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Polarizing Chinese-Canadian leader re-enters political arena – Global News

Michael Chan, an influential and polarizing leader in the Greater Toronto Area’s Chinese-Canadian communities, has registered to run for municipal office in Markham, Ont.

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Chan, who was provincial minister of citizenship, immigration and international trade in Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government, stepped down in 2018, citing health reasons.

In a tweet on Aug. 8, Chan announced his return to Canadian electoral politics as a York Region council candidate.

Although it has been four years since Chan was in office he has remained an influential force in community organizing and fundraising for the Liberal Party of Canada, while also drawing criticism from some community members for statements they say were in support of Beijing’s crackdown on democracy protests in Hong Kong.

Chan’s campaign has yet to answer a request for comment on his campaign and past political career. And efforts to reach Chan at Miller Thomson, the Toronto-area law office where Chan previously worked as a senior business advisor after stepping down from office in Ontario, were also unsuccessful. A Miller Thomson staffer said that Chan no longer works at the firm.

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Chan gained notoriety in national media reports as a mid-level cabinet minister in Ontario Liberal governments, but also for concerns that he allegedly drew the attention of CSIS, Canada’s security and intelligence watchdog, because some CSIS officers believed Chan had an unusually close relationship with People’s Republic of China officials in the nation’s Toronto consulate.

In a 2015 report, the Globe and Mail alleged CSIS had officially warned Ontario’s Liberal government in 2010 that Chan was at risk of influence from officials in Beijing. However, then-premier Dalton McGuinty’s government rejected CSIS’s allegations against Chan, the Globe reported. Chan also strongly denied the allegations and commenced a lawsuit against the newspaper, the status of which is not known.

Multiple Canadian intelligence sources have told Global News that CSIS did officially alert McGuinty’s government of CSIS’s concerns about Chan, and that McGuinty’s government rejected the security and intelligence warnings. The controversy around Chan’s case also led to the creation of a new Ontario provincial government office that looks into risks of foreign interference in provincial politics, according to a source with direct knowledge of the office’s operations.

The office, started under Wynne’s direction, according to a Canadian intelligence source, remains active in Premier Doug Ford’s government. Ford’s office did not immediately respond to questions from Global News about the office’s functions.

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While Chan hasn’t officially been involved in Liberal Party politics in recent years, he has appeared at events with political candidates running for various levels of government in Markham, including Markham-Thornhill MP Mary Ng, Global News has reported.

The Liberal Party of Canada maintains Chan has no official role at the federal level, but Chan appeared to enter the fray during the October 2021 election campaign, with a tweet from his “verified” Twitter account, accusing Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole of “hateful rhetoric” that “is hurting the safety of the Chinese community in Canada.”

In 2019, Hong Kong Canadian community members told Global News they were concerned about Chan’s appearance beside prominent pro-Beijing community leaders in Markham at a rally they say was meant to counter pro-democracy protests taking place in Hong Kong.

“We support Hong Kong’s police strictly handling unrest, Hong Kong’s government carefully defending the rule of law, China’s government carefully observing Hong Kong,” Chan said, according to a Chinese-language news site that posted video and text of his speech. “Hong Kong people have always been descendants of the Yellow Emperor. We overseas Chinese insist on unity, stability and prosperity.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.