This weekend, even under very different circumstances, most Canadians are enjoying Thanksgiving weekend. Here in Muskoka, it is a beautiful fall day and we are reminded of how fortunate we are to live where we do, in a country that is envied for its quality of life by many nations around the world.
Yet today, I am thinking of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. It would surprise me if either of these names are immediately recognizable and that, in itself, is regrettable. These two Canadian men are not enjoying Thanksgiving weekend. Instead, they are approaching two years of languishing in prison, held hostage by the communist government of China. There is absolutely no evidence that either of these men did anything illegal. They were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. That they are still in captivity after all of this time is mind-boggling and demanding of answers.
It all started on the first of December 2018, when Meng Wanzhou, a Chinese citizen with permanent residency status in Canada, was stopped by a border control agent as she attempted to re-enter the country at Vancouver International Airport. The agent noted an alert that an extradition order had been issued for Meng by the United States and she was detained and subsequently, at the request of the Americans, arrested.
Meng Wanzhou is chief financial officer and vice chair of Huawei, an international telecom giant and China’s largest privately owned company. Huawei is owned by Meng’s father, who is known to have close ties with the Chinese communist establishment. The Americans and other Western countries believe that Huawei uses its international telecom connections to gather information and intelligence which they share with the Chinese Government. Having Meng in their clutches would give the United States a strategic ‘leg up’ in dealing with this controversy.
The Chinese Government was not amused at Meng’s arrest and what they viewed as Canada’s complicity in allowing the United States to get their hands on her. Within days of Meng’s arrest, the two Michaels, as they are now referred to, both of whom worked in Asia for humanitarian organizations, were also arrested and thrown into jail, accused of espionage. No evidence of that has been presented and unlike Meng, who attends her extradition proceedings from her mansion in Vancouver, no bail was allowed. Only the naïve would believe this was a coincidence. It was clearly retaliation, pure and simple. Tit for tat.
And now, almost two years later, everything is at a standstill. The two Michaels are still locked up in a Chinese prison and Meng Wanzhou sits in luxury while her multiple extradition hearings grind on. There is something intrinsically wrong with this. These men should be brought home.
The position of the Canadian Government is that an extradition hearing is before the courts and that the Government must allow the process to take its course without interference. There is some truth in this as in a democracy, politics and the judicial system should be kept completely separate, although former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould would likely suggest that the current Government has not always adhered to that principle.
In this instance, however, the Government’s position on noninterference is not entirely accurate. The Canadian Extradition Act grants authority to the Minister of Justice, in his or her dual role as Attorney General, to intervene in an extradition matter at any point in the process and for any reason, whether or not a hearing or trial is ongoing. I hear good things about this Minister, and in my view, it is time for him to do just that.
The Chinese Government has made little secret of their willingness to exchange the two Michaels for Meng Wanzhou. There is a difference between this and negotiating with terrorists, which a government cannot overtly do.
What the Chinese have done is not an act of terrorism; it is an unprovoked act of aggression, if not an act of war. So let’s treat it like that. Let’s arrange for an exchange of prisoners and send Meng Wanzhou packing, and bring our boys home.
Some will argue there is weakness in that, but there is not. For certain, the current American Government will not be happy with us, but they aren’t in any event. Our battles are not important to them and we should treat theirs, at least in this instance, the same way.
As for Canada, there are other ways to punish China without leaving innocent Canadians in their hands. Indeed, we need to send a message to them that there are consequences for their actions. For starters we can ban Huawei from all Canadian markets. That is an act of strength, not weakness. But first, we need to get Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor home.
In Canada, we talk a lot about human rights and human dignity, as well we should. There is no dignity and a clear suppression of human rights for the two Michaels as they sit in a prison in communist China for crimes they did not commit. They have been under duress for far too long. If diplomacy was going to work, it should have worked by now. The Chinese just want one thing and, until they get it, these men will sit where they are.
If Canada wants to send a clear message to the world that they really do care about human rights, even though our record in that regard is less than perfect, bringing the two Michaels home, insisting that they come home, and dealing with China later is one way to accomplish it.
We have the means to do that. It is time to act. Anything less is to Canada’s shame.
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