Sam Cooper, the journalist who broke the story alleging that MP Han Dong advised a Chinese official to delay the release of two imprisoned Canadians, is leaving Global News this Friday.

On Tuesday, CBC News reported that Global had announced that Cooper would be leaving the outlet "to pursue a personal journalism project." Cooper deleted his role as Global's national investigative reporter from his Twitter bio, and replaced it with a link to a Substack publication called "The Bureau." The new publication had not published any content at the time of writing.

Further details about the reasons for Cooper's sudden departure were not forthcoming.

The development comes in the midst of Dong's lawsuit against Global and Cooper for defamation over their reporting that included allegations Dong had advised a senior Chinese embassy official to delay the release of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor from Chinese custody during a conversation in 2021. The story was based on claims made by two anonymous "national security" sources.

As as a result of the story and others like it, Dong left the Liberal Party caucus to sit as an independent MP and said he and his family have received death threats.

In his statement of claim against Global, Dong flatly denied the allegations in Global's reporting, which includes other stories about alleged Chinese government interference in Dong's nomination as the Liberal candidate for Don Valley North.

"The defendants relied on allegations made by anonymous sources, providing almost no context about the sources’ backgrounds, positions, and motivations," the statement reads, in part. "The defendants failed to report key facts and contextual information that would have undermined the sources’ credibility and reliability and the defendants’ biased narrative angle."

It continues:

"Most importantly, the defendants published these defamatory accusations without fulfilling their duty to diligently investigate and scrutinize them. The defendants failed to verify their allegations that Dong advised the Chinese Consul General in Toronto to delay releasing Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig against a transcript or recording of the conversation in question."

Special Rapporteur David Johnston, the Trudeau government's controversial advisor on alleged foreign interference, said last month that allegations that Dong had advised a Chinese official to delay the release of Kovrig and Spavor were false.

"Mr. Dong discussed the ‘two Michaels’ with a (People’s Republic of China) official, but did not suggest to the official that the PRC extend their detention," Johnston wrote in his first report.

As for the alleged "irregularities" in Dong's nomination process, Johnston wrote: “In reviewing the intelligence, I did not find evidence that Mr. Dong was aware of the irregularities or the PRC consulate’s potential involvement in his nomination."

On Monday, Global filed a statement of defence denying that their reporting was defamatory. Despite stating that they determined their anonymous sources were "credible through rigorous investigation," the outlet stressed that the allegations those sources made were not "presented as factual findings."

"Rather, the information from intelligence sources concerning Dong is clearly described as allegations," reads the statement.

The headline of Cooper's story published on March 22 reads: "Liberal MP Han Dong secretly advised Chinese diplomat in 2021 to delay freeing Two Michaels: sources."

The article itself qualifies each claim made about Dong as being an allegation. However, as noted above, Dong states that Global failed to properly verify the allegations before publishing them.

The Globe and Mail reported in March that they had also been tipped off about the allegations of Dong advising a Chinese official to delay the release of Kovrig and Spavor, but decided not to run the story because they weren’t able to review a transcript or tape recording of his call with the Chinese diplomat.

As written at the time by The Maple's opinion editor Davide Mastracci:

"One publication deciding not to go forward with a story doesn’t necessarily mean another doing so is wrong. What it does make clear, though, is that if both publications had access to the same evidence, then they have different standards of proof to which they hold stories [...] Global News doesn’t state or even suggest in their March 22 article that they reviewed a tape or transcript of Dong’s call with the diplomat. If they had reviewed this call, I assume they would have made this explicit."

The Globe also reported that "The Trudeau government determined that there was no 'actionable evidence' after it received a CSIS transcript" of the call.

The Globe added that "The Prime Minister’s Office and its National Security Office reached out to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to provide a copy of the transcript after the PMO was first approached by The Globe on the matter 2½ weeks ago" according to an unnamed source.

Other Questions Raised

In a statement on his LinkedIn page, Cooper wrote: "I have worked with supporters including an expert from the tech and angel investor space, to found an independent journalism platform, starting next week."

PressProgress editor Luke LeBrun pointed out that Cooper appears to have first launched his new Substack on February 23, about one month before he broke the story about the allegations of Dong advising a Chinese official to delay the release of Kovrig and Spavor. As well, Cooper appears to have legally incorporated “The Bureau News Inc.” on March 23, 2022, almost exactly one year before the story broke.

Editor's note, June 8, 2023: This story has been updated to include a quote from Sam Cooper's statement on LinkedIn.

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