Michael Chan’s Libel Suit: Globe and Mail Files Statement of Defence

Globe says it was acting in the public good by exposing Ontario minister's questionable dealings with China
March 16, 2016 Updated: March 16, 2016

The Globe and Mail’s recently filed defence statement in a close to $5 million lawsuit by Ontario Immigration Minister Michael Chan says the paper was acting in the public good by exposing the minister’s questionable dealings with China and the concerns they sparked at CSIS.

The Globe’s argument centres on the relevance of its reporting on Chan as a public figure, information that the paper made public for the first time regarding interaction between the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Ontario government on Chan, and the “very thin investigation” on Chan’s conduct by the provincial government.

The Globe reported that Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne was unaware of CSIS’s concerns regarding Chan’s relationship with Chinese officials before her decision to promote Chan to the immigration and international trade file.

Chan’s statement of claim describes the Globe’s stories as old, “ludicrous” allegations and an attempt to boost circulation. The Globe counters that Chan is a public figure who has been placed in a sensitive post even after CSIS took the extraordinary step of approaching the province to have him investigated.

Globe Reports on Chan

Last year, the Globe and Mail published a series of stories about Chan revealing that he was one of the two provincial ministers that then-CSIS director Richard Fadden said in 2010 were feared to be under foreign influence.

Chan has fiercely denied any wrongdoing, calling the Globe stories a “re-hash of ludicrous allegations.” He is defended by Wynne.

But the Globe’s editor-in-chief David Walmsley, one of the defendants, has said the paper stands by its articles.

The Lawsuit

Filed last August in Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice, Chan’s lawsuit names Walmsley, the paper’s publisher Phillip Crawley, and Craig Offman, the main reporter and author of the articles, as defendants. Offman spent 10 months investigating Chan. Also named is Charles Burton, an associate professor at Brock University who wrote an editorial on the topic in the Globe.

Chan’s statement of claim says the Globe’s coverage didn’t offer anything new, and that the paper published the articles to attract “reader (and paid subscriber) attention and leading to greater revenues” after what it describes as the paper’s loss of readership in recent years.

“[The Globe and Mail] had been perceived as not having strength in investigative journalism, and most particularly as having fallen behind the Toronto Star in that area,” the statement reads.

It is a matter of immense public interest that deserves serious scrutiny.
— Globe and Mail's defence statement

It adds that Offman didn’t provide Chan with adequate opportunity to comment on the claims in the articles, and that from a “thin and fragile thread,” Offman and the Globe proceeded to “weave together a story that would portray for readers the picture that there was a reasonable basis for readers to doubt Michael Chan’s loyalty to Canada or for an investigation of that issue.”

The Globe’s statement says Offman gave opportunities to Chan to respond to issues raised in the articles, including a face-to-face interview and follow-up questions, calling it “disingenuous to suggest that Chan did not have an adequate opportunity to address the concerns of CSIS with Offman.”

The Globe’s statement also says the story has far from run its course, since “Chan remains a publicly accountable elected representative and cabinet minister in Ontario government.”

CSIS’s Concerns

In interviews with the CBC in 2010, Fadden, who at the time was the director of CSIS, expressed concerns that two Canadian provincial cabinet ministers are being influenced by foreign governments, without naming any names.

According to the Globe, Fadden had sent a top-secret memo to the federal minister of public safety identifying Chan as one of those cabinet ministers. Following this, the government of Ontario conducted what the Globe describes as “a very thin investigation” of the issue, consisting of a few phone calls.

Concerned by the lack of adequate response by the Ontario government, “CSIS undertook the extraordinary step” of sending a high-level official to ask the provincial government to revisit the issue, the Globe’s statement says. Offman’s articles were the first to expose those discussions.

Seven issues were raised by CSIS, the Globe says, but the articles only reported on the three that the paper could confirm—two of which centred on Chan’s close ties with the Chinese consul-general in Toronto. The third was Chan’s possible ownership of two properties in China, which were undisclosed.

Following the CSIS official’s visit, the Ontario government engaged the province’s integrity commissioner to interview Chan, according to the statement. The matter was disposed of by the commissioner in one to one-and-a-half days, and in October 2014, then-Premier Dalton McGuinty told the public that the matter was closed.

The Globe argues that the integrity commissioner lacks expertise in matters relating to foreign influence.

After Wynne became premier, Chan’s cabinet post was changed from minister of tourism and culture to minister of citizenship, immigration, and international trade.

“This elevation in Chan’s portfolio placed him in a pivotal position vis-a-vis relations with China, Ontario’s second largest trading partner,” reads the Globe’s statement, adding that Wynne said she had “no information from CSIS, the federal government, or anyone on the matter.”

“It is a matter of immense public interest that deserves serious scrutiny,” reads the Globe’s defence.

Such a stance by Chan flies in the face of Canadian values regarding the proper role of democracy in society.
— Globe and Mail's defence statement

‘Deserving of Consideration’

According to the Globe’s statement, Chan’s actions while in office are “deserving of consideration.”

Chan lobbied to bring the Confucius Institute—controversial Beijing-run institutes intelligence agencies describe as a tool to extend China’s soft power—to the Toronto District School Board, even though the institute is not in his riding and education is not within his portfolio. 

Among those considerations are: Chan’s lobbying efforts to bring the controversial Confucius Institute to the Toronto District School Board; his hiring of Michael Huang, who has a history of taking pro-Beijing causes, as a constituency assistant, as well as Wilson Chan, a former editor with a Toronto Chinese-language newspaper who was fired for censoring anti-Beijing coverage and is now working for Wynne’s office in charge of the ethnic media portfolio; and his statements publicly downplaying the importance of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement.

“Such a stance by Chan flies in the face of Canadian values regarding the proper role of democracy in society,” says the Globe’s statement, referring to the latter consideration.

The statement also cites an interview, first reported by the Epoch Times, given by Chan to the Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency related to his personal trip to China in 2009 where he attended the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. In the interview, Chan said: “Great is my motherland. Great are the people of my motherland. … Today seeing the [People’s Liberation] army on parade with such precision and the high spirits of the people, I am moved even more by the strength and power of my motherland.”

“The Globe and Mail defendants plead that the reporting in the articles was in the public interest in that it provided a detailed examination of the CSIS concerns and the Ontario government’s unilateral and opaque decision to declare the matter closed,” the Globe’s statement says.

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