will not tolerate any form of foreign interference,” Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said on Monday.
The expulsion escalates already tense Sino-Canadian relations and is likely to prompt China, Canada’s second-largest trading partner, to respond.
China’s embassy in Ottawa said it condemns the expulsion, and that it has formally protested the move to the government.
“China will resolutely take countermeasures,” said a spokesperson for the embassy in a statement posted on its website.
Roland Paris, a former foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and professor of international affairs at the University of Ottawa, said China is mostly likely to respond by expelling a Canadian diplomat.
Spy agency Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) authored a report in 2021 about Chinese influence in Canada that included information about potential threats to Conservative Member of Parliament Michael Chong and his family.
“It shouldn’t have taken two years for the government to make this decision,” Chong told reporters after the announcement.
China has said it has never interfered in Canada’s internal affairs and has no interest in doing so. China’s Toronto consulate-general said the report on Chong has “no factual basis and is purely baseless.”
Details of the CSIS report came to light on 1 May, when Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper reported China sought information about Chong and his family in China in a likely effort to “make an example” of him and deter others from taking anti-Chinese government position.
The Globe, citing an unnamed national security source, said Zhao was involved in gathering information about Chong, who in 2021 sponsored a successful motion declaring China’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority genocide.
Chong said he was “profoundly disappointed” to find out about the potential threat to his family in Hong Kong from a newspaper, and criticized Trudeau’s government for inaction. He repeatedly called for Zhao’s expulsion since the Globe report.
Trudeau said he found out about the intelligence report from the newspaper, and on Wednesday blamed the spy agency for not passing it onto him at the time.
The agency has now been directed to immediately pass on information about threats to members of parliament and their families.
Canadian media outlets have published several reports, citing anonymous intelligence sources, alleging schemes run by the Chinese government to interfere in Canada’s last two elections. Beijing has denied those allegations.
Trudeau has previously said China attempted to meddle in the 2019 and 2021 votes, but that the efforts did not change the outcome. He has appointed an independent special investigator to probe the allegations.
Diplomatic tensions between Canada and China have been running high since the detention of Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou in 2018 and Beijing’s subsequent arrest of two Canadians on spying charges. All three were freed in 2021.
Last year, Beijing lifted a three-year ban on imports of canola, Canada’s largest crop, from trading companies Richardson International and Viterra. The restrictions followed Meng’s arrest, but China cited concerns about pests in the crop shipments as its reason for the ban. China is also a major importer of Canadian potash and wheat.