China has accused Canada of “slander and defamation” after it said Beijing targeted a member of its parliament and his family.
On Friday, China said the allegation that it attempted to intimidate Conservative MP Michael Chong over his anti-China stance was “nonsense”.
Mr Chong, 51, previously accused China of human rights abuses.
Canada is considering expelling Chinese diplomats over the issue and summoned its ambassador on Thursday.
It follows a Canadian intelligence report that first emerged in the Globe and Mail newspaper, which said Canada’s spy agency believes China sought details about Mr Chong’s relatives in Hong Kong in an effort to deter “anti-China positions”.
The politician put forward a motion in parliament in 2021 that declared China’s treatment of its Uighur minority population a genocide. China has denied the accusations and sanctioned Mr Chong shortly after.
Mr Chong said that he has been briefed by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and criticised Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government on Thursday for not expelling a diplomat the spy agency suggested was involved.
“Like many Canadians, I have family abroad,” Mr Chong said in a statement. “(China’s) targeting of families abroad to intimidate and coerce Canadians here at home is a serious, national threat.”
Mr Trudeau said he only learned about the issue after the Globe and Mail report.
“CSIS made the determination that it wasn’t something that needed to be raised to a higher level because it wasn’t a significant enough concern,” he said.
On Thursday, Canada’s foreign affairs minister Melanie Joly said that she asked her deputy minister to tell China’s ambassador, Cong Peiwu, that Canada will not tolerate interference in its affairs. “What has happened is completely unacceptable,” Ms Joly said.
“All options including expulsion of diplomats remain on the table, as we consider the consequences for this behaviour,” she said.
Typically, summoning an ambassador is a diplomatic tool used by one country to publicly express anger or discontent against the other.
On Friday, foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said China was “strongly dissatisfied with Canada’s groundless slander and defamation of the normal performance of duties by the Chinese embassy and consulates in Canada”.
It has “lodged a strong protest” with Canada’s ambassador to China, she added.
The allegations come amid other intelligence reports that have accused China of attempting to interfere in Canadian elections.