OTTAWA — The federal justice minister backed away Thursday from comments he made earlier this week that appeared to suggest Canada’s spy agency is currently investigating an Ontario cabinet minister.
Peter MacKay called it an “asinine assertion” that he confirmed the Canadian Security Intelligence Service was actively looking into whether Michael Chan was under the influence of a foreign government.
The Globe and Mail reported Tuesday that CSIS warned the Ontario government in 2010 that Chan may have been susceptible to influence by the Chinese government and had “unusually close ties to Chinese officials.”
In a statement, Chan says the article repeats five-year-old, unfounded suggestions and notes in 2010, the newspaper itself called the allegations “reckless, foolish and contradictory.”
Premier Kathleen Wynne says Chan, who is now the minister of citizenship, immigration and international trade, has served with honour in the Ontario government and is one of the hardest-working people she has ever met.
On Tuesday, MacKay had been asked whether, in light of the Globe report, it was appropriate for government ministers to have close relationships with foreign officials.
On Thursday, MacKay said it was a leading question.
“I’ve made no allegations. I’ve confirmed nothing,” MacKay said.
“To suggest that I have waded into this is a complete falsehood,” he added.
He also denied speaking broadly about the issue.
According to a transcript of the exchange Tuesday, MacKay was asked that given “that CSIS is investigating a minister of the Crown in Ontario (for his relationship with the Chinese consulate)… Is it appropriate for someone in your position to have close relationships with these people?”
“Well, it depends on what’s being discussed as in all cases and because it’s an ongoing investigation, I’m not going to refer to the specifics of what you’ve just asked,” he said.
“But you know, clearly there are people outside our country as inside our country who would seek to exert influence and I think it’s fair to say it’s incumbent upon all public officials to be very diligent in our they conduct themselves and to be wary of that fact.”
At an event in Toronto Thursday, Harper was also asked about the case and MacKay’s comments but said matters pertaining to CSIS weren’t something he would discuss.
“I have no comment on these rumours or allegations,” he said.
“They’re obviously a matter for CSIS and for the government of Ontario.”