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Canada suspends operations at embassy in Afghanistan, citing safety concerns – CTV News

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Canadians working to evacuate allies from Afghanistan described chaos, fear and disappointment on Sunday as Canada shut down its embassy in Kabul and suspended diplomatic relations amid a Taliban advance in the capital.

The federal government said the situation in Afghanistan poses “serious challenges” to its ability to ensure safety and security at the embassy.

“After consulting with Canada’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, the decision was made to temporarily suspend our diplomatic operations in Kabul,” the federal ministers of foreign affairs, immigration and defence said in a joint statement.

The ministers said safety of Canadian personnel is a top priority, adding that staff are “safely on their way back to Canada.”

“The Canadian embassy will resume its operations as soon as the security situation in Afghanistan allows us to guarantee appropriate service and adequate security for our staff,” they said.

The Taliban have seized nearly all of Afghanistan in just over a week and breached the capital on Sunday.

Officials told the Associated Press that President Ashraf Ghani had flown out of the country earlier in the day, as personnel were evacuated from the U.S. Embassy and other western missions and staff destroyed sensitive documents. Commercial flights out of Kabul’s international airport were reportedly suspended amid the rush of people trying to leave.

Dave Morrow, a retired corporal with the Canadian-Afghan Interpreters group, said he and other volunteers were receiving panicked messages from Afghans who feared they had been left to fend for themselves.

“The level of panic on the ground is indescribable,” Morrow said by phone from Montreal. “It’s a very dark time for everybody involved.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the violence in Afghanistan on Sunday, adding Canada remains committed to the Afghan people and the country.

“We are heartbroken at the situation the Afghan people find themselves in today,” Trudeau said from Ottawa moments before formally launching a federal election campaign.

“This is especially so given the sacrifices of Canadians who believed and continue to believe in the future of Afghanistan. We will continue to work with allies and the international community to ensure that those efforts were not in vain.”

Canada has committed to taking in 20,000 refugees from the country who have already fled.

It also has said it is working to evacuate Afghans who have assisted Canada over the years.

On Sunday, the government said it was working with allies such as the United States to keep that immigration program for interpreters going, though Trudeau said that mission would depend on the “extremely fast evolving” conditions on the ground.

“We will continue to work to get as many Afghan interpreters and their families out as quickly as possible as long as the security situation holds,” he said.

Morrow described the situation in Afghanistan as a worst-case scenario, but a predictable one that his group and others had been calling on Ottawa to mitigate for months.

He argued that the Canadian government had failed in its response and said his group had begun exploring other alternatives to help contacts on the ground, with diminishing hope for success.

“How do you tell somebody that, I’m sorry, but we’re probably not going to be able to get you out,” he said

“A lot of us veterans are having that conversation right now with interpreters that believed in us and it’s heartbreaking. There’s going to have to be a reckoning very soon about what this means as a country to just let this happen.”

Others criticized the government for triggering an election instead of focusing on allies who need immediate help.

Jack Harris, deputy defence critic for the federal New Democrats, said in a tweet that he was concerned to hear reports of 100 Nepalese workers at Canada’s embassy who were not included in the evacuation effort.

“Canada must take measures to ensure their safety,” Harris said. “Instead of focusing on evacuating those at risk in Afghanistan, today Justin Trudeau is calling an election.”

Andrew Rusk of advocacy group Not Left Behind also criticized the timing of the election call and the closure of the embassy, a move he said meant “effectively halting the government’s extraction efforts” for stranded workers who supported Canada.

“As our government pursues a majority, they’ve turned their back on both Afghanistan and our Veteran community,” he said in a statement.

In an interview, Rusk said his group is hearing reports of violence targeting Afghans who worked with Canada, including some recent killings, and of “pandemonium” in Kabul as people scramble for options to get out.

He said the Canadian government was too slow to act on calls to rescue people, leaving it to volunteers to field their desperate please for help.

