Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday December 8, 2020
Canadians must never forget ‘the two Michaels’
If any Canadians still wonder why their country isn’t ready to become one of China’s best bosom buddies, this week should remind them.
As of Thursday, Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig will have suffered for two full years in Chinese jails where they were almost certainly locked up for political, rather than legal, reasons.
Just think back to Dec. 10, 2018 and consider all the things you’ve done, all the places you’ve been, all the people you’ve seen and all the freedoms you’ve savoured since then. Then remember the men who are now widely referred to as “the two Michaels.”
While both have had only restricted contact with the outside world, we know they’ve endured months of daily interrogations in deplorable, solitary confinement-like conditions where the lights were kept on 24 hours a day. And while for a time Spavor and Kovrig were at least allowed an occasional, brief visit from Canadian consular staff, the Chinese are now using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to make them even more unreachable — and alone.
That this constitutes cruel, inhumane treatment should go without saying. But it is also egregiously unjust and underlines the stark difference between Canada’s adherence to the rule of international law and China’s inclination to make up the rules that suit its fancy.
The Chinese incarcerated the two Michaels just days after Canada’s house arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who is wanted on fraud charges in the United States. While Spavor and Kovrig languish in cramped cells, Meng is out on bail, living comfortably in Vancouver where she divides her time between her two mansions. While Spavor and Kovrig have been denied proper legal representation, Meng has access to the small army of lawyers she hired to fight her extradition to the U.S.
From the day of Meng’s arrest two years ago, the Canadian government clearly explained a legal agreement with the U.S. compelled it to take action against her. In contrast, while China has formally charged Spavor and Kovrig with espionage, its real motive for arresting them is different.
This is hostage diplomacy, plain and simple, a blatant attempt by a global superpower to force Canada to bow to its commands. The Chinese themselves basically confirmed this is the case in June. That’s when Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said it was “within the rule of law” for China to release Spavor and Kovrig — if Canada freed Meng first.
Of course, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was right not to buckle to the pressure on him to interfere with Canadian courts and free Meng. If you give in to a bully once, the bully will inevitably be back again to twist your arm into doing something else. And this is the same bully that has also arbitrarily blocked its imports of Canadian farm products, all while badgering Canada to allow China’s Huawei Technologies Co., equipment to be used in Canada’s 5G wireless networks.
China is a country that, because of its political power and economic prowess, Canada must engage. But its aggressive dealings with Canada, including sending over state agents to intimidate Canadian citizens who publicly criticize China, mean we should keep a wary distance — and keep it out of our 5G network.
Such a relationship should be reserved for a true friend. But a true friend wouldn’t have kept Spavor and Kovrig behind bars for two years. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial)