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Chinese journalist wanted a divorce to continue relationship with Canadian MP, e-mail claims

Posted by Author on September 14, 2011

A Chinese journalist wanted to get a divorce to pursue a relationship with Conservative MP Bob Dechert, an e-mail allegedly sent by the woman’s husband claims.

The person who hacked e-mails between the Mississauga MP and Xinhua News correspondent Shi Rong appended the note at the top of the package of e-mails, which were forwarded last week to 250 recipients on Shi’s contacts list.

“In order to love this MP, Shi Rong has not hesitated to ask to end her marriage while posted abroad,” the note said in Chinese. “This is the Shi Rong you should know about.“

Shi has said it was her who her husband hacked her email and circulated the messages between her and Dechert, which date to April 2010.

At alternate translation of the message by the newspaper Epoch Times reads, “To continue her love affair with this member of parliament, Shi Rong pitilessly asked to end her marriage while stationed overseas.”

Either way, the message appears at odds with Dechert’s claim that he had only an innocent “friendship” with the much-younger Chinese journalist. It suggests that Shi’s husband believed his wife and the MP were involved in a love affair.

Dechert, 53, has said that the sentimental emails in which he said he missed Shi, complemented her beauty and signed “love, Bob,” were merely flirtations.

The Prime Minister’s Office says it has no information to dispute Dechert’s claim he did nothing wrong and has resisted calls for him to resign his role as parliamentary secretary to Foreign Minister John Baird.

Some critics contend that Xinhua functions as an espionage arm of the Chinese government. They claim Dechert’s private, personalrelationship with Shi could put Canada’s security at risk.

The sender of the hacked emails also said in English that the messages that followed were “only one part” – suggesting there may be more related correspondence not yet public.

Journalists writing about the Dechert emails overlooked the Chinese text at the top of the messages, because it appeared just above Shi’s contact information.

Dechert did not respond to calls to his home. His office said it had no further comment beyond a statement he issued last week apologizing for the emails.

On Tuesday, the Harper government refused to say if it took any steps to investigate the private relationship between a Chinese journalist and a Conservative MP with foreign affairs duties.

Neither the Prime Minister’s Office nor Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird would discuss whether there had been any examination of dealings between a Xinhua News Agency correspondent and Bob Dechert, who serves as Baird’s parliamentary secretary.

Baird, known as a ferocious defender of his government, offered only a weak defence of Dechert on Tuesday morning after making an announcement about the reopening of Canada’s embassy in Libya.

“I think the government has spoken to this,” Baird said solemnly. “Mr. Dechert has spoken to this. I have spoken to this.”

Dechert, 53, is at the centre of a furore over embarrassing e-mails he sent to the much younger Shi Rong, a correspondent with the Xinhua’s Toronto bureau. The messages contain phrases such as “You are so beautiful” and “I miss you” and are signed, “Love, Bob.”

Dechert contends he had only an innocent friendship with Shi and said the messages were mere flirtations.

Some critics charge that Xinhua functions as extension of the Chinese government and is, effectively, an intelligence-gathering operation as much as it is a wire service. A private relationship between a government official and a Xinhua reporter is a potential security risk, they charge, and must be taken seriously by the government.

Baird would not respond to questions about what steps were taken to determine whether Dechert’s relationship to Shi amounted to a security breach.

“I have nothing really else to add on that.”

The Prime Minister’s Office has apparently taken Dechert’s word that he did nothing wrong, other than send the e-mails.

“Mr. Dechert has denied any inappropriate behaviour. We have no information to suggest otherwise,” a spokesman said in a statement issued Friday.

“That’s not good enough,” said NDP MP Jack Harris in a television interview. “That doesn’t say they’ve done an investigation.”

Harris and his NDP colleague, Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar, have both called on Dechert to step down from his duties as parliamentary secretary to Baird.

“The prime minister has to assure Canadians that he has investigated this and no security breach has occurred,” said Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc. He said that while Dechert showed poor judgment, his resignation is not necessary.

The PMO did not respond Tuesday to a request for more information about efforts taken to examine Dechert’s dealings with the Chinese national.

For now, it appears Dechert will keep his parliamentary secretary job, even with the imbroglio over the e-mails expected to feature in opposition questions when the House of Commons returns from summer recess next week.

The government has claimed that Dechert has no responsibilities for China, because his role as parliamentary secretary pertains to the Americas, while another MP handles Asia.

But Dechert has represented Canada in Asia on several occasions. He travelled to China with the prime minister in December 2009, and last September accompanied Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney on a trip to the Philippines. There he met with President Benigno Aquino.

Around the time he was sending the emails to Shi, Dechert was sitting on the House of Commons Special Committee on Afghanistan and travelled to the war zone in June 2010.

Bryon Wilfert, a former Liberal MP who sat on the same committee, said he didn’t recall being given any confidential information on the trip or during the committee hearing.

“The level of information you’d get was fairly general,” Wilfert said.

Still, Wilfert said dealing with Xinhua requires care.

“Everybody knows they’re an arm of the Communist Party and all that,” he said. “I don’t think it looks good.”

Under former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin, MPs who served as parliamentary secretaries were sworn in as Privy Councillors, which makes them privy to cabinet confidences. Prime Minister Stephen Harper discontinued the practice.

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

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