Five hundred and fifty-seven days after Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig were first detained by Chinese authorities, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today he is “disappointed” that China has now formally charged the two men with spying.
Asked what his government would do to secure the release of these Canadian nationals, Trudeau said Canada would continue to work “behind the scenes in very direct and firm ways.”
“We take very, very seriously the situation of Canadians in difficulty overseas. Over the past years, we’ve had a number of successes in liberating Canadians,” he said at a press conference in Chelsea, Que.
“We will continue to use all of our expertise to return these two Michaels to Canada.”
China formally announced the charges shortly after midnight eastern time, but Trudeau did not mention the two men in his prepared opening remarks this morning.
His only comments on the matter came when he was asked by the press to respond to China’s latest action.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said she was “heartbroken” and “really angry” to learn about the latest development. She said the effort to repatriate the men is a “whole of government effort” and Canada will not rest until they’ve been freed.
Watch: Trudeau is ‘disappointed’ the China charged two Canadians
Kovrig was charged by Beijing on suspicion of spying for state secrets and intelligence. Spavor was charged in Dandong, a city near the North Korean border, on suspicion of spying for a foreign entity and illegally providing state secrets.
The charges were announced by China’s highest prosecutor’s office in brief social media posts. CCTV, a state-owned broadcaster controlled by the Communist regime in Beijing, read the charges live in a national broadcast.
Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, told reporters the “circumstances are particularly serious,” and that the government has amassed “solid and sufficient” evidence to proceed with criminal charges against both men.
Under Chinese law, there is no formal timeline for sending someone to trial after charges are laid.
Activists and academics have raised serious concerns about the independence of the Chinese judiciary, with critics accusing the court system of being an organ of the Communist party.
Asked if he thought the two men were “hostages,” Trudeau pivoted to a line he’s repeated more than once — that Canada is “doing everything it can” to secure their release and end their “arbitrary detention.”
Robert Malley is president and CEO of the International Crisis Group, the company where Kovrig works as a senior adviser on northeast Asian issues. He said the charges against Kovrig are bogus and he was not engaged in “espionage.”
“This is yet another arbitrary and baseless step in a case that has been arbitrary and baseless from day one,” Malley said in a statement, noting that everything Kovrig did in China was “open, transparent and well known to China’s authorities.”
“He has become an unfortunate pawn in a larger struggle among the U.S., Canada and China,” he said.
Trudeau said it’s a “terrible shame” that China has tied the Spavor and Kovrig cases to the December 2018 Vancouver arrest of Meng Wanzhou, a top executive at Chinese tech giant Huawei.
The daughter of Huawei’s founder was arrested at the request of U.S. authorities who want her on fraud charges related to trade with Iran.
China has denied any link between Meng’s case and the lengthy detention of the two Canadian men, but outside experts see them as linked. Meng has been released on bail while her extradition case proceeds in court.
Meng is accused of lying to an HSBC executive in Hong Kong in August 2013 about Huawei’s relationship with Skycom, a company prosecutors claim was violating U.S. economic sanctions against Iran.
‘Policy of appeasement’
Guy Saint-Jacques, Canada’s former ambassador to China between 2012 and 2016, said the formal charges will make it much more difficult to negotiate Kovrig and Spavor’s safe return to Canada. He said the charges are clearly tied to Meng’s ongoing legal challenges.
“They have decided to add pressure on the Canadian government by formally proceeding with this trial,” he said in an interview with CBC News.
He said the likelihood of Kovrig and Spavor being convicted is high — the conviction rate for these offences is 99.9 per cent, he said — and they are likely to receive life sentences from the regime-dominated judiciary.
“If we go back to China and ask them to return our two Canadians, they will say: ‘Don’t ask us to intervene in a legal process, don’t you know China is a country governed by the rule of law?'”
He said, to this point, Canada has followed a policy of “appeasement” with China that has proven fruitless.
He said the Liberal government has been reluctant to comment on Beijing’s crackdown on freedoms in Hong Kong, call out the regime for building concentration camps for Muslim Uighurs and criticize China’s slow COVID-19 response — and yet China still holds two Canadian nationals in prison on questionable grounds.
“What have we achieved so far with this appeasement strategy? I’d argue nothing,” Saint-Jacques said. Canada must now take an aggressive approach to its dealings with China, he said.
“We should look at everything in China and see where we can be less forthcoming than what we have been up to now,” he said.
The former ambassador said Canada should move its trade away from China to other Asian nations and step up inspections of Chinese exports.
He said Canadian authorities should jail Chinese spies and work with allies to “tarnish the reputation” of China.
Minister says CRTC may have erred with wholesale rate decision – CTV News
The federal government says it’s concerned that a controversial regulatory decision last year may undermine investments in Canada’s communications networks, particularly in rural and remote areas.
