Alberta Politics
Meng Wanzhou arrives at court in Vancouver (Photo: Screenshot of CBC newscast).

Canada has only a few hours to play the only decent card it holds to free the Two Michaels – but that would take courage

Posted on March 18, 2021, 2:15 am
7 mins

News media reported yesterday China has announced the espionage trials of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig will go ahead swiftly this week and next, leaving official Canada with only a few hours to play the only decent card it holds to free the unfortunate pair.

Unhappily for the Two Michaels, as Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig have come to be known, that would require official Canada to act with boldness and courage. 

Canadian Michael Spavor (Photo: Facebook).

Releasing senior Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou from Canadian custody and letting her return to China, which is what would be required, is certainly the last thing many powerful people in our country’s police, security, diplomatic and political inner circles want.

So with Mr. Spavor expected to go on trial tomorrow in Dandong on the North Korean Border, and Mr. Kovrig on Monday in Beijing, it’s unlikely anything will happen.  

Whether the Two Michaels are spies as the Chinese Government claims or innocent bystanders as Canadians are constantly told by media and government officials, this leaves the pair in a very bad spot. 

They are pawns in a great game played by two haughty imperial powers that care little about Canada’s interests and even less about a couple of Canadians. 

They are unable to count on much help from Canadian officials who have their own agendas, and for whom they may well be more useful as Chinese prisoners than safely home in Canada. 

Messrs. Spavor and Kovrig were arrested by Chinese state security officials in December 2018 soon after Ms. Meng was snatched by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police at the behest of U.S. officials during a stopover in Vancouver, where she has a residence. 

It seems clear the arrests of the two Canadians were intended by the Chinese Government to send a message to Canada to let Ms. Meng go, and that Ms. Meng in turn was intended as a hostage to press China in the former Trump Administration’s high-stakes trade negotiations, a gambit in former President Donald Trump’s ultimately unsuccessful election campaign. 

Ms. Meng was chosen for her role because as a senior executive of a huge and successful Chinese high technology company with ties to the Chinese Government, she made an excellent bargaining chip. Mr. Trump publicly admitted as much. Conveniently for the Americans, she was a resident of Canada. 

Canadian Michael Kovrig (Photo: Twitter).

The U.S. authorities obviously correctly concluded that their Canadian counterparts would meekly comply with the dubious scheme to arrest her during a stopover in Vancouver for supposedly ignoring U.S. sanctions against Iran, even though Canada and other Western countries had not enacted such sanctions.

Given the conduct and openly expressed intentions of the Trump Administration, it has always been absurd to claim, as Canada has continually since Ms. Meng’s arrest, that our hands are tied by the rule of law. 

Meanwhile, with thousands of Canadians in China to choose from, the Chinese Government picked the two Michaels for some reason, possibly because they had the kind of resumes that would send a more pointed message to Ottawa than a mere diplomatic note, something that would be understood behind closed doors in Canada’s capital.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has described the charges against the men as “trumped up.”

U.S. President Joseph Biden (Photo: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons).

The charges against Ms. Meng were undeniably Trumped up – and are apparently still useful to the U.S. Administration of President Joseph Biden.

It’s generally agreed the timing now of the Two Michaels’ trials – the outcome of which we are constantly reminded by Canadian media are a foregone conclusion – was intended by China to send a message to the Biden Administration, which will commence its first talks with senior Chinese officials in Alaska today. 

Rather than cut the Gordian knot and simply let Ms. Meng go, the Trudeau Government has placed all its chips on a timid bet the United States will spring the Two Michaels without us having to defy the American Imperium. 

Anything’s possible, but the chances this succeeding seem slim. Surely our American cousins would rather have a couple of Canadians in jail than some of their own. The same thing may suit China, because the stakes are lower.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Photo: Justin Trudeau/Flickr).

It’s clear, moreover, that the Biden Administration has its own reasons for hanging onto Ms. Meng, which presumably have even less to do with sanctions against Iran, which President Biden has said he would like to remove, than his predecessor’s did.

