Ottawa: The level of caution Canadian institutions must now take when dealing with China was not top of mind when the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation accepted a pledge from a Chinese billionaire, says the former head of the charitable organization.
Morris Rosenberg was president and CEO of the Trudeau Foundation from 2014 to 2018, which is when the charity was given $200,000 by Zhang Bin, a political adviser to the Chinese government and head of the China Cultural Industry Association, and Niu Gensheng, a Chinese businessman and philanthropist.
The charity set up to honour the legacy of the former prime minister announced Wednesday it is returning the donation after the Globe and Mail alleged the gift was linked to a Chinese government plot to influence Justin Trudeau after he became Liberal leader.

“As an independent, non-partisan charity, ethics and integrity are among our core values and we cannot keep any donation that may have been sponsored by a foreign government and would not knowingly do so,’’ Pascale Fournier, the current president and CEO of the Trudeau Foundation, said in a written statement.

Citing an unnamed national security source, the newspaper reported Zhang was instructed by Beijing to donate $1 million in honour of the elder Trudeau in 2014, two years before the $200,000 donation to the Trudeau Foundation was made.

The Canadian Press could not immediately reach Zhang regarding the allegations in the Globe and Mail, which said Tuesday he did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Niu also could not immediately be reached for comment.

A press release from the China Cultural Industry Association at the time of the 2016 donation says the money was given to honour Pierre Trudeau, who established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China in 1970. Three years later, he was the first Canadian prime minister to make an official visit to the country, where he met Mao Zedong.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he stepped back from the Trudeau Foundation shortly after being elected. The charity has previously said his formal involvement ended in 2014, about a year after he was elected Liberal leader. He became the member of Parliament for the Montreal riding of Papineau in 2008.

Rosenberg, who said talks about the donation were already underway when he assumed his role at the Trudeau Foundation, recalls that at the time Canada had a more positive, hopeful and trusting relationship with China.

He said the situation has changed and Canadian institutions need to question China’s motivations for entering into such relationships.

By David Fraser
The Canadian Press