Montreal University’s Story of Chinese Donation Differs From Alleged CSIS Version

Montreal University’s Story of Chinese Donation Differs From Alleged CSIS Version
View of the campus of the Université de Montréal on Sept. 16, 2022. (Shutterstock)
Noé Chartier

The Université de Montréal received a donation from the same Chinese regime-affiliated billionaires that has now taken down the leadership of the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation, but it told an entirely different story in 2014 about how everything fell into place.

While Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) information recently leaked to the press alleges the donation was spearheaded by the Chinese regime in a bid to influence Canada’s potential future prime minister Justin Trudeau, the university said at the time that the gift stemmed from a Chinese student’s wonderful experience on campus.

An article published in the university’s UdeM Nouvelles publication in November 2014 explains how a young Chinese student studying in the Faculty of Law in 2013 was so enthused about his experience that his parents reached out to the Chinese billionaires.

“His parents were the first to realize how much their son had acquired broad knowledge, but was also open to the world,” says the article.

“His father knows a rich businessman who knows another rich businessman. Together, they have just donated $1 million to the Faculty of Law.”

The two Chinese billionaires are Zhang Bin and Niu Gensheng. Zhang is a member of the Chinese regime’s National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and president of the China Cultural Industry Association (CCIA), a state-backed entity. Niu is a consultant with the CCIA.

The UdeM Nouvelles article said the donation was meant in part to “honour the memory and leadership of Pierre Elliott Trudeau” as one of the first Western leaders to recognize the People’s Republic of China, having established diplomatic relations with China in 1970. Trudeau is also a graduate of the Université de Montréal  (UdeM) and taught at its law faculty.

The article said the funds would mostly be used to provide scholarships to Quebec students wanting to study in China, where they will be able to “get familiarized” with a “really different” Chinese culture where the “collective is much more important than the individual.”

A much different narrative on how the donation materialized was provided by a Globe and Mail article published on Feb. 28 this year.

A national security source told the Globe that CSIS had intercepted a conversation between Zhang Bin and a Chinese diplomat in Canada in 2014.

The source reportedly said the two discussed the upcoming federal election in 2015 and the possibility the Liberals would win. The diplomat instructed Zhang to donate $1 million to the Trudeau Foundation and said the Chinese regime would fully reimburse him.

The donation UdeM had announced in its 2014 article was re-announced following the Liberals’ election win in 2015after a May 2016 cash-for-access Liberal Party fundraiser attended by Zhang where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was the guest of honour. However, it was for $800,000 instead of $1 million, with part of the balance of $200,000 being donated to the Trudeau Foundation.
In the September 2016 issue of its Droit Montreal publication, the university’s law faculty wrote about the “historical donation” of $800,000 it had received in June that year from Zhang and Niu.

‘No Indication’

The Epoch Times asked UdeM about the Chinese student origin story of the Zhang and Niu donation, but didn’t receive the clarification sought.

Spokesperson Jeff Heinrich said there was a deal in place for the donation in 2014 but that the signing ceremony occurred in 2016 “since it was complicated to find a moment to have all the required people in the same place.”

Heinrich said the way the issue is looked at today is different than in 2016. “When we received this donation, there was a greater economic and scientific openness in the relations between Canada and China,” he wrote in a statement provided in French.

The university had “no indication” at the time that the donation could have been linked to political interference by a foreign country, he said.

Heinrich had told The Canadian Press in early March that the university was reviewing its options regarding potentially returning the donation.

Of the $800,000 donation, he said $550,000 was for creating a scholarship named after Zhang and Niu, while the remaining $250,000 was never received.

Heinrich added that the university revised its policy on accepting donations in 2021 and that some law faculty programs established with Chinese partners ended in 2019, including a training program for Chinese judges.

‘Trudeau Education Foundation’

Discussions around a donation to the Université de Montréal and the Trudeau Foundation reportedly began as early as mid-2014 and involved Justin Trudeau’s brother, Alexandre Trudeau.
An article on the China Cultural Industry Association (CCIA) website dated December 2014 says that Zhang Bin, Niu Gensheng, then-UdeM vice-president Guy Lefebvre, and then-Trudeau Foundation director Alexandre Trudeau met in June 2014 to discuss establishing the “Trudeau Education Foundation” at UdeM’s Faculty of Law.

The article includes a photo of the men holding a banner with Chinese characters saying, “The flower in spring will become fruit in autumn.”

The Trudeau Foundation’s involvement early on was not mentioned in the November 2014 UdeM Nouvelles article.
“The establishment of ‘Trudeau Education Foundation’ aims to promote the long-term development of the Sino-Canadian friendship, as well as to promote the Sino-Canadian cultivation of judicial talents and elites as Premier Pierre Elliot Trudeau, and to contribute to the fairness and justice of the international community,” stated the CCIA article.

China Ties

The 2014 UdeM article says that Lefebvre, a former dean of the law faculty and now a law faculty professor emeritus, was involved in negotiating the deal with Zhang and Niu. It adds that Lefevbre pitched his project to Zhang, who then introduced him to Niu.

“It’s mostly because of [Lefevbre] that strong ties were developed between Chinese universities and Université de Montréal in the last 15 years,” says the article, with Lefevbre “insisting” the deal wouldn’t have occurred without this longstanding collaboration.

Lefevbre’s resumé posted on the university’s website lists his links with Chinese state entities, including being a fellow at the Institute of Law of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a Chinese Communist Party think tank. He also received an honorific doctoral degree in law from the China University of Political Science in 2021.
His work to strengthen ties between Canada and China was also recognized in 2018 by the Canada China Business Council, a group focused on increasing business ties between the two countries. Lefebvre received, on behalf of UdeM’s Faculty of Law, the Gold-level Education Excellence Award from the council.
The Epoch Times sent an email to Lefebvre’s UdeM account requesting comment but received no response. Additional unsuccessful attempts were made to contact Lefebvre through his current affiliation with the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law.

Internal Crisis

There’s been no public fallout for the university, but it’s a different story for the Trudeau Foundation, which the Globe on Feb. 28 reported had received a $200,000 donation from Zhang and Niu at the same time the university received the $800,000 donation.
The next day, the foundation announced it was returning the money. President and CEO Pascale Fournier issued a statement saying, “We cannot keep any donation that may have been sponsored by a foreign government and would not knowingly do so,” and told the Globe that the foundation in fact received just $140,000 of the $200,000 pledged in 2016.
But its leadership’s handling of revelations about the donation caused an internal crisis, reported Montreal news outlet La Presse on April 12, leading to the resignation of Fournier as well as the foundation’s entire board of directors a day earlier.
The La Presse article, citing an internal document from the foundation it had obtained, said the donation technically couldn’t be returned because “the name on the cheque for the famous ‘Chinese donation’ would not be the name of the real donor.”
Meanwhile, the Globe reported on April 12 that the donor’s name the foundation had on record was Millennium Golden Eagle International, a Chinese state-affiliated company run by Zhang Bin.
Three foundation board members have agreed to remain on an interim basis, including founding member Edward Johnson, who served as Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s executive assistant.
Johnson is also a previous top executive with Canadian multinational Power Corporation, which is one of the founding members of the Canada China Business Council along with Chinese state-owned investment company CITIC.
On April 12, the foundation announced it was launching an independent investigation into the Chinese donation and that it would not be giving interviews in the coming days. It has also asked the auditor general to investigate the matter.