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HomeBusinessEx-Liberal MP not asking House of Commons to reimburse legal fees 

Ex-Liberal MP not asking House of Commons to reimburse legal fees 

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Bob Mackin

The Toronto-area MP suing Global News for defamation is not seeking reimbursement for legal fees from the House of Commons. 

Han Dong left the Liberal caucus a month ago amid allegations of involvement in China’s foreign interference network. His April 20 defamation lawsuit in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice seeks $15 million in damages. Dong denied that he advocated in 2021 for the continued imprisonment of hostages Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, but admitted he liaised with Chinese diplomats in Toronto and Ottawa on behalf of constituents and in his capacity as co-chair of the Canada-China Legislative Association (CCLA).

Han Dong (third from right) at the River Rock Show Theatre during last July’s 20th anniversary of the Canadian Community Service Association, with CCSA founder Harris Niu (second from right) and China’s Deputy Consul General Wang Chengjun (far right). (Rise Weekly)

“Dong’s relationships with the Chinese Ambassador and the Consul General are professional; they are not close friends,” said the statement of claim. “To the best of Dong’s knowledge, he had phone conversations with the Consul General five times and the Ambassador seven times between 2020 and 2022.”

The claim said Dong’s family left China for Canada in search of freedom, opportunity and democracy and that his father was a prisoner in a state-run forced labour and re-education camp near Shanghai in 1970.

Global has yet to file its statement of defence.

“Global News is governed by a rigorous set of journalistic principles and practices,” said a statement sent by parent company Corus Entertainment. “We are very mindful of the public interest and legal responsibility of this important accountability reporting.”

House of Commons policy states that, if a legal issue arises while carrying out parliamentary duties, a member of parliament may retain outside counsel for representation and ask for reimbursement of legal fees via the all-party committee that oversees administration of the House of Commons. 

“We can advise that Mr. Dong does not intend to seek reimbursement for his legal fees through the Legal Fees Policy of the Board of Internal Economy,” said associate Emily Young of the Polley Faith law firm by email. “He has accordingly not submitted a request to the Speaker of the House seeking reimbursement.”

Asked why, Young said the policy does not appear to allow reimbursement of fees incurred if the MP making the request has initiated the legal proceedings.

Despite that, the policy says the board may, at its discretion, grant an exception, if it deems reimbursement appropriate and in the public interest. While the policy states that it will reimburse legal fees up to $350 an hour, the board may exercise its discretion to pay a higher hourly rate in exceptional circumstances.

Under the policy, the board reported that it paid out $1,855 for one reimbursement request between April and June of last year and $310 between July and September 2022. From July to September 2021, there were two requests for reimbursement of legal fees, totalling $57,030.02.

Young refused to say whether Dong is paying for his legal fees out of his own pocket. 

“We are not otherwise able to comment on matters relating to Mr. Dong’s payment of legal fees,” she said. 

Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch, said MPs should have their legal fees paid in defamation cases, but with reasonable limits. Conacher said Dong’s options are limited, because the conflict of interest rules for the House of Commons state that an MP cannot accept, directly or indirectly, any gifts or benefits that could be seen to influence the member.

Han Dong in the House of Commons on March 22 (ParlVu)

“MPs are public figures who are subject to libel, but, if you lost your lawsuit, then you should have to pay the fees,” Conacher said. “Because you wouldn’t want [an MP to say] ‘hey this is paid by taxpayers, so I’m just gonna launch this lawsuit to kind of kill everyone from talking and the public will pay for that, whether I win or lose’. And so that’s what I think the rule should be.” 

The National Post reported that Ontario provincial lawmaker Vincent Ke, who left the Ontario Progressive Conservative caucus, is asking for donations to pay for a defamation lawsuit against Global and has contacted Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner for advice. Ke denies a report that he received campaign donations from the Chinese consulate in Toronto via middlemen.

Dong co-chairs the CCLA and has represented the Don Valley North riding in Toronto since 2019. Last summer, he visited Vancouver, Richmond and Burnaby and charged taxpayers $2,391.73 for transportation “to attend meetings with stakeholders about business of the House.” He did not charge for accommodation and meals for the July 28 to Aug. 5, 2022 trip.

There is nothing on the CCLA website about Dong’s trip to the West Coast. Dong did not respond to interview requests about the trip, which included meetings with heads of the Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations and Canadian Community Service Association, two groups aligned with the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front foreign influence program. Dong sat at the head table of a banquet in River Rock casino’s theatre with senior diplomats from China’s Vancouver consulate.  

Conservative Kenny Chiu, who was the Steveston-Richmond MP from 2019 to 2021, called Dong’s trip to the West Coast “questionable.”

“If you are not conducting any committee business, or if you are not fulfilling any duty because of your portfolio, then it becomes a bit questionable and weird,” Chiu said. “Because his riding is Don Valley North, which is quite a few thousand kilometres away from Greater Vancouver.”

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