However, a statement issued Saturday morning by Navdeep Bains, on behalf of the federal cabinet, says it won’t intervene in the CRTC’s ongoing review of its own decision about wholesale internet rates.
“Our government is working hard to make sure that all Canadians have the access to high-speed Internet,” said Bains, who is minister for innovation, science and industry.
“We encourage all parties to cooperate in the CRTC’s ongoing review of the rates decision to support a timely conclusion that will provide more certainty for all involved parties.”
That CRTC decision, issued Aug. 15, 2019 but put on hold by an appeal court, has been praised by Canada’s independent internet service providers but denounced by the large phone and cable companies who say the rates would be far too low.
Both sides of the argument have spent the past year lobbying the government, as well as fighting each other at the Federal Court of Appeal and before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
The statement issued by Bains, who wasn’t available for comment Saturday, suggests but doesn’t say out-right that the arms-length regulatory body needs to re-think how it arrived at its conclusions after years of study and analysis.
“On the basis of its review, the (cabinet) considers that the rates do not, in all instances, appropriately balance the policy objectives of the wholesale services framework and is concerned that these rates may undermine investment in high-quality networks, particularly in rural and remote areas,” Bains said.
BCE’s Bell Canada, Rogers Communications Inc. and most of Canada’s other large phone and cable companies argue the CRTC overstepped its authority by cutting wholesale capacity rates by up to 43 per cent and chopping access rates up to 77 per cent.
But their wholesale customers — labelled “resellers” by their detractors and “independents” by their supporters — argue that the CRTC’s decision would end years of over charging by the big carriers and allow them to lower the retail rates that they charge.
Matt Stein, who is chief executive of one of the larger independents and spokesman for their association, said the government’s statement was bad news and will help the big carriers by causing more delays.
“It’s this kind of decision that causes internet rates to go up and, at the minimum, makes it impossible for them to go down for quite some time,” said Stein, as chairman of the Canadian Network Operators Association, which represents independent ISPs
He noted that the government took a full year to issue its decision and said it introduces new delays and new uncertainty.
“Unfortunately, that plays right into the hands of the big phone and the big cable companies. Delay and uncertainty are their tried and true weapons. So this is … a very bad day for Canadian consumers.”
Some of Canada’s larger carriers saw the cabinet’s decision as good news because it recognizes that the CRTC’s decision threatens to undermine their ability to make more investments in communications infrastructure.
“We trust the CRTC’s review will reflect the government’s objective to drive network investment, especially in rural and remote regions, with wholesale rates that are fair and reasonable. The original CRTC decision actually set wholesale rates below cost, which would certainly have impacted future investment by facilities-based carriers like Bell,” a Bell Canada statement said.
A statement from Rogers Communications said, in part, “the CRTC rates do not reflect the true cost of building and expanding Canada’s world-class broadband networks and will impact network investments, especially in rural and remote areas where costs are significantly higher.”
Because the commission is already doing a review of its own decision, Bains said it was unnecessary to refer the decision back to the CRTC for reconsideration “at this time,” but said that the government will continue to monitor the CRTC proceedings closely to ensure it establishes the “right incentives” for both investment and competitive choice.
“Our government recognizes that access to affordable, high-quality high-speed Internet is a necessity for all Canadians, no matter where they live,” Bains said.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has only reinforced the importance of connectivity. The investments our government is making in high-quality networks, particularly in rural and remote communities, are key to ensuring equitable digital access for all Canadians. Equitable access also means that it is available at fair prices that Canadians can afford.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 15 , 2020
Canada-U.S. border will remain closed until Sept. 21 – CBC.ca
The federal government will extend the Canada-U.S. land border closure for another 30 days until Sept. 21, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said Friday.
The closure to non-essential travel has been in place for months, but with caseloads still high in many U.S. states, the two governments have mutually agreed to continue restricting movement across the world’s longest international border.
“We will continue to do what’s necessary to keep our communities safe,” Blair said in a tweet.
The closure has resulted in a dramatic drop in traffic between the two countries although essential workers — like truck drivers and health-care professionals — are still able to cross by land despite the restrictions. Canadians are still able to fly to U.S. destinations.
The federal government has also moved to curb the movement of Americans through Canada who are ostensibly on their way to Alaska. U.S. travellers destined for the northern state have been limited to five crossings in Western Canada and they must commit to taking a direct route.
We are extending the reciprocal restrictions at the Canada-US border for another 30 days, till Sept. 21, 2020. We will continue to do what’s necessary to keep our communities safe.
Dr. Theresa Tam, the chief public health officer of Canada, says the government will continue to monitor epidemiological data on both sides of the border before making a decision to open the country to more U.S. travellers.
Tam said she didn’t want to see a spike in cases related to the U.S. after Canada has been able to flatten the infection curve with aggressive public health measures.
