The motion comes a few days after POLITICO reported that Canadian officials told HFX organizers that the government would withdraw its support from the event if the John McCain Prize went to Tsai. Canada is a top sponsor of the forum.
Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan has since denied that the Trudeau government threatened to withhold funding for the organizers’ plan for the award.
Sajjan declined to respond, however, on Monday when he was urged by Conservative lawmakers to say if he would support Tsai for such a price. The minister told a committee hearing that HFX was independent and free to make its own decisions regarding awards.
He was also asked if he would pledge to continue funding the forum regardless of who the HFX had chosen to receive their awards. Sajjan said he would look at the funding request as he does every year.
For a few days now, the liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the House of Commons has been facing questions about history.
The previous Wednesday, Trudeau was pressured by Chong during Question Time to pledge to keep HFX funding going, even though organizers had awarded Tsai the John McCain Prize.
Trudeau replied, “The government has supported and funded the Halifax Security Forum throughout our tenure, and the minister has attended and will attend every year.”
The prime minister said he has always supported Taiwan’s “meaningful participation in multilateral international forums”.
“Canada continues to have strong and growing trade and human ties with Taiwan,” he said.
Trudeau ignored the preamble to Chong’s question referring to details from POLITICO’s story. “The government’s attempt to silence critics of China is shameful and plays right into China’s desire to silence its critics overseas,” Chong said.
Ottawa avoided provoking Beijing after bilateral ties collapsed over two years ago. In December 2018, Canadian authorities arrested Huawei manager Meng Wanzhou on behalf of the United States.
Beijing, angry with her arrest, has requested her release. Meng, who is accused of breaking US international sanctions against Iran, has denied any wrongdoing and is fighting extradition.
In apparent retaliation, China arrested two Canadians a few days later – Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor – and has since charged them with espionage.
Several sources familiar with the matter told POLITICO that the HFX organizers had decided to give Tsai the 2020 award. Cindy McCain, a member of the forum’s board of directors, agreed to honor Tsai with the award named after her late husband.
When Canadian officials learned of the plans, they made it clear whether organizers would present the award to Tsai, saying the Canadian government would withdraw its support – and funding – from HFX.
During the committee hearing on Monday, an irritated exchange suggested that Sajjan has concerns about the organization behind the forum.
The back and forth started when Conservative MP John Williamson asked Sajjan what he thought of HFX.
“I want to make sure you’re talking through the Halifax International Security Forum, not your Washington office. Is that correct?” Sajjan asked before getting a positive response from Williamson. “Well, just the event itself, not the office and not the employees who are former conservative employees who actually work in this office? Is that correct?”