As the Globe and Mail recently revealed, Conservative MP for Wellington—Halton Hills Michael Chong (pictured) and his family in Hong Kong were targeted by the Chinese regime in 2021 for criticism of Beijing’s human rights abuses. Photo credit: The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick
Politicians at all levels of government, be it the city councillor in Barrie, or the Member of Parliament for Vancouver Centre, make decisions everyday that are a tradeoff between their personal lives and the responsibilities that come with public office. Pursuing these roles, and the actual act of taking office often comes at the expense of time spent with family and friends due to the long hours and travel required.
Most go into the job knowing that there will be sacrifices made. And yet, public sympathy for the plight of politicians is often lacking. Hop on to Twitter or Facebook, and you will see troves of negative comments calling out politicians for their high-flying lifestyle and cushy jobs. Some accounts take it a step further, using derogatory language to try and make their point.
While social media has been ground zero for abuse in the last several years, Canadians have largely ignored the problem. Rather than try and curb the issue of harassment seen online, we have instead rationalized this behaviour by attaching it to the work of ‘bots’ and ‘trolls’ due to the anonymous nature of many of these accounts.
All the politicians I have worked with during my time as a staffer have done an exceptional job at ignoring the hateful rhetoric that they have been subjected to, and it has rarely dissuaded those in public life from fulfilling the obligations of their job.
This week, however, we were exposed to a different kind of threat impacting an MP and his family. On Monday, the Globe and Mail reported on a top secret CSIS document that rang the alarm bell on the Chinese government targeting MPs who supported a House of Commons motion calling out the human rights abuses of Uyghurs at the hands of Beijing as a genocide.
The Globe reported that Michael Chong, a Conservative MP in Ontario, was on China’s radar and the regime sought to target not only him, but his family who resides in Hong Kong. Notably, a Chinese diplomat based in Canada was involved in the alleged intimidation campaign. The diplomat in question has yet to be expelled by the Trudeau government, despite these bombshell allegations.
Meanwhile the Prime Minister spent much of the week blaming CSIS for not telling Chong about the threats posed by the Chinese government, and instead offered that moving forward the government would make it policy to alert MPs named in intelligence briefings. This is cold comfort from Trudeau who has failed at every turn to take the issue of Chinese foreign interference seriously or meet the moment by putting in place measures to safeguard our democracy.
The revelations from the Globe this week should concern all Canadians. Elected officials and their families deserve to live their lives free of intimidation. China’s campaign to coerce Canadian officials poses a real threat to the core tenants of the values we cherish in Canada, and has widespread consequences if we choose to ignore the knocking at the door.
The Chinese foreign interference scandal continues to evolve each day, but the difference is the issue has now been given a human face. Knowing what we now know, choosing to bury our heads in the sand at this juncture could be a defining moment for the history books.
Josie Sabatino is a Senior Consultant at Summa Strategies, focused on providing strategic insight and helping clients meet their objectives in an ever changing and complex political and regulatory environment. Prior to joining Summa, Josie spent nearly a decade in political communications and most recently served as the Director of Communications to the Hon. Erin O’Toole, former Leader of the Official Opposition.