Alberta Politics
Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver in 2020 (Photo: Harrison Ha, Xinhua News Agency).

It’s good the Two Michaels are on their way home – but let’s not forget they weren’t the only hostages

Posted on September 25, 2021, 1:57 am
9 mins

Surely most Canadians rejoiced last night when they learned the Two Michaels were on their way home from their long imprisonment in China. 

It’s equally certain that some very well-placed officials in the Canadian government rejoiced to know Meng Wanzhou was gone from Canada, heading home to China almost the instant a judge in Vancouver declared there was no longer a reason to hold her now that the U.S. Government had dropped its extradition request. 

Canadian Michael Kovrig (Photo: Twitter).

We can all agree – at least in principle – that nations great and small really ought not to seize and hold hostages to achieve their diplomatic goals. 

Still, let’s keep enough of our critical wits about us to detect the whiff of hypocrisy in what was being said last night about the return of the two Canadians arrested in China and charged with spying days after the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. was snatched by the Mounties during her December 2018 stopover at Vancouver airport and held ever since.

One would almost think from the reporting last night that China was the only country taking hostages in this tangled affair. And nothing had changed today, after the two Michaels were safe at home in Canada, and Meng in China.

Yet there is no doubt that the first hostage taken in this saga was Ms. Meng, and that the purpose of the U.S. bank fraud charges levelled against her was to give then-president Donald Trump leverage in his administration’s effort to extort China into a politically motivated trade deal. 

Mr. Trump admitted this himself less than two weeks after Ms. Meng’s arrest when he told the Reuters News Agency on Dec. 11, 2018, he wanted her in U.S. hands because he thought it would help him get a better deal with China. 

“If I think it’s good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made, which is a very important thing – what’s good for national security – I would certainly intervene (in the case),” he told the news agency’s reporter. 

As for the dubious merits of the U.S. case against her, the principal U.S. knock against Huawei – other than the fact it is a successful high-technology competitor from a country that won’t bow to the Washington Consensus – was that it had supposedly broken American sanctions on Iran, reimposed with dubious legality after Mr. Trump spitefully pulled out of his predecessor Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with that country.

Canadian Michael Spavor (Photo: Michael Spavor, Creative Commons).

The charges against Ms. Meng were revealed as a pretext not just by Mr. Trump’s admission in 2018 but by the Biden Administration’s deal with her yesterday in which she accepted some of the U.S. accusations, nevertheless entered a plea of not guilty to the charges via a computer link, and everyone agreed everything will magically disappear in four years.

So while Canadian officials self-righteously pleaded that the rule of law and our extradition treaty with the United States gave us no choice but to hold Ms. Meng – for almost three long years, as it would turn out – from the Chinese perspective we were clearly acting as criminal confederates in the Trump Administration’s hostage taking. 

You can argue, with some justice, that the Chinese should have been bigger than that, and ought not to have grabbed a couple of Canadians to apply some pressure the other way, but you can’t argue China was the only party grabbing hostages, or that Canada had no role to play in this sorry affair. 

Why the Chinese chose Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig from among the 300,000 or so Canadians living in China will probably remain a mystery. The former is a consultant who organized cultural exchanges with North Korea; the latter a former diplomat employed by a non-governmental organization that describes its purpose as preventing wars. 

Canadian Robert Lloyd Schellenberg (Photo: South China Morning Post).

Still, we can draw a few lessons from yesterday’s resolution to this longstanding dispute – among them that while he can’t be counted on to put Canadian interests ahead of his own country’s, President Joe Biden is a better friend to Canada than Donald Trump ever was. 

Not only did Mr. Biden behave like a grownup and attempt to resolve a national embarrassment caused by his predecessor in a way that didn’t require the United States to admit it had engaged in such a crass and immoral tactic, his State Department timed the resolution to save Canada from being shown up as an imperial satrapy that must do its master’s bidding no matter how risible the master’s command. 

So it was with relief and amity all ’round, Ms. Meng was sprung yesterday by Heather Holmes, associate chief justice of the B.C. Supreme Court. 

“You have been co-operative and courteous throughout,” said the judge. “The court appreciates and thanks you for that.” (Now get moving!)

“Thank you, m’lady,” Ms. Meng graciously replied, speaking English and pausing only for a quick media scrum on the steps of the courthouse as she departed. (I’m outta here!)

It remains to be seen what the Michaels think of having to sit in jail for nearly three years in considerably less comfort than that experienced by Ms. Meng in her Vancouver home while the Canadian government dipsy-doodled around trying to demonstrate its virtuous respect for the rule of law, or the possibility they had to wait a few extra weeks in stir so this could all transpire after the Canadian federal election.  

Probably, they will be forgiving about it. After all, the prime minister was on hand to welcome them back last night.