If Canada won’t act on behalf of its own citizens, who have already spent 830 days in jail, it’s unlikely China will release them any time soon, even if they get what they want from their talks with the United States. 

In the current epoch, it would appear, pride goeth before someone else’s destruction. 

Canada has less than a day to do the right thing. Fortis Fortuna adiuvat. 

26 Comments to: Canada has only a few hours to play the only decent card it holds to free the Two Michaels – but that would take courage

  1. tom

    March 18th, 2021

    A note: Joe Biden has also retained his predecessor’s America First policy concerning vaccine exports as well as tariffs on steel and aluminum (presumably on the same national security grounds that made America’s NORAD partner such a risk in the eyes of the Trump administration).

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      March 18th, 2021

      Good point. Another commenter today compared Canada’s relationship to the United States to that of East Germany to the Soviet Union. But at least the Soviets didn’t pretend very hard that the East Germans were an independent country and boycott their production or deny them essential medicines they’d paid for. On the latter point, to be fair, I see the Biden Administration this morning has relented and will send Canada the AstraZeneca vaccine it has already purchased and that the U.S. was holding unapproved in storage, so progress from the Trump Era. DJC

      Reply
      • Neil Lore

        March 18th, 2021

        America has much better propaganda than the Soviets ever did.

        Reply
  2. Roger

    March 18th, 2021

    Excellent summary, thanks. Only thing missing, imo, is the dishonorable 3 hour part played by CBS before she was turned over to the RCMP. Looks like a lose/lose situation for those involved.

    Reply
  3. Bill Malcolm

    March 18th, 2021

    What a schemozzle this whole thing has been! One thing’s for certain, Canada is no more than an imperial bootlicker these days, the real beginning of which seems to me to have begun with Mulroney, neoliberalism and “free” trade. We lost our self-respect when we abandoned our own industrial sector (for which I had first hand experience), gave up on internal strategic planning such as determining what basic capabilities any self-respecting independent country would ensure having and therefore fund (vaccine production is just one example) even if it made no overt economic sense. Instead, we got the fa la la routine from pols about free markets solving everything. So after Ontario and Quebec lost much of their manufacturing base and attached skilled jobs, we just sat back, guzzled beer and flogged off our sovereign natural wealth on the cheap. Even most of our big companies became more American controlled, no more PET scrutiny of whether a takeover was in Canada’s interest. We are now the East German ankle-biter equivalent to the former Soviet Union, yipping away with gusto on occasion to back the USA, yet signifying nothing of import. We are treated with the derision we deserve by the big boys of all stripes. Nobody gives a damn what we think, and we are so under the US heel we can’t even get non-aligned nations to vote us a UN Security Council two-year seat. They know an American Eagle in disguise when they see it.

    The Inspector Closeau style runaround at the time of Meng’s detention upon Vancouver arrival, as exemplified by all concerned phoning “home” for instructions for a few hours by the flustered flatfoot plodding police and border officials showed how politically centralized such decision-making has become. Trudeau of course killed off McAllum as Canada’s ambassador to China just as he was on a diplomatic roll with them, when he pointed out some obvious truths about the Meng detention. Instead we got the “rule of law” routine, which is a laugh in and of itself. One supposes if the Cons had been in power, they would have been even more supine, if that’s possible, to the US hegemonic view of the world and dear old loutish Donald. Since then we have also been subjected to the most tortuous legal reasoning by the extradition judge for keeping Meng in custody to await the actual formal extradition hearing. I label it as utter horsesh!t.

    So now, our official internal political line to the masses is to dun China. Well, they’re commie autocrat human rights deniers, right, while we’re perfect, and pols whip up what little public fervour there remains on the issue of the two Michaels’ detention. The media repeats it rote with nary a comment.

    China for its part has been overtly tone deaf with Canada, completely unfriendly, lectured us from an on-high perspective of unearned intellectual superiority, and shown that it regards itself as a big power who can push us around at will. They cut Canadian food imports on transparently specious grounds, and are 100% obstinate on the Michaels’ issue, no compromise, and apparently treat them like dirt, while Meng lives in her mansion and dresses in the latest fashions. I find official Chinese behaviour and conduct reprehensible. Complete over-reaction. At heart, they show no respect for us whatsoever down to the average citizen level of farmers. However we got to this point, and it’s probably our fault initially, at least we have since been treated to an expose of what the regime over there is like at heart when it feels it has been crossed. And it’s not a pretty picture. Countries signing up for the new Silk Belt Road Initiative and jolly Chinese ambassadors with money developing their countries “without” political interference should watch their backs, in my view — beware strangers bearing gifts, as the old saying goes.

    So actually I don’t believe we should let Meng go at this point. There are no assurances that the two Michaels would be freed. Time to hand the Meng hot potato over to the Yankees and let them juggle it from one hand to the other: You wanted her You got her. Leave us the hell out of it and do your own dirty work.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      March 18th, 2021

      Bill: Good point at the end about handing Ms. Meng over immediately to the authors of our problem. (Other than the RCMP, of course, who I strongly suspect along with the CBSA grabbed her without informing the federal government of what they were doing because someone in Washington asked them directly.) We could hardly do that, though, could we? It would mean admitting the while rule-of-law fandango was a sham. DJC

      Reply
      • Neil Lore

        March 18th, 2021

        If the US were speaking directly to the RCMP that is beyond inappropriate, and if the RCMP were taking orders from them without verifying them with the Canadian government… I don’t even have words for that. That would help explain what a cock-up this whole affair has been, though. From day one it has seemed that whoever was the “brains” behind this operation did not have a clear endgame in mind.

        Reply
      • Mickey Rat

        March 18th, 2021

        No one can seriously think that handing Ms. Meng over to the US will get us out of this – that’s crazy thinking. That would lose Canada the only possible influence we have on this situation. Canada would then be cemented into the negative repercussions with no possible positive results. Truly lose-lose. The treatment we have been given by successive US administrations (complete disdain) should show us the way out of here. Try to show the world we have independence and respect in diplomatic matters, even just pretending would help.

        I believed until lately that this Meng arrest was an accident caused by local incompetence and would have been stopped by higher command if they had the chance. But now I’m starting to think this was all authorized at the highest levels. If this is the case it shows how little these people care about Canadians. They don’t care about Kovrig, Spavor, farmers, exporters, mill workers, any workers, not you, not me…

        Reply
    • Mickey Rat

      March 18th, 2021

      Over reaction on China’s part? Do you know who we grabbed? Do you see the implications for China? At least they’re standing up for their citizens. Is Canada sending anyone to watch the trials of our guys?

      Reply
    • Ken Larsen

      March 18th, 2021

      Bill: While I mostly agree with your observations, perhaps I could add a bit of history and context on this from a prairie farm perspective.

      The Chinese really did not cut Canadian food imports on specious grounds as you say. Many in the press chose to ignore the nuances of the export grain market in respect to canola sales. This was about purity standards and should have been a very simple issue to resolve. Canada is wholly and completely in the wrong on this one as I and other commentators familiar with agriculture had pointed out at the time:
      http://www.cwbafacts.ca/2016/09/4780/

      Add in the previous betrayal by Canada of our long-standing relationship with China when Harper killed the Canadian Wheat Board
      http://www.cwbafacts.ca/2017/12/trudeaus-china-agenda-damaged-by-recent-history/
      and the damage to our relationship with China even before the apprehension of Ms. Meng is hard to over state.

      Incidentally, the Chinese never stopped buying Canadian canola, but since our politicians live in the pockets of multinational grain companies, the Chinese are no longer paying the premium prices they once did because our canola is not cleaned to the food export standards the Chinese were accustomed to from the Canadian Wheat Board on grains.

      The charitable view is that Harper and Trudeau simply do not have the geo-political sophistication of former Prime Ministers Diefenbaker and Pearson and have allowed Canada to lose its independent relationship with the world including China.

      Reply
  4. Simon Renouf

    March 18th, 2021

    DC, For what it’s worth I entirely agree with your analysis. I don’t know anything about the “Two Michaels” but I do know a bit about extradition law, and the claim that Canada simply adhered to the rule of law regarding Ms Meng’s detention is, and always was, utter nonsense. The Canadian government could, at any time, end the detention of Ms Meng, without doing any damage to our extradition law. Her initial detention was solely for the purpose of placating the Trump administration. Her continued detention is now a matter of domestic political cowardice.

    Reply
  5. ayeamaye

    March 18th, 2021

    Sanctions. In another time called a blockade. In another time an act of war. Napoleon’s Continental System, in other words,sanctions ,an economic blockade against England. An act of War. The Americans use sanctions against anyone that doesn’t fall into line. Yemen,Iran, Venezulea,North Korea.Meng Wanzhou allegedly violated American sanctions…let them deal with it.MBS is complicit in the murder of an American citizen and he get’s a pass? No, not complicit, he ordered the killing. If the Americans care about the rule of law and their ally and neighbour Canada, they should order her immediate release with the caveat for the immediate release of the two innocent Canadians.

    Reply
  6. Abd

    March 18th, 2021

    Canadian embassies and consulates can be the equivalent of useless to Canadian citizens. This is as it had always been. Want to renew your passport while working overseas? Good luck finding anyone at such places who speak either of Canada’s two official languages, or is willing to help. You are on your own as a Canadian citizen when you travel or work abroad, and don’t forget it.

    No “Let’s make a Deal” from Canada. Who wants one Meng for two Michaels? What would happen if a paperwork error temporarily allowed Meng to make a break for China? Would China deliver two Michaels?

    Reply
  7. Neil Lore

    March 18th, 2021

    I think that if America has played us, we should be rescinding our extradition treaty with them. I think that we shouldn’t reward the Chinese government for kidnapping our citizens and holding them hostage. I think the Canadian government has no coherent plan for dealing with this mess and no clear idea of how to engage with China going forward. I think the Canadian business community is pro-China and the public is more anti-China with each passing day, and the government feels caught between the two. I worry that we are heading into a new cold war.

    I get that the Chinese government doesn’t care, but it’s now politically toxic for any Canadian party or politician to support closer ties with China.

    Reply
    • Peter Wilson

      March 18th, 2021

      The US’s extradition process is badly flawed. The Meng case is just one of an ongoing trio.
      Julian Assange is the prime example.
      His real crime is the exposure of US war crimes, who hasn’t seen the ” collateral damage” video showing the helicopter gunship mowing down innocent people including 2 Reuters reporters.
      The second extradition case is that of the UK wanting the US to return the CIA operative fugitive who , leaving a US airbase in the UK and driving on the wrong side of the road, hit and killed a 19 year old motorcyclist named Harry Dunn. The female CIA operative left the UK immediately after and the US refuses to honour their reciprocal extradition treaty by sending her back to face British justice.
      There is one law “Pax Americana”, and it is applied universally solely for the benefit of the US state.

      Reply
      • Kang

        March 19th, 2021

        “Pax Britannica” was the previous incarnation of imperialist power. It’s so-called legal justification was the doctrine of “extraterritoriality.” If you look at how this was applied to China during the colonial era, it is plain why China does not accept the imposition of American law on its nationals. The death of the Brit and the spiriting away of the CIA employed driver who hit him show the irony of the situation where the polices of a former imperial power are applied domestically by the new imperial power. Thank you for the example.

        Since we do not have any trade sanctions in place that are relevant to Meng, China’s contempt for a vassal state like Canada enabling America’s extraterritorial application of their trade sanctions in Canada is also understandable.

        As our host has observed, it would take courage from Ottawa to act independently and the Chinese have certainly given them more than enough time to muster that courage.

        Reply
  8. Dave

    March 18th, 2021

    I suspect this has long ago gone past the point of no return, politically. China’s approach has won it few friends in Canada and lost it many. I don’t know if the US will be of any help in us resolving this situation, but that does not look so hopefully right now either.

    One of the problems is, I don’t think the Chinese government quite fathoms how a multi party system works (not having one themselves). Instead of a keeping it a dispute with a particular leader or party, it instead escalates into a huge dispute with another country. Both Canada and the US are now more united against China than perhaps they ever have been and China isn’t very well regarded anymore in a number of other countries, like Australia currently. Regardless of the merits (or not) of Meng’s situation, I don’t think hostage and bully diplomacy has accomplished anything other than quickly destroying tremendous amounts of goodwill towards China built up over the last 50 years

    Reply
  9. Keith McClary

    March 18th, 2021

    “Whether the Two Michaels are spies as the Chinese Government claims”

    “Spies” is our govt/media translation, but that may be a misrepresentation. I suspect China has a “catch all” law like “Conspiracy Against the USA”, which was used to politically prosecute Maria Butina for “opening lines of communication”.
    ____________________________________________________

    As for the anti-China propaganda fire hose, this article explains what is happening in Xinjiang:
    “AP Exclusive: Uighurs fighting in Syria take aim at China” By GERRY SHIH December 22, 2017
    https://apnews.com/article/79d6a427b26f4eeab226571956dd256e
    (It does not get much into who is organizing, arming and financing this operation.)

    Reply
  10. GreenMapleLeaf

    March 18th, 2021

    And if we hand her over? When do we stop? The two Canadians are hostages, do we now negotiate with terroists? Because that is what the Chinese state is, a terroist state.

    To be unkind the two Michaels knew well from experience that China does not play by any rules. Do we also lower ourselves to their level? No.

    Sanctions, boycotts, asset forfeiture, send all Chinese embassy/consulate, TFW’s and lobby groups packing. This would be a start with the resumption of the status quo being the return of the two Michaels. Will it hurt our economy? Yep but we should all have skin in this game. It’s nice to talk about genocide but are the Conservatives prepared to have say 100,000 Uigurs brought to Canada to save them from their virtue signalling genocide? Are we prepared to boycott Costco and Walmart? Alberta’s oilsands are owned and operated by how many Chinese state owned companies hidding behind Canadian front companies with how many workers shipped in from China? Would they be ok with that?

    Cheers.

    Reply
  11. jerrymacgp

    March 19th, 2021

    David, I rarely disagree with you, but when I do it’s usually in matters of geopolitics. We can’t give the Chinese government what they want — that would just be rewarding them for holding these two people hostage, with no guarantee they’d let them go even after Meng landed in Beijing.

    Now, to be clear, we had no business arresting her in the first place. The US’ Trumped-up charges (that capital-‘T’ is not a typo but a deliberate choice) were completely bogus, based on sanctions imposed on Iran by the US but not by Canada. But once the Chinese government retaliated, we were stuck with her. We couldn’t let her go, lest we offend the thin-skinned President at the time. We couldn’t do as Mr Malcolm suggests & summarily pack her off to the States, because her family can afford the kind of zealous legal representation that can make — and has made — this drag on apparently indefinitely.

    Canada has a very weak hand. My view is that the only choice we have is to raise the table stakes significantly. If Ms Meng is so important to the Chinese government, maybe we need to make this harder for them. It’s been galling to see her comfortable sojourn in a Vancouver mansion being called “house arrest”, while the two Michaels languish in a miserable Chinese prison.

    Let’s loudly & publicly find a way to move her from her current cushy digs into conditions more closely parallel to those in which Kovrig & Spavor are being held. Call her a “security risk” or something, I don’t care how we do it, but lock her up in strict solitary confinement, & tell China she’ll stay there until the two Michaels are, if not released altogether, transferred into a much milder, more amenable form of detention. And, by the way, let’s also send some selected Chinese nationals — like most of their embassy, and any others with close ties to the Chinese government — home.