“We want to keep up our good work and, as you’ve seen from the map, Canada is actually in quite a good position right now,” she told reporters Friday.
Brian Higgins, a Democratic congressman for the New York district that includes Buffalo and the Niagara area, said he was disappointed but not surprised that the border closure was extended.
“I have been working with Canadian officials at the federal level for several months toward the goal of getting a mutually agreed-to plan to open the border or, short of that, expanding the category of who is an essential traveller,” said Higgins, who was among nearly two dozen members of Congress to sign a letter in July calling for a plan to reopen the border.
“But I have come to realize that the Canadian federal government response to COVID-19 was early, strong and united. The American federal government response was slow, chaotic and adversarial.”
Higgins said he doesn’t think Washington wants to keep the border closed but doesn’t have much choice.
Meanwhile, he said the border closure is having an impact on his district.
“We have, in Buffalo and western New York, two professional sports franchises — the NFL Buffalo Bills, the NHL Buffalo Sabres — highly dependent on the Canadian season ticket-holders for those two franchises. Forty-five percent of our business at the Buffalo-Niagara international airport is citizens from Canada — by and large from Ontario. Our retail economy is highly dependent on the Canadian shopper. Canadians spend $10 million a year on health care in western New York,” he said.
“All of this has obviously come to a screaming halt.”
Health officials warn of potential 'fall peak' in COVID-19 cases in Canada – CBC.ca
Canada’s top doctors say they’re striving for a best-case scenario but preparing for the worst: a so-called “fall peak” of COVID-19 cases across the country that threatens to overwhelm the public health-care system.
Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam and deputy public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo presented new modelling on the coronavirus on Friday, flagging a potential surge in cases several times worse than what we’ve seen so far in Canada.
Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) documents show officials are aiming for a “slow burn” scenario, in which the number of cases remains low, so that the public health-care system can deal with the influx of patients. But officials are also planning for a “reasonable worst-case scenario,” where a fall spike in infections is followed by ongoing peaks and valleys, putting excessive demands on the health system.
Tam noted that this fall’s surge will coincide with the flu and cold season, potentially putting added strains on hospitals and other health resources.
She declined to put a figure on what the caseload might look like, but said health authorities should plan for “something that’s at least several times worse than your previous experience.” There is much that’s still not known about COVID-19, including whether it accelerates with seasonality.
WATCH | Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam on potential COVID-19 surge:
Tam said what actions Canadians take now will determine how transmissions unfold in the fall.
“Continuing to build up capacity across our health, public health and laboratory systems while urging all Canadians to continue with public health practices will give us the best chance of keeping the epidemic on a slow burn, while preparing us in the event of a need to rapidly ramp up response measures for possible larger resurgence,” Tam said.
The number of new cases reported daily has increased in recent weeks, with the highest rate of infection among people aged 20-39 years old.
As businesses and schools reopen and more people return to the workplace, Tam stressed that Canadians must be vigilant in following public health guidelines to avoid a major rebound.
Key measures to limiting outbreaks are:
- Detecting and isolating cases.
- Contact tracing and quarantining.
- Physical distancing, handwashing and staying home when possible.
- Using exposure notification apps.
Njoo said about 1.9 million people have downloaded Canada’s COVID-19 exposure notification app, and he urged people to take part, especially young people who go to pubs and nightclubs.
Case load expected to climb
In the short term, PHAC says the case load could grow to between 121,650 and 127,740 by Aug. 23, and the number of deaths could climb to between 8,980 to 9,115.
The majority of cases have been reported in Ontario and Quebec, while Nunavut has not recorded a single case.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu’s office says the government knows a second wave of COVID-19 is possible, and is making appropriate preparations.
“That’s why we’ve been careful in how we’ve started to lift some public health measures, and why we’ve worked with the provinces and territories to establish a supply of PPE and medical supplies to keep Canadians safe,” Hajdu’s spokesperson Cole Davidson said in a statement.
“Deliveries of PPE and medical supplies continue to arrive at PHAC warehouses from both domestic and international suppliers while we work with provinces and territories to prepare for future needs, including the administration of potential vaccines and a possible second wave.”
Today’s modelling information is not intended to predict what will happen, but to provide a snapshot of what could happen in certain scenarios. It projects that the “peaks and valleys” could continue through 2022.
It comes as anxiety increases about potential outbreaks as students return to classrooms in the coming weeks.
British Columbia released its own modelling Thursday, showing the province’s COVID-19 curve is now climbing at a higher rate than the initial outbreak in March, and suggesting a second wave could be bigger than the first by September.
Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry said the province’s contact-tracing efforts could help reduce the number of transmissions.
Canada’s top doctor has said while Canada has been successful at slowing the spread of COVID-19, there could be a resurgence if Canadians don’t strictly follow public health guidelines on physical distancing, hand-washing and limiting mass gatherings.
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