OTTAWA — Global News and its parent company Corus Entertainment say in response to a lawsuit filed by Han Dong that their reporting about the Toronto MP was based on a detailed investigation involving multiple sources.
Dong's lawyers served the media company with a libel notice in March and called for a full apology and retraction for what they described as "false, malicious, irresponsible and defamatory statements" about him.
Global had published a story that month citing unidentified sources who alleged Dong told a Chinese diplomat in February 2021 that releasing Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who at the time were detained in China, would benefit the federal Conservatives.
Dong resigned from the Liberal caucus after the report was published, saying he wanted to focus on clearing his name, and foreign interference watchdog David Johnston concluded in his recent report that the allegation in the story was "false."
Johnston's report found that while Dong maintained "close relationships" with Chinese consular officials at least through the 2021 election, and did discuss the case of Kovrig and Spavor with the Chinese diplomat, "he did not suggest to the official that (China) extend their detention."
Global earlier published allegations that Dong benefited from Chinese foreign interference in his successful bid to become the Liberal candidate for his riding in 2019, which were also included in the lawsuit.
The Canadian Press has not independently verified the allegations.
Global and Corus said in a statement of defence filed in court that their sources felt the serious risks associated with sharing classified materials were outweighed by the public importance of the information.
The legal document says the allegations were based on information from two or three sources with knowledge of investigations by Canada's spy agency into foreign interference.
It says allegations that an elected official "may have been involved in instances of Chinese interference in the Canadian diplomatic process" are of "immense public interest."
The stories do not claim as fact that Dong was involved in China's attempts at interference, the document says.
"Rather, the stories refer to allegations from confidential sources within Canada's security network that CSIS had concerns about, and was monitoring, Dong."
It says the confidential sources were "tested," "scrutinized" and "critically evaluated."
"Published allegations were based on information from two or three sources with knowledge of CSIS investigations into foreign interference," it says.
"Where information from a confidential source was reported, that information was confirmed by reference to at least one additional confidential source who was independent from the original source."
A lawyer for Dong had no comment on Tuesday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 6, 2023.
David Fraser, The Canadian Press