This column is an opinion by Ethan Lou, the author of Field Notes from a Pandemic: A Journey Through a World Suspended. He is a former Reuters reporter and has served as a visiting journalist at the University of British Columbia. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.
There is no time more apt than now for Canada to re-examine its economic relationship with China.
Increasingly, signs are showing that China is taking advantage of the COVID-19 chaos to extend its influence globally. Post-pandemic, it will likely only get more powerful and assertive against a Western world mired in social and economic mayhem.
Both Canada and the world have allowed the pursuit of profit to gradually force dependence on a sometimes hostile market — that is the bedrock of China’s power. Now that COVID-19 has disrupted international supply chains, when Canada rebuilds, it should be toward an economy less integrated with China’s.
Middle powers like Canada, which have long been dancing between the majors, are increasingly impotent against tactics such as China’s detention of this country’s citizens, for example. China detained Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in 2019 on spying charges — widely considered to be retaliation over the Vancouver arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou under an extradition request by the U.S.
So began a new era in bilateral relations, calling into question decades of diplomacy. That boldness by China would have been unthinkable just a decade or so ago.
It’s a new boldness, born from China’s economic rise and the increasing chaos in the West — and the pandemic is accelerating both.
China was hit badly by COVID-19, but it was hit first and it recovered first. And it recovered shrewdly — from outshining the United States at the World Health Organization, to its face-mask and vaccine diplomacy, to its alleged disinformation operations, to its bearing down on Hong Kong while the world’s attention is divided, to restarting its economy while others’ are suspended.
Meanwhile, harsh pandemic lockdowns threaten to return to Europe and Canada. The United States, China’s chief counterweight, is beset by all manner of instability.
In 2017, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, then foreign affairs minister, told Parliament the rules-based international order the West has upheld since the end of the Second World War is becoming less stable, and that Canada needs to chart its “clear and sovereign course.” Post-pandemic, that could prove to be particularly prescient.
Heavy price of trade
Canada recently abandoned free-trade talks with China, a move revealed Sept. 18 by Foreign Affairs Minister Francois Philipe-Champagne. That revelation is largely symbolic, however, as free trade was never close to realization to begin with.
And on the same day, Canada’s ambassador to China, Dominic Barton, said this country needs to “do more in China.”
What Canada needs to realize is the heavy price of the trade it already has.
Since Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, the father of Canada’s current leader, established diplomatic relations with China, bilateral trade has become a torrent — that cheap manufacturing, that vast market of 1.3 billion people. Thus Canada enriched itself.
But while China has become Canada’s second-biggest trading partner, this country is only the Asian giant’s 16th-largest trading partner. When China stymied Canadian canola seed and soybean imports in 2019, it hurt major industries in this country. But for China, the lack of such grains from Canada was insignificant.
That asymmetrical relationship has also made the affair over Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou all the worse. There is little Canada can do to pressure China, but an arsenal of options in terms of what China can do, has done and will continue to do to Canada. China recently blocked an experimental COVID-19 vaccine shipment bound for Canada, for example.
Profit at the cost of resilience
Pandemic lockdowns have devastated economies because companies had sourced parts and labour from all over the world based on where they were the cheapest, and did not stockpile so as to maintain efficiency by eliminating warehouse costs. That lesson is the same one to be learned from Canada’s current troubles with China: prioritizing profit has come at the cost of resiliency.
As Canada restarts its economy, the government would be wise to guide companies toward diversified markets. It needs to further cultivate alternative trading partners, such as fast-growing India and Brazil, and those with similar values, such as the European Union. And it needs to do so actively and aggressively.
The goal is not to replace China, which is impossible, and this is also not an argument for disengagement. This is about reducing dependence and, in doing so, patching a vulnerability.
This is also about loosening the hold China has over others, a tiny step to steering it toward a more constructive international role.
Post-pandemic, the world needs more engagement with China, not less — but not through asymmetrical relationships — and it needs a rule-abiding China mindful of the adage that with great power comes great responsibility.
Family members of PS752 victims report receiving threats for speaking out against Iranian regime – CBC.ca
Canadians who lost loved ones when Iran shot down Flight PS752 earlier this year have been reporting an increasing number of threats warning them against criticizing Iran’s response to the disaster.
