Two Michaels Released, Sept 24 2021Huawei spy Meng Wanzhou returns to China as a hero, claiming she suffered overseas..
We should all be very happy that the 1,019-day prison ordeal endured by Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in China has finally ended. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is quite right that we should be happy for them, and for their families, if only because everything else about this whole squalid business has given Canadians every reason to feel disgusted, embarrassed, ashamed and angry.
Much to the dismay of the Beijing-friendly circle that dominates the international trade and foreign policy cordon around the Trudeau government the Meng and the Michaels melodrama had caused China’s favourability ratings among Canadians to plummet to a mere 14 per cent. Canadians should be permitted to be happy as well, then, that we’re at long last rid of the obnoxious Meng Wanzhou...while all the time was treated like royalty during her stay in Vancouver.
The Huawei chief financial officer finally admitted to her many lies and deceptions in a deferred prosecution agreement the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York unveiled on Friday. No similar recanting is likely to come from Cong Peiwu, China’s ambassador to Canada, who has repeatedly uttered the Beijing propaganda lie that the prosecution of Kovrig and Spavor on trumped-up espionage charges had nothing to do with Meng’s case.
That lie was conclusively exposed on Friday by the synchronization of Meng’s flight back to China with Kovrig and Spavor’s flight back to Canada. Chinese state media dealt with this awkwardness by avoiding any mention of the Michaels’ release in its celebration of Meng’s return on Saturday. China’s foreign ministry was silent about the Micheals’ return. The Liberals’ message-control effort, meanwhile, is concentrated on casting Friday’s events as a hard-fought diplomatic triumph for Team Trudeau.
The Michaels arrived home in the wee hours, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau quietly met with them at Calgary International Airport. For her part, Meng spoke of her eyes blurring with tears n her way back to China, anticipating “the embrace of the great motherland.”
But no matter how strenuously we’re summoned to believe it, it’s not known whether any of the exertions Trudeau’s government made on behalf of the two Michaels in any way factored into Beijing’s decision to choreograph the Michaels’ release with the B.C. Supreme Court’s suspension of extradition proceedings Friday, after Meng’s deal with U.S. prosecutors was announced.
Similarly, there’s little evidence that U.S. President Joe Biden’s White House had much of anything to do with the long-negotiated agreement between Meng’s lawyers and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, and even less evidence that Canada successfully persuaded the Biden administration to somehow intervene in a game-changing way. The agreement unveiled Friday appears to be much the same as the tentative deal Meng’s lawyers sketched out with the U.S. Attorney’s office at least a year ago, when Donald Trump was president.
And after all this time, and after all the shouting about former U.S. president Donald Trump having allegedly poisoned the case by hinting at a direct intervention that he may not have been constitutionally entitled to make, there’s still no evidence that Trump was even aware that Canadian officials had been asked to detain Meng on the New York arrest warrant in the first place.
What is known is that Meng’s efforts to evade extradition to the U.S. on 13 charges of conspiracy, fraud, spying, wire fraud and other counts related to Huawei’s dealings in Iran had gone mostly nowhere in Judge Heather Holmes’ B.C. court, and a ruling was imminent. The case was perhaps weeks away from showing up as a political decision the Trudeau government would have been expected to make.
Meng’s lawyers had lost a bid to see emails between Canada and the U.S. about her arrest. They lost in an effort to have a trove of HSBC bank documents entered into evidence. They lost in a fight with the news media to have the courts impose a publication ban on certain types of evidence.
One of the main claims Meng’s team attempted to assert was a “double criminality” defence, based on the proposition that the American Iran sanctions Meng was charged with evading weren’t applicable in Canada. They lost that argument too. In separate proceedings, Meng had lost a federal court attempt to obtain redacted sections of Canadian Security Intelligence Service documents related to her trial. On it went like this, in a pattern of attempts to have the U.S. case against Meng tried in the extradition proceedings, rather than in a U.S. court. None of it worked.
Along the way, Trudeau was forced to dismiss his former ambassador to Beijing, the China enthusiast John McCallum, after McCallum had repeatedly and publicly insisted that Meng had a good case. Old guard Liberal heavyweights like former prime minister Jean Chretien, former deputy minister John Manley and former cabinet ministers Lloyd Axworthy and Allan Rock had either argued for “creative incompetence” to allow Meng to quietly slip out of Canada or for a direct intervention to defy the U.S. through the creative use of loopholes in Canada’s extradition laws.
On Friday, the U.S. deal Meng finally accepted allowed her to agree she’d lied, and that she’d mostly committed the crimes she was facing, but she wasn’t required to formally plead guilty. In exchange, the charges against her would be formally dropped by December, 2022. A raft of charges against Huawei remain outstanding, including conspiracy, theft and racketeering, and the New York Attorney’s office says Meng’s admissions will be helpful in prosecuting Huawei on those charges.
So Friday was a happy day, especially for the Michaels. Trudeau expressed thanks to “every single person and partner around the world who helped secure their release.” Rob Oliphant, the re-elected Liberal MP for Don Valley West who served until the dissolution of the last Parliament as the parliamentary secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau, has invited us to believe that he himself is worthy of at least some credit: “After engaging and working on this horrendous problem for two and a half years, I am breathing more easily right now.”
Oliphant also credited three “indefatigable” foreign ministers, dozens of talented diplomats, and of course Trudeau, who “worked the phones constantly.” Senator Yuen Pau Woo, who is perhaps the most unabashed of the Beijing-friendly members of the Red Chamber, credits Ambassador Dominic Barton’s “skillful triangulation” for the Michaels’ release.
It’s hard to say whether any of this telephone-working, personal engagement, diplomatic talent, ministerial indefatigability and triangulation had any bearing of any kind whatsoever on Chinese strongman Xi Jinping’s decision to relieve himself of Kovrig and Spavor, whose detention no longer served any purpose after Meng’s release.
But Xi Jinping isn’t saying.