    This doesn’t sound very Canadian, but the only way to stand up to a bully is not to back down, and all Canada has been doing so far is backing down.

    Reply
    • Mickey Rat

      March 19th, 2021

      Jerry, you remember that Canada took the first hostage right?

      Racheting up this situation would be a terrible thing to do. Canada actually has some cards left – we hold Ms, Meng. I really hope Trudeau has a plan we don’t know about, if he doesn’t he’s incompetent. Yeah I know he’s demonstrated lots of incompetence already, but you know what I mean. The important thing is that this could be fixed, and maybe could be fixed in a way which undoes some of the damage. Canada’s hands are not tied by the “rule of law” and in geopolitics anything is possible. It is beyond time for Canada to stand up and fix this. Very interesting context provided by Ken Larsen above and is the kind of thinking/understanding that can get us out of this.

      Reply
      • jerrymacgp

        March 20th, 2021

        Yes, it’s true, Canada made the first big mistake by arresting Ms Meng on that specious US extradition warrant. She wasn’t some violent terrorist or serial killer fleeing justice: she’s the CFO of a major Chinese industrial enterprise engaged in what is in Canada legitimate business activities.

        But, once she was arrested & the extradition hearing process was started, there was really no alternative to allowing it to run its course. The Minister of Justice & Attorney-General of Canada (or is it the Minister of Global Affairs? I don’t recall) has the authority to make the final call on whether or not to sign off on the extradition — but as I understand it, that can’t happen until the court has spoken, which it has not.

        Remember, too, that for most of the time this was in play the Canadian Government was dealing with the mercurial, thin-skinned Donald Trump in the White House, and releasing Ms Meng to return to China might have triggered some form of punishment by his Administration.

        Reply
  12. March 19th, 2021

    I wonder if we will learn anything from the trials of the 2 Michaels in China. Will the Chinese authorities allow any western observers? And if so, will the western press provide any unbiased reports?

    Simon Renouf’s comment offers Canada’s best strategy now going forward; blame Trump!

    David, your comment about the RCMP or the CBSA acting on orders direct from Washington is interesting. The only argument against it is that Trudeau’s government was pretty much onside already; they would have given the go ahead if they had known, so there was no reason to cut them out of the loop. It might be embarrassing if word got out that the Canadian security services had acted on American instructions and only later informed figureheads in Ottawa. But, would Canadian news outlets allow a story like that?

    Thank you for the post.

    Reply
  13. Peter

    March 19th, 2021

    The two Michaels and Meng Wanzhou are all unfortunate and entangled in a three-way tug of war. If the US does not drop the extradition charge against Meng, Canada probably will not release her, then China will not release the two Michaels. The trials of the two Michaels could foretell a good push on the part of China to break the impasse. Once the legal processes with respect to the two Michaels are over, China will have the flexibility to make a deal. If Meng is released afterward due to the effort of Canada, the China side could deliver a pardon toward the two Michaels and release them as well. If Meng is extradited to the US, the two Michaels will probably be staying in prison for long time. The trials are a new beginning, good or bad depends what will happen next.

    Reply
  14. Abd

    March 19th, 2021

    Interesting news today that the first trial was held in secret without observers, and no verdict was reached. Apparently this allows a 45-day window for news on the case.

    Reply
  15. Keith McClary

    March 19th, 2021

    Have our politicians or our patriotic media made any comparisons with the case of Hassan Diab , who was extradited from Canada to France where he was imprisoned for 3 years and two months?
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hassan_Diab_(sociologist)
    Of course, that’s different, since France is not currently on the US “adversary” list. (Not since the “Freedom Fries” days.)

    Then there was Iranian doctor Majid Taheri who was taken hostage by the US (the pretext was a sanctions technicality). The Americans then released him in a prisoner swap. No mention of any “rule of law” issue.
    https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-52965150

    The US also took medical researcher Masoud Soleimani hostage on sanctions pretexts.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masoud_Soleimani
    They had no “rule of law” problems swapping him either:
    https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-03856-y

    Reply

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