“These are ugly, insidious crimes, apparently orchestrated at the behest of a foreign power. That is something that would be disturbing to every Canadian,” said former MP Ralph Goodale who is acting as Canada’s special adviser to the government on the incident.
Goodale says two cases of intimidation and harassment were reported to police in the spring. The number of such incidents of which authorities are aware has now increased to 11, he said. RCMP, local police and security organizations are working with Canada’s allies around the world and taking the threats seriously, Goodale added.
Hamed Esmaeilion lost his nine-year-old daughter Reera and wife Parisa when PS752 was shot down by the Iranian military over Tehran on Jan. 8, killing all 176 people aboard. He’s the spokesperson representing an association of victims’ families in Canada seeking justice and he said he has been receiving hateful messages for months.
‘Let’s talk about the last moments of your wife and daughter’
But the situation escalated after a rally he held on Parliament Hill on Oct. 5, he said.
A suspicious vehicle loitered outside his house that night, pulling up in front of his driveway and then backing up, Esmaeilion said. He also reported receiving a suspicious phone call on Oct. 5 from someone who left a message saying, “Let’s talk about the last moments of your wife and daughter.”
Esmailion said he blocked the number but received a threat in Farsi through his Instagram account later the same day: “Your name is on a list of terror, so enjoy your life before you get killed. And you would be a lesson for out of country traitors.”
Esmailion said he met with RCMP on Friday and was told to keep a record of further calls.
“It doesn’t scare me, honestly,” he told CBC. “This is something we have been through since the beginning and especially in the month of May and June … That was, I think, the peak of insulting and hateful messages that I received.”
He said he believes the messages are coming both from Iran and Canada but he has no idea whether they’re from representatives of the Iranian regime or just from its supporters.
Mahmoud Zibaie, who also lost his wife and daughter when PS752 was shot down, told CBC News that he received a call from someone identifying themselves as the chief investigator of the military court in Iran dealing with the lawsuit for compensation launched against the regime.
Zibaie said the caller told him that he needed to return to Iran to participate in the suit for compensation. He said the compensation is low down on the list of what he wants from Iran.
“In some sense, I can say that I can regard it as a threat because he … kept telling me that, ‘Okay, we have to see each other. You have to get back to Iran. You have to come here and you have to launch a lawsuit,'” he said.
Zibaie said he plans to share the audio of that call with the RCMP.
Javad Soleimani of Edmonton lost his wife on the flight. He said he is not taking the threats seriously because he has no family left in Iran but worries about those with family back home who could be targets for harassment or persecution.
“These threats and families harassment, actually, have been something ongoing from the very beginning,” Soleimani told CBC News. “From hijacking the funeral routine, writing congratulations on your martyrdom on the coffins, and also … detaining some family members in Iran.”
“It’s I think it’s a national threat to Canada,” he said. “I think the only way to deal with these intimidation or threats or concerns for families is that the Canadian government more publicly support families of victims.”
Goodale said the federal government is taking the threat very seriously.
“It is an offence against Canada, It is a crime under the Criminal Code, and foreign interference attacks the very sovereignty and integrity of our country. So it is indeed treated with gravity it deserves,” he said.
The RCMP issued a statement today saying that it is “aware of allegations of intimidation of the grieving families of the PS752 and we take such complaints seriously.”
“While we cannot comment on individual cases, Canadians and all individuals living in Canada, regardless of their nationality, should feel safe and free from criminal activity,” said the statement.
Watch: Families of Flight 752 victims report threats from Iran:
Canada expecting uptick in excess deaths amid COVID-19: StatCan – CTV News
Canada is expecting to see an increase in excess deaths as COVID-19 cases are once again trending upwards, according to Statistics Canada.
Between March and June 2020, as COVID-19 spread across the country, Canada saw over 7,000 excess deaths. That figure refers to deaths that exceed the number that would normally be expected during any given period of time.
While these excess deaths skyrocketed in the early months of the pandemic, there was a brief dip in July, when these figures returned to a normal, pre-pandemic range, which according to Statistics Canada falls around 21,000 deaths per month.
Meanwhile, there were over 170 COVID-19 deaths in August and September respectively — but by the time the first 10 days of October were over, Canada had already reported 244 deaths.
That means there were more COVID-19 deaths reported in those 10 days than were reported in the months of August or September.
“Overall, if the similarities between public health surveillance figures and official death data persist through the resurgence of cases, Canada will likely experience an increase in excess deaths in October,” the publication on the Statistics Canada website explains.
Statistics Canada says that these figures can be an important indicator of both the “direct and indirect effects” of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While the direct effects include deaths attributable to COVID-19, the indirect effects relate to measures put in place to address the pandemic,” the agency wrote.
“These measures could cause increases or decreases in mortality, such as missed or delayed medical interventions, fewer traffic-related incidents, and other possible changes in behaviour such as increased substance use.”
In its publication, Statistics Canada said it based its findings on “an updated provisional dataset from the Canadian Vital Statistics Death Database” as well as the Public Health Agency of Canada’s COVID-19 Outbreak Update.
It gave the caveat that this data only includes deaths that provinces and territories have reported to Statistics Canada, meaning reporting delays could impact the figures. The data also doesn’t include Yukon. However, Statistics Canada said they adjusted to account for incomplete data “where possible.”
The agency asserted that the figures “provide an important benchmark for understanding the potential impacts of the resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities across Canada.”
Excess deaths by province
The charts below plot the number of deaths reported by provinces on a weekly basis from the beginning of January until the end of September. The data is provisional, and because of reporting delays, do not reflect all the deaths that occurred during the reference period. Ontario, for example, shows a steep drop in deaths during the summer months of 2020, but that may be partly due to delays in reporting.
Years before 2019 are represented by faint grey lines behind the chart. Numbers have not been adjusted for populations growing year over year.
Ginella Massa to join CBC News Network as primetime host – CBC.ca
Journalist Ginella Massa will join CBC News Network as the host of a new primetime show, the Crown corporation announced Wednesday as part of programming changes over the next few months.
“She’s just got a spark and curiosity to her that is refreshing at a time when there’s so much to be interested in, and so much that is sort of unchartered in terms of the kind of journalism we do, the kind of stories we tell,” said Michael Gruzuk, CBC’s senior director of programming.
Massa will also join CBC’s flagship news program The National as a special correspondent, as well as take part in “many of our CBC News specials,” according to an internal CBC memo.
A graduate of Seneca College and York University, Massa is currently a reporter for CityNews in Toronto. In 2019, she was part of the CityNews team that won a Canadian Screen Award for best live special for coverage of an Ontario leaders’ debate.
She has also worked with CTV, NewsTalk 1010 and Rogers TV, moving from behind the scenes as a news writer and producer to in front of the camera as a television journalist.
In 2015, she became the first hijab-wearing TV reporter in Canada, and then the next year, the first to anchor a major newscast in the country.
Massa said she hopes to use her new CBC role to focus on stories from different perspectives — be it race, religion or class.
“For the last decade of my career in journalism, both behind the scenes and on air, I have often been the only one who looks like me in the room,” Massa said.
“I do try to bring those perspectives to the newsroom … bring the stories that people around me are talking about, which aren’t always the stories that get the most attention.”
Beginning in the new year, Massa’s hour-long show will air weeknights at 8 p.m. ET on CBC News Network.
Her hiring comes alongside a number of other changes on the cable network.
On Nov. 1, it will launch Rosemary Barton Live, a two-hour Sunday program focused on federal politics, followed by the premiere of CBC News Live with Vassy Kapelos, a weekday “fast-paced roundup of breaking political and Canadian stories” on Nov. 2, the internal memo said.
Kapelos will continue to host Power and Politics, which moves to a new time slot of 6 p.m.-8 p.m. ET on weekdays.
CBC journalist Carole MacNeil will host a new weekday afternoon show on News Network, which will be “more programmed” rather than focusing on breaking news that just happened, Gruzuk said.
The changes come weeks after Barbara Williams, CBC’s executive vice-president of English services, announced 130 job cuts across the country. That included 58 news, current affairs and local positions, with most of them in Toronto.
The company cited higher costs and lower revenues as the reason for the cuts, precipitated by a $21-million budget deficit. That shortfall was, in particular, “due to declines in advertising and subscription revenues linked to our traditional television business,” Williams wrote in a letter to staff.
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