“This isn’t something that a bunch of veterans and other Canadians should be taking the leadership role on. It has happened because there is a gap in leadership within the federal government,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 15, 2021.

– With files from The Associated Press.

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The 2 Michaels are home. But what about the 115 Canadians still detained in China? – Global News

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All eyes were on Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor on Saturday as the two returned home following nearly three years spent in apparent arbitrary detention in China.

Heartwarming images and video surfaced of the two reuniting with their families. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday called their homecoming “good news for all of us,” noting that they had both gone through an “unbelievably difficult ordeal.”

But as of Sunday at least 115 Canadians remain in custody in Chinese prisons, Global Affairs Canada said in an emailed statement to Global News. Not all Canadians imprisoned in China are in arbitrary detainment, but the agency said at least four of those jailed are on death row.

Read more:
‘Two Michaels’ welcomed home by friends, family after years in Chinese detention

“Canada opposes the death penalty in all cases, everywhere,” Global Affairs Canada said.

“We have raised our firm opposition to the death penalty with China and continue to call on China to grant clemency for all Canadians sentenced to death.”


Click to play video: '“Two Michaels” and Meng Wanzhou return home'



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“Two Michaels” and Meng Wanzhou return home


“Two Michaels” and Meng Wanzhou return home

The agency said it reviews each detention on a case-by-case basis, as consular officials often require a “tailored approach” that can adapt to different local contexts and circumstances.

Here’s a look at the four Canadians currently on death row.


Click to play video: 'Michael Kovrig, Michael Spavor arrive in Canada after almost 3 years in Chinese prison'



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Michael Kovrig, Michael Spavor arrive in Canada after almost 3 years in Chinese prison


Michael Kovrig, Michael Spavor arrive in Canada after almost 3 years in Chinese prison

Robert Schellenberg

Of those sentenced to death, the most recent is Canadian Robert Schellenberg of Abbotsford, British Columbia. The Liaoning High Court upheld his death sentence on Aug. 10 following an appeal made over the summer.

Schellenberg was detained on drug charges in China in 2014 and was formally charged with drug smuggling in January 2015. Initially, a Chinese court had sentenced him to 15 years in prison. But four years later, his verdict was overturned following a retrial and he was sentenced to death.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said in August that Canada “strongly” condemned the court’s decision to uphold the death penalty for Schellenberg.

Read more:
Chinese court upholds death sentence for Robert Schellenberg in drug smuggling case

“We have repeatedly expressed to China our firm opposition to this cruel and inhumane punishment and will continue to engage with Chinese officials at the highest levels to grant clemency to Mr. Schellenberg,” he said, shortly after the ruling was delivered.

“We oppose the death penalty in all cases, and condemn the arbitrary nature of Mr. Schellenberg’s sentence.”

In an emailed statement to Global News, Global Affairs Canada reiterated that the federal government remains “strongly opposed” to the decision to arbitrarily impose and uphold the death penalty for Schellenberg.

The agency added it “will continue to engage with Chinese officials at the highest levels to seek clemency for Mr. Schellenberg.”


Click to play video: 'Chinese court upholds death sentence against B.C. man'



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Chinese court upholds death sentence against B.C. man


Chinese court upholds death sentence against B.C. man – Aug 10, 2021

Xu Weihong

Canadian Xu Weihong was sentenced to death by the Guangzhou Municipal Intermediate Court over drug manufacturing charges on Aug. 6, 2020. They also handed down a life sentence to Wen Guanxiong, whom they claim helped Xu make ketamine.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin justified Xu’s death sentence during a briefing last year, saying that death penalties would help “deter and prevent” similar crimes in the future.

“I would like to stress that China’s judicial authorities handle the relevant case independently in strict accordance with Chinese law and legal procedures,” Wang had said.

He added that “this case should not inflict any impact on China-Canada relations.”