And now that they are safely home, what about Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, the Canadian schmuck found guilty of drug smuggling by China not long before Ms. Meng’s arrest? 

Have we all forgotten about him just because he was dumb enough to try to smuggle drugs out of a police state to Australia? For that matter, why would we accept the Chinese courts’ judgment in his case when we didn’t in those of the Michaels? 

Given his apparent line of work, he’s probably a less than ideal Canadian citizen. Still, the Chinese courts goosed his 15-year sentence up to a death penalty to put the screws to Canada in the effort to secure Ms. Meng’s release. 

Shouldn’t we be unhappy about that too? But nobody in Canada, not even the prime minister, seemed to have a word for the poor guy last night.

CORRECTION: Mr. Schellenberg was convicted of trying to smuggle drugs out of China and into Australia. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this post. In addition, this post has been updated to account for some developments reported this morning. DJC

23 Comments to: It’s good the Two Michaels are on their way home – but let’s not forget they weren’t the only hostages

  1. Abs

    September 25th, 2021

    Don’t forget that Ms. Meng thanked Canada for being a rule of law country in her short (scripted) speech. Then, once the two Michaels were safely in the air, she flew away, too.

    Reply
  2. Bill Malcolm

    September 25th, 2021

    The only adult piece I’ve read on this whole sordid affair. The foreign news we get fed is nothing but acquiescent rewrites of press releases from our governments, usually stage managed from Foggy Bottom, HQ of the US State Department. That’s where the degree of real knowledge we get to read of the “other side”, China and Russia, is managed to continually praise ourselves in the West as Human Rights champions, while those damn commies only ever tell us lies. Like PostMedia klapping for kenney until his uselessness became egregious, the Western world’s leading political journos are careful to follow the UK and especially US line of BS. Otherwise they’re out of a job, so it’s amazing how quickly they rationalize the government outlook and make it their very own. We then get fed horse manure and phony justifications as a steady diet.

    Considering how the US is flexing its neocon muscle with the Democrats back in power, small nations like Canada and Australia have to kowtow to Washington, no disagreements allowed. Oz had its contract with France to buy a dozen submarines torn up last week, and now they’re having to buy 8 US nuclear subs for 50% more. Nobody asked them if if it was all right, they got told. Oz commentators were as speechless as PM Morrison. Now that Huawei has been shut out of the 5G market in the EU and US with their superior product, Meng matters not one bit, so off she’s sent back to China, courtesy of the US dropping charges based on illegal sanctions against Iran in the first place. The US under the Dems is all set to have it out with those Chinese getting in the way of USA #1 as they see it, so vilification of them has been extreme this year. Plain as the nose on your face. Australia was told to shape up and choose US or China which is its biggest export market, when the Aussies were already good little USA supporters. Just to ram home the point of who’s boss, the French sub deal was nixed. Read some Oz bloggers.

    And as for Trudeau, nobody asked him if it was OK if our famous rule of law could be turned upside down. Blindsided like Morrison, he looked completely startled announcing the two Michaels were coming home last night. Could have knocked him over with a feather duster. For him it was the US giving him a free PR boost, like Obama and Biden giving him thumbs up last week before the election. If O’Toole had been PM in waiting, d’you think Meng would have been released yesterday?

    When the big boys play, what we think here in Canada means SFA. Realistically there’s not a damn thing we can do about it except flap our gums, so we might as well go along with the US or have troubles we don’t need. Thus we get to read fiction and fairy tale bedtime stories on foreign affairs as a steady diet and get to love it, I guess. If the balloon goes up, we’re all goners anyway. So despite my personal desire to sort fact from fiction just because I’m built that way, not because I want to undermine society which I don’t because I like things for the most part here on a day-to-day basis, yes, it’s great the two Michaels are coming home. Maybe the Chinese will also suddenly discover our rape seed isn’t contaminated after all. Stranger things have happened.

    Reply
  3. B P

    September 25th, 2021

    Wow… the left really IS in bed with China. And I thought that was rightwing rhetoric.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      September 25th, 2021

      BP: This may come as a surprise to you given the high quality of the commentary on this blog, but I am not the chief ideologist of the so-called Canadian Left. Indeed, I would hazard a guess that most of the people you identify as on the left would strongly disagree with me. It is also important to note that there is no major left-wing party in Canada. Of the three largest parties, the NDP represents neoliberalsim lite, the Liberals neoliberalism with a human face and the Conservatives full-blown austerian neoliberalism. The NDP is only “left of centre” because the centre is so far to the right. DJC

      Reply
      • jerrymacgp

        September 25th, 2021

        As someone who — as a whole — leans pretty sharply left, I want to include myself among those who disagree with you, at least on this whole affair. Canada was caught in a squeeze play between two superpowers, and anything Canada did to put an early end to this whole mess would unavoidably pi$$ off one or the other.

