My latest: treason?
Can he be charged with treason?
It’s a question many are asking. It’s a fair question.
Since Wednesday night, when Global News dropped a bomb on Canadian politics – that former Liberal MP Han Dong had allegedly lobbied China’s regime to keep two Canadians in prison there – that’s a question I’ve been asked many times: if the allegations are true, can Dong be prosecuted for treason?
It’s important to emphasize, here, that the Toronto-area MP hasn’t been charged with any crime. He’s resigned from the Liberal caucus to clear his name – as did a Conservative MPP in Ontario did earlier this month, for similar reasons – but no one has charged Han Dong with breaking any law.
And that may be because there’s no law to charge him with breaking.
In Canada, as with our allies, “treason” remains a serious crime. In the Criminal Code, it is defined in this way: “Every one commits treason who, in Canada, uses force or violence for the purpose of overthrowing the government of Canada or a province…
“[Or] without lawful authority, communicates or makes available to an agent of a state other than Canada, military or scientific information or any sketch, plan, model, article, note or document of a military or scientific character that he knows or ought to know may be used by that state for a purpose prejudicial to the safety or defence of Canada.”
We’ve got a criminal prohibition against “high treason,” too. But it’s a dramatically higher bar for prosecutors to clear. High treason is killing or attempting to kill our King or Queen – or waging actual war against Canada, or helping the enemy during a time of war.
But, as far as we know, we’re not at war. And, so far, the allegations against Dong don’t seem to fit a “treason” charge, either.
In the United States, someone facing similar charges might not be so lucky.
The Americans don’t mess around. There, treason is a capital offence – you can be put to death for it.
Chapter 115 of the U.S. Code: “Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years.”
Having sworn an oath to Canada, the allegations Dong faces would be a violation of a similar law here. And “giving aid or comfort” to the enemy – here, China – would easily describe the untried allegations against Han Dong.
In Britain, the law against treason has been around for nearly seven centuries. It’s one of the oldest statutes in the United Kingdom
Though amended many times over the years, The Treason Act 1351, as in Canada, distinguishes between treason and high treason. High treason is killing the King or Queen – but also, originally, less serious offences like making counterfeit currency.
Ironically (given their origins), Americans seem to have borrowed the “aid or comfort” idea from the Brits. There, the allegations against Dong would arguably amount to high treason. The last Briton executed for treason – collaborating with wartime Germany – was hanged in 1946.
For those who remain livid about the allegations against Han Dong, we’re sorry: he can’t be charged with high treason or even mere treason.
He wasn’t a cabinet minister or a senior bureaucrat or a member of the military, so he isn’t easily caught by the new version of the Official Secrets Act, the Security of Information Act. Did he – as the Act says – harm “Canadian interests”?
The interests of the two Michaels, to be sure. But were those identical to Canada’s? That’s less clear.
What’s clear, however, is this: while Han Dong may not be in any legal jeopardy, he sure is, politically.
CSIS is not his friend. And CSIS has apparently decided he needed to be removed from the Trudeau government.
And he has been.