As diplomatic spats go, it’s not on the order of the Huawei extradition case. But a recent row over the election of a young Tibetan activist as student president at the University of Toronto has, not for the first time, ignited a combustion of Chinese student nationalism and Canadian paranoia that have discouraged the public from supporting closer ties with China. In Canada, it has long been alleged that Beijing runs influence operations to monitor and mobilise young Chinese at universities for nationalistic causes. As soon as Chemi Lhamo, a fourth-year student in psychology, was elected student president at the university’s Scarborough campus early this month, she started getting online harassment and threatening messages. The 22-year-old Tibetan-Canadian openly supports the “free Tibet” movement. An online petition against her election, written in ungrammatical English, has received thousands of signatures. Tibetan-Canadian student defiant amid nationalist protests Politer messages warn her against using the student union platform to advocate independence for Tibet. Some threaten not to pay their mandatory student union fees as long as she is president. Other messages are not so civil, including those that vaguely threaten to harm her. The threats have prompted her to complain to the university management and arrange for extra security at the student union’s office. She has also claimed that Beijing may be behind the harassment campaign, a claim that is supported by Michel Juneau-Katsuya, a former senior official of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in charge of the Asia-Pacific region. The row grew big enough for the Chinese consulate in Toronto to issue a denial of any involvement. But its statement sounded almost encouraging to the Chinese students: “This is an entirely spontaneous action of those Chinese students based on objective facts and patriotic enthusiasm.” Mainland Chinese make up the largest foreign student body at the university, one of the top institutions of higher learning in Canada. Juneau-Katsuya told Canadian news media that such actions are typical of China to project influence aboard. Since leaving the intelligence service, he has become the rent-a-quote for a conspiratorial take on Beijing. His testimony in 2014 helped sink a planned alliance between the Toronto District School Board and China’s Confucius Institutes. Chinese students should learn to respect Canada’s long tradition of liberal tolerance. Canadian officials, current or former, should avoid making incendiary statements about China without evidence. But given the current state of bad blood between the two countries, rationality and respect are bound to take a back seat.