LeBlanc says he'll consult intelligence as he examines a possible path back to caucus for Han Dong

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc says he plans to obtain information from Canada's intelligence agencies as he looks into MP Han Dong's prospects for returning to the Liberal caucus.

'I’ll want to get all of the available information from all of the intelligence agencies,' minister says

Han dong in 2014

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc says he plans to obtain information from Canada's intelligence agencies as he looks into MP Han Dong's prospects for returning to the Liberal caucus.

Dong stepped away from the Liberal caucus in March after Global News published a report alleging he advised a senior Chinese diplomat in 2021 that Beijing should hold off on freeing two Canadians — Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — detained by China at the time.

Special rapporteur David Johnston's first report on foreign interference concluded that the high-profile allegation against Dong was false.

Johnston also reported there were "irregularities" in Dong's nomination process in 2019 and that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was briefed on the matter. Johnston wrote he did not find any evidence that Dong knew about China's potential involvement in his nomination.

LeBlanc said Johnston's report is just the "starting point" for his work on determining if there's a path back to the Liberal caucus for Dong.

"I'm not an intelligence analyst or expert," said LeBlanc. "I take Mr. Johnston's conclusions on its face, that that particular reporting was not accurate. So that's a starting point for my work around Mr. Dong and the Liberal caucus.

"But obviously I'll want to get all of the available information from all of the intelligence agencies around these circumstances."

For months, Parliament has been engaged in a heated debate over allegations of Chinese government interference in the past two federal elections. The issue has dominated question period and parliamentary committees, and prompted the government to appoint Johnston to review its handling of foreign interference.

Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Infrastructure and Communities Dominic LeBlanc speaking to reporters
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tasked Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc with studying a possible path back to caucus for Independent MP Han Dong. (Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press)

LeBlanc said he spoke to Trudeau about "Mr. Dong's circumstance last week," and spoke separately to Dong. LeBlanc said he and Dong agreed to speak again in "a number of weeks."

Dong told CBC News last month he "absolutely wants to get back to caucus." Trudeau tasked LeBlanc with studying Dong's status and reporting back.

Global News defends reporting

Dong sued Global News in April for defamation; he's seeking $15 million in damages. He accuses the news outlet of publishing "false, malicious, irresponsible and defamatory" stories about the MP alleging he was a "witting" participant in a Beijing-backed foreign interference network. 

On Monday, Global News and its parent company Corus Entertainment filed a statement of defence in Ontario's Superior Court of Justice defending their reporting and denying that it was defamatory.

The statement says that "certain allegations … were based on information from two or, in some cases, three confidential sources" that Global determined were "credible through rigorous investigation."

The document said Global's reporting was not "presented as factual findings."

"Rather, the information from intelligence sources concerning Dong is clearly described as allegations," the statement reads.

The news outlet also wrote that it spent "months" conducting "rigorous fact-checking, editing and research" on the stories and insisted they "were not published on a rushed basis." 

Global News also said the stories served the public interest and argued it had a "social and moral duty to publish the information."

Johnston chose not to interview Dong

Dong's name came up multiple times during a high-profile parliamentary committee hearing on Tuesday.

Johnston told MPs on the committee that there "clearly were strange practices, unusual practices going on" in relation to to Dong's nomination in 2019, but he wasn't able to link it to Beijing.

"We did not conclude that that was directly laid to the hands of the People's Republic," said Johnston.

WATCH: Johnston says he 'didn't reach out' to MP Han Dong

Johnston says he ‘didn’t reach out’ to MP Han Dong while investigating foreign interference

4 months ago
Duration 1:40
Special rapporteur David Johnston says he felt that he got the intelligence that permitted him to conclude that Han Dong ‘was not a witting party’ in an alleged foreign interference campaign. Dong stepped down as a member of the Liberal caucus in the wake of allegations that he advised a Chinese diplomat that Beijing should wait to free Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in February 2021.

Conservative MP Michael Cooper asked Johnston on Tuesday why he didn't interview Dong while preparing his first report.

"Mr. Dong at that time, I think, was proceeding with his own lawsuit and felt that this was something that he should get on with," said Johnston.

Johnston later confirmed it was his choice not to contact Dong for an interview. 

"We did not reach out to him and we thought out of respect for his lawsuit that should proceed," Johnston told Power and Politics host David Cochrane in an interview. 

Johnston said he had access to "a high degree" of open and classified intelligence that led him to conclude that while Dong had conversations with Beijing's consulate, he was "not wittingly being a tool of theirs."

"The prime minister had interviewed him quite thoughtfully with respect to his nomination and concluded it was appropriate to proceed with it and we accepted that was a conclusion that was founded in basic true facts," said Johnston. 

Meanwhile, the Global News journalist who produced Global's stories on Dong, Sam Cooper, has decided to leave the news outlet "to pursue a personal journalism project," Global News said in a statement to CBC News. 

In an email sent to Global staff about Cooper's departure, Craig Offman, the managing director of Global News' investigative and enterprise team, said Cooper's "deep sourcing and trust" led him "to a series of confidential memos from members of the national intelligence community." (Offman is among the defendants named in Dong's defamation lawsuit.)

"Eight months after his reporting on those documents first appeared, the debate over China's alleged interference remains central to the national conversation," Offman says in the email, obtained by CBC News. Cooper's last day with Global is Friday, Offman added.


Ashley Burke

Senior reporter

Ashley Burke is a senior reporter with the CBC's Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa who focuses on enterprise journalism for television, radio and digital platforms. She was recognized with the Charles Lynch Award and was a finalist for the Michener Award for her exclusive reporting on the toxic workplace at Rideau Hall. She has also uncovered rampant allegations of sexual misconduct in the Canadian military involving senior leaders. You can reach her confidentially by email: ashley.burke@cbc.ca or https://www.cbc.ca/securedrop/