A former British Columbia MLA who was detained in China in 2015 alleges the Canadian government ignored his pleas for help.

Richard Lee, a former BC Liberal MLA of Chinese heritage has finally opened up about what he calls federal government inaction after he was detained for eight hours while trying to travel to Shanghai four years ago.

Lee claims Chinese officials accused him of “endangering national security” and confiscated his belongings, including his government cell phone. He was then held for eight hours before he was forced on a plane headed back to Canada. 

While detained, Lee alleges that his phone was searched and he was denied access to consular services. 

“So my point is, it could happen to anyone. If someone in Canada does something not to China’s liking, your visa will be cancelled. It’s a serious situation,” Lee told Global News. 

According to Lee, the Liberal government ignored his letters for nearly a year, until journalists started investigating the story. Lee had written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, then-foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland, and Jody Wilson-Raybould, at the time Canada’s justice minister, among others, but received no reply.

During the 2019 Burnaby South federal by-election, Lee ran in the race for the federal Liberal party despite the lack of response. He came in second place behind NDP leader Jagmeet Singh.

This week, Lee received an email from the Prime Minister’s Office notifying him his case was passed onto the new foreign minister, François-Phillipe Champagne. 

At the time, Lee was reluctant to bring attention to the story out of fear that it would damage relations between the two countries while they were still cordial. 

He also informed the BC government and the Liberal caucus about the incident, raising concerns about the confidential government information potentially accessed through his devices, but wasn’t sure whether the RCMP was ever informed by the leadership. 

Lee claims that senior Liberal officials and representatives of the BC government engaged the Chinese consulate general in Vancouver.

“It’s a story that has international implications for Canada and our relationship with China, and that is why I will be writing to the federal attorney general, and asking the federal government to look into this, and offering BC’s assistance, to get to the bottom of whatever happened,” BC Attorney General David Eby told Global News. 

Now, Lee is warning Canadians about what he sees as an increasing encroachment in Canada by the Chinese government. 

“I have freedom of speech and association, but (the Chinese consulate) said I could not do that in Canada. There [are] many Chinese-Canadian associations that don’t consider themselves to be free, to speak against this interference.”

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