Click to play video: 'China defends death sentence for Canadian convicted of making illegal drugs'



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China defends death sentence for Canadian convicted of making illegal drugs


China defends death sentence for Canadian convicted of making illegal drugs – Aug 6, 2020

Ye Jianhui

Ye Jianhui is the fourth Canadian to receive the death penalty in China.

His sentence was handed down in August of last year over charges to manufacture and transport drugs by the Foshan Municipal Intermediate Court, just one day after Xu’s.

Ye and co-defendant Lu Hanchang conspired with others to manufacture and transport drugs between May 2015 and January 2016, the Associated Press reported last year.

Asked last year if the sentencing of the Canadian drug offenders was linked to Meng’s case, Wang said China’s judicial organs “handle cases independently,” while also adding that “the Canadian side knows the root cause” of difficulties in China-Canadian relations.

Read more:
China sentences another Canadian to death over drug charges

Fan Wei

Fan Wei was given the death penalty on April 30, 2019 along with 11 others over his involvement in an international methamphetamine operation.

Speaking to Global News the day of his sentencing, Global Affairs Canada said officials attended the sentencing and reading of the verdict. They called on China to grant clemency, adding the decision to apply the “cruel and inhumane” death penalty to Fan’s case was of “extreme concern” to their government.

“Obtaining clemency for Xu Weihong, Ye Jianhui and Fan Wei is also of primary importance given China’s decision to impose the death penalty in these cases,” Global Affairs Canada said, in an emailed statement to Global News on Sunday.

“Canada will continue to provide consular services to Robert Schellenberg, Xu Weihong, Ye Jianhui and Fan Wei, as well as to their families.”

— With files from Global News’ Saba Aziz and Aaron D’Andrea, as well as the Canadian Press, Associated Press and Reuters.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have finally landed in Canada – CTV News

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Two Canadians who’ve been imprisoned in China for more than 1,000 days have arrived safely in Canada.

Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, detained on espionage charges since Dec. 10, 2018, arrived at the Calgary International Airport early Saturday morning, following an overnight fuel stop in Alaska.

Footage from CTV News on the tarmac shows several passengers greeted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with a hug, though everyone in the footage is wearing a mask.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office told CTV News’ Bill Fortier at the airport that the passengers are indeed the two Michaels. The spokesperson added that it is very emotional moment for both of them and they would not be taking questions.

Later in the day, a smiling Kovrig landed at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, where he was met by his sister and wife. Kovrig briefly spoke to media, where he issued his thanks for the support and said he would have more to say in due time.

“It’s wonderfully fantastic to be back home in Canada,” he told reporters. “I’m so grateful for everybody who worked so hard to bring both of us back home.”

Trudeau announced the two would be returning to Canada in a late-night press conference on Friday, only once the two had left Chinese airspace.

“Welcome home, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor,” Trudeau wrote in a tweet on Saturday. “You’ve shown incredible strength, resilience, and perseverance. Know that Canadians across the country will continue to be here for you, just as they have been.”

News of their release has garnered celebration from across Canada, including ​from Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, as well as from people who knew the two Canadians.

“It’s hard to describe but I’m just so thrilled for him and his family more than anybody else,” Praveen Madhiraju, a colleague of Kovrig’s, told CTV News Channel on Saturday. “This has been a long time coming and we’re just thrilled for this next chapter.”

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the two Michaels showed “incredible strength” during their detention.

“Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are now home — they, as well as their families, have shown incredible strength, bravery and resilience,” she tweeted on Saturday. “The Canadian government has worked hard to secure their release. We thank everyone involved who helped make it possible.”

The Michaels arrived in Canada just one day after a British Columbia court dropped the extradition case against Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou over fraud and conspiracy charges related to American sanctions against Iran.

Meng had earlier Friday pleaded not guilty to all charges in a virtual appearance in New York court, where the judge signed off on a deferred prosecution agreement.

