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Two pawns in a geopolitical game


BY: Giordano Proulx


When the words “hostage crisis” are uttered, the usual scenario that comes to mind resembles something like what occurred in Iran, in 1979, in the midst of its revolution. Or even, what occurs with increasing rarity in the seas surrounding Africa, as pirates take over vessels and hold their crew for ransom. However, hostage taking has many more various and covert forms, with one such case being the imprisonment of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, two Canadians currently held in China. Though the case may seem quite clear, especially considering the People’s Republic’s track record with human rights abuses, with the most recent instance being the Uyghurs internment camps, it is indeed far more complex.  When analyzed in depth, it becomes evident that such actions were indeed retaliatory, a part of a long negotiation process between China and Canada.

The situation began with a flight on December 1, 2018, from Hong Kong, stopped in Vancouver, when Meng Wanzhou, multi-billion-dollar tech giant Huawei’s chief financial officer, was arrested on an extradition warrant on behalf of the United States, following her arrest for her involvement in violations of economic sanctions against Iran. She was released on a 10-million-dollar bail and has resided in one of her two multi-million-dollar Vancouver homes ever since. What ensued was a true legal mess, as Meng’s lawyers argued that there had been a multitude of violations to her rights, such as detaining her before she was arrested, forcing her to provide her passwords and questioning her about her affairs with Iran without legal counsel. However, their main point of contention remained that she was a victim of a system which had been interfered with by US President Donald Trump. Conversely, the prosecutors argued that Meng’s actions were not only criminal in the United States, but Canada as well, justifying her arrest. They also added that Meng’s statements were in large part misleading and false as she had omitted key pieces of information. In the end, the courts sided with the prosecution, and have moved forward with the extradition process.

On June 19, 2020, China indicted the two Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, on charges of espionage, leaving Canada with a difficult dilemma. Side with their southern ally, a global superpower, and extradite Meng Wanzhou to the United States at the cost of these two men, stuck in a Chinese prison since December 2018? Or let the Huawei executive go, and hope that China releases these two men, at the cost of an already strained relationship with the United States? That part is up to debate.

From a legal perspective, the Justice Minister, David Lametti has the power to intervene and put an end to the extradition process. Though such a course of action remains a possibility, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has so far refused to do so. Moreover, he has openly rejected calls to release Meng Wanzhou, even after a group of 19 former parliamentarians, Canadian diplomats, and two Ministers of Foreign Affairs have called for her release as to ease tensions with China and, hopefully have both Michaels imprisoned in China come home. Though many may discount the views of individuals formerly involved in politics, even former Supreme Court of Canada Judge Louise Arbour agrees that Lametti should intervene. In addition, she states that “it was never in Canada’s interest to extradite Meng Wanzhou,” while also adding that “it is a request for extradition based on accusations that have a very political content”. Conversely, there are a variety of individuals who agree with Trudeau’s position, stating that releasing Meng would not only be perceived as a sign of weakness by the international community, but prove a dangerous precedent for any future negotiations Canada would wish to hold with fellow nations, all while weakening the rule of international law.

Unfortunately, with early estimates stating that the extradition process will not be over until late in 2021, the future of all those involved remains uncertain. Leaving the two Canadians to be “two pawns in a geopolitical game” as Vina Nadjibulla, Michael Kovrig’s wife stated in an interview.


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