        Sure, the Justice Minister & Attorney-General had the lawful authority to end the extradition process and release Ms Meng. But that would have offended the mercurial and vengeful Trump Administration, and post-January 2021 the process was probably too far along in the courts to legitimately intervene.

        As for the Chinese government, had Canada done as so may were calling for and issued a “ban Huawei” decree, we might very well have seen one or both of the Two Michaels summarily executed.

        I do expect that this could have been resolved earlier in the year, but between the pandemic, the Jan 6th near-uprising, the collapse of Afghanistan and other pressing distractions, it may have been tough to get the Biden Administration to focus on this until we were too close to our election, and any action on the file during the campaign would most certainly have been perceived as stacking the deck for Mr Trudeau.

        I think the government handled this 1,000-day crisis about as well as it could have, all things considered, and I fail to see any evidence that the O’Toole Conservatives could have done any better. I do wonder, however, how long this would have dragged on had we intensified the conditions of Meng’s detention to match those of the Two Michaels: solidarity confinement with only minimal consular access and complete isolation from family.

        Had we done so, you might be on stronger ground calling her a “hostage”, but given her cushy luxurious “house arrest”, I find that label a profound exaggeration.

        Reply
        • David Climenhaga

          September 25th, 2021

          The quality of Ms. Meng’s Canadian accommodations to those in China of Messrs. Spavor and Kovrig have nothing to do with why she was being held or the risible charges against her in the United States, which have now been made to go away. Canadians may be kinder jailers, at least when it comes to well-heeled prisoners, but that is the only difference. Assuredly Ms. Meng would not have been treated as kindly in the Republic of Chaos and COVID to the south. The points I have made from the beginning of this affair is that holding Ms. Meng was not in Canada’s interests and the charges brought against her by our extradition-treaty partner were absurd and, importantly, for activities not illegal in Canada. As you rightly point out, the Justice Minister had the authority to release Ms. Meng at any time. We look like fools, cowards and Trump toadies for not having done so. DJC

          Reply
          • Keith McClary

            September 26th, 2021

            “charges against her in the United States, which have now been made to go away”

            Strictly by means of the “Rule of Law”, of course.

    • David Bridger

      September 25th, 2021

      We in Canada don’t count for anything except to do what the big guys south of the 49th tell us to do. With friend like that who needs enemies.

      What coniptions would CBC be having if Erin O’toole was PM in waiting.

      Reply
    • Carlos

      September 25th, 2021

      In Bed with China – in what way? I am a leftist and I do not think that we should even involved in trade with China.
      Your idea is again wrong and as a right wing you should at least try not to make assumptions about the left.
      Like David mentions in his reply there is not even a clear left wing party in Canada and I fully agree. The NDP is exactly what David calls them a neo-liberal lite.
      Furthermore, the very first comments in our media controlled by the right wing is – you got it – what will this change for business between Canada and China. BUSINESS is what that has value in life. It is amazing how distorted our views of everything else are reduced to commodities and business.

      Reply
    • Anonymous

      September 26th, 2021

      B P: What left? Where? That isn’t the case. As noted by someone else, Canada does what America tells us to do. There are no left leaning governments in America. The Democrats still have a right leaning presence to them.

      Reply
  4. Carlos

    September 25th, 2021

    I am glad that you see this issue the same way I do. I am tired of the West always trying to morally giving lessons to the rest of the world as if we are superior in some way and we do not practice the same strategies others do because they are barbaric. Well the fact is that the US used this lady for their political purposes and even though Trump admitted it himself we are still saying that it is China that took the two Michaels hostage. The fact is they all did. We are not clean here at all.
    Furthermore I would not put my hands in the fire on whether or not the 2 Michaels were involved in dubious activities in China.

    Reply
  5. A little bird

    September 25th, 2021

    Schellenberg was convicted trying to smuggle meth OUT of China, I suspect there’s much more to his story as well. Trafficking drugs out of China isnt exactly uncommon.

    Reply
    • A little bird

      September 25th, 2021

      Although I suppose one could call any five eyes country a police state…

      Reply
    • zalm

      September 26th, 2021

      Very true. Schellenberg was an aimless loser til sometime in the mid-2000s he got mixed up with the UN Gang in Abbotsford. Nobody knows for sure what happened – it may have been the same thing as my idiot brother-in-law who got his flying school mixed up with the UN Gang for some easy money flying drugs across borders, got caught, lost the shipment, did his time, and now he’s their bitch because he lost somewhere in the neighbourhood of $200,000 in drugs that they want the money for. IF Clay Rouche hadn’t gone to jail and the others killed in gang warfare, he’d still be their bitch.

      Could have been the same for Schellenberg. Before anybody goes defending him, it’s wise to find out the whole story.

      https://vancouversun.com/news/staff-blogs/real-scoop-un-associate-linked-to-b-c-men-jailed-in-china-and-thailand

      Reply
      • A little bird

        September 27th, 2021

        That’s very interesting, I had no idea the UN gang was mixed up in all this.

        With all the money sloshing around down there, I find it extremely unlikely the street level players are the top of that particular pyramid.

        Canada has been a popular trafficking country since the sixties at least; I’m willing to bet there’s a whole lot that goes on we aren’t privy to.

        Reply
  6. Just Me

    September 25th, 2021

    This hangover from the Trump era is done at last.

    I’ll call this a significant win for PMJT.

    Of course O’Toole, who isn’t suppressing some in his party who are calling their election defeat the work of the PRC, is going to spew out some nonsense about the Chinese in Canada.

    And the CPC wonders why Chinese-Canadians are suspicious of their intentions.

    Reply
    • Peter

      September 25th, 2021

      CPC needs to work hard to be representative of Canada’s demographics in its makeup of their elected MPs: 5% of non-whites versus 30% of the Liberals. Might not just the Chinese Canadians, among the non-white Canadians, be suspicious of the CPC’s. CPC is at least embracing the like of Derek Sloan.

      Reply
  7. Andy M.

    September 25th, 2021

    Reasonable take on this diplomatic swap business, Mr. Blogger.
    The word hypocrisy comes to mind for me, too.
    As a regular schmuck on the sidelines, I’m quite confused by Chinese, and particularly Huawei involvement in Canada. Do Canadian universities and all kinds of Canadian institutions still have close ties with China, and, particularly, Huawei? For goodness sake, until quite recently, Huawei sponsored the most quintessential pillars of our country — Hockey Night In Canada. It would be interesting to know better how intricately our economy is tied in to that of China. (Thanks, in part, to the efforts of Trudeau senior and junior.)
    The timing of the Meng resolution is probably linked to upcoming Winter Olympics as much as anything else. Some annoying rumbles about a Western boycott of the Games in China had been circulating. China, like most centralized nations, still wants to strut the world stage next February, unencumbered by silly boycotts.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      September 25th, 2021

      Don’t forget the role in the relationship you describe of Stephen Harper’s 31-year Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement, which surrendered Canadian sovereignty in many ways to state-owned Chinese corporations, and was signed without a vote in Parliament. Of course, since then, the United States has done a sudden volte face on China, effectively declaring a new cold war with the potential to become a hot one, so I suppose we could get out of that agreement prematurely via a unilateral declaration of fealty to our new imperial master, same as our old imperial master. DJC

      Reply
      • A little bird

        September 27th, 2021

        It should also be said that it seems large western corporations are free to move their capital where they wish, but the worlds largest worker owned technology company is not.

        How many American corporations have relationships w Canadian universities? What about other governmental organizations, like the CIA ? It wasn’t China running brainwashing experiments in Montreal …

        Reply
  8. tom in ontario

    September 25th, 2021

    Meng Wanzhou notwithstanding, Biden and crew are still panting and puffing over their big prize, Julian Assange.

    Reply
  9. Roger

    September 25th, 2021

    Re your reply to BP. Excellent. I am of the opinion that the truly Progressive Conservative party that Albertans keep searching for is to be found in the NDP under Rachel Notely.

    Reply
  10. Dave

    September 26th, 2021

    Well however you look at it politically, this is good news, especially for the two Michaels and of course Ms. Meng. While her prison was more gilded, it is no fun being stuck in a place and not being able to go freely or see most of your family for several years.

    I do take issue with how one Canadian news publication today referred to the departure of the odious Ms. Meng. I feel that was quite unfair and uncalled for. She actually handled herself quite well, considering the circumstances. However, it does illustrate how this situation has become untenable. Canada used to be one of China’s closer friends in the west. Remember how just a few years ago, our Federal government proposed a free trade deal with China?

    Well, with all the fall out related to Ms. Meng and the two Michaels, I would say sentiment in Canada has turned very much anti China in the last two years. Now, some people may think it doesn’t matter what a small country like Canada thinks or does, but China has recently been losing friends, particularly in the west, at a fast rate. Wolf warrior diplomacy has not forced Australia into submission, but instead into a closer alliance with the US and even more alarming for China, to get nuclear submarines.

    Perhaps someone in China at a high level has figured that they can not bludgeon the world or the west into submission and maybe they should try salvage a few of the friendships they still have in the west. For the US, the motivation was similar. This whole Meng thing was not very helpful for Canada US relations either and they might need our help or support on something sooner or later.

    I do think it is quite possible there will be something like a cold war between the US and China soon, despite all the economic connections. However it is still possible this can be avoided if everyone takes things down a few notches. Perhaps what happened today is one of the best and maybe one of the last hopes to try avoid this. If not, we might all become hostages to a conflict between two major global powers.

    Reply

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