The two Michaels were both convicted of spying in closed Chinese courts earlier this year. Spavor was sentenced to 11 years in Chinese prison, while Kovrig had yet to be sentenced.

The detainment of the two Canadians has largely been seen as retaliation for Meng’s arrest, though China has repeatedly denied any connection between the Michaels and Meng.

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat, told CTV News Channel on Saturday that the swift release of the two Michaels shows that their detainment was in fact retaliatory.

“Obviously this is the acknowledgment that this was really a retaliatory hostage taking for Meng Wanzhou,”

“I think (this is) a triumph for quiet diplomacy, because this was kept very much to wraps. Nobody knew what was going on. I was as surprised as the rest of Canada.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Sunday – CBC.ca

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The latest:

The U.S. Travel Association said the ongoing closure of the land borders with Canada and Mexico is costing U.S. businesses an estimated $1.5 billion a month in “travel exports,” which the association defines as spending by foreign residents while visiting the U.S.

Canada reopened its air, land and sea borders to Americans fully vaccinated against COVID-19 on Aug. 9. However, the ban on non-essential land travel from Canada and Mexico to the United States was extended last Monday for a 19th month, until Oct. 21.

“My constituents are deeply frustrated by this, particularly given the trade and the relationships that people have across the border,” Michigan Sen. Gary Peters said last week during national security hearings with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

“We are very mindful of the economic consequences, and not only the economic consequences but the consequences on family members who haven’t seen one another for quite some time,” Mayorkas replied.

He said the progression of the delta variant of the coronavirus “is not yet where we need it to be” in the U.S., and that there are communities near the U.S.-Mexico border that are also suffering as a result of the closure.

“We are looking at the situation, not only at the ports of entry on our northern border, but also on our southern border,” Mayorkas said.

WATCH | CBC News Network’s business panel looks at proof-of-vaccination policies:

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“We have heard similar concerns with respect to border communities on the South and the impact, economic and family impact, of the restrictions. We are looking at what we can do operationally, and we are moving in a very sequential and controlled manner.”

Canada, meanwhile, remains the largest single U.S. export market, accounting for nearly 18 per cent of all American goods sent out of the country last year. The two countries trade $1.7 billion worth of goods and services each day, for a total of $614.9 billion in 2020.


What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Canada’s top doctor on COVID-19 vaccines for children:

Tam is asked to advise parents considering COVID-19 vaccines for children

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A reporter asks Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, for her advice to parents considering vaccinating their children once the COVID-19 vaccine becomes available to those younger than 12. 4:01

  • N.L. reports 14 new case as 80 per cent of eligible residents now fully vaccinated.

What’s happening around the world

As of Sunday morning, more than 231.6 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s case tracking tool, which collects data from around the world. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.7 million.

In Europe, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced in mid-September that he would have to spend a “few days” in self-isolation after dozens of people in his entourage fell ill with COVID-19.

The results of his time away from official duties, after he cancelled his trip to Tajikistan for a security summit, could be seen in photos released on Sunday, showing him fishing in Siberia.

Putin has cultivated a macho image, appealing to many Russians, and has previously been pictured riding a horse bare-chested and in sun glasses, as well as carrying a hunting rifle and piloting a fighter jet.

Russian President Vladimir Putin fishes during a short vacation at an unknown location in Siberia, Russia, in this undated photo taken this month and released on Sunday. (Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin/Reuters)

In Asia, China has provided more than 1.25 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to other countries, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Sunday. President Xi Jinping announced recently that China will provide a total of two billion doses of vaccines for the rest of the world by the end of this year.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Australia’s most populous state of New South Wales recorded 961 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 and nine deaths, government data showed on Sunday.

The state’s first dose vaccination rate has climbed to 85.2 per cent of its population over 16 years of age, while 59.1 per cent of the population has had their second doses.

New South Wales is expected to relax harsh lockdown restrictions that have been in place since June, when its population reaches 80 per cent double vaccinated some time in November.

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