Did the Canadian government miss a timely chance to warn all Canadians in China — including the Two Michaels — about a threat to their safety?
That question is sparked by a key line in an RCMP officer’s notes found among the thousands of pages filed in the British Columbia Supreme Court extradition case of Meng Wanzhou.
The Huawei chief financial officer, who is wanted on fraud charges in New York, was arrested Dec. 1, 2018 at Vancouver International Airport. Meng’s detention did not become public until Dec. 5, 2018.
A day later, on Dec. 6, 2018, Const. Christine Larsen, of the RCMP’s E Division Foreign and Domestic Liaison Unit, wrote that she spoke to the Department of Justice, after it wanted more information about a Vancouver Police Department file.
“Complainant reported online threats that if Meng was not released, two Canadians would die,” Larsen wrote.
Larsen’s notes do not mention the source of the threat or the platform where it was made. She forwarded a summary to S. Sgt. Ben Chang of the Federal Serious Organized Crime Group.
Chinese authorities arrested ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor Dec. 10, 2018. The next day, a judge decided Meng would not go home to China, but instead live in one of her Vancouver houses under nightly curfew and electronic monitoring on $10 million bail.
On Jan. 3, 2019, a U.S. State Department travel advisory said “Exercise increased caution in China due to arbitrary enforcement of local laws as well as special restrictions on dual U.S.-Chinese nationals.”
It took another 11 days, until Jan. 14, 2019, for Canada to do the same.
What, if anything, did Canadian authorities do about the online threats?
They refuse to say.
“Department of Justice Canada counsel obtained and provided these materials to Ms. Meng as part of their disclosure obligations,” said spokesman Ian McLeod. “The Department of Justice Canada is not responsible for criminal investigations or prosecutions. Any questions concerning a Vancouver Police Department or RCMP investigation should be made directly to the VPD or RCMP.”
VPD referred theBreaker.news to RCMP E Division.
“As your questions pertain to a document that is part of the disclosure related to an ongoing court matter, we respectfully decline to provide further comment at this time,” said Sgt. Kris Clark of the RCMP’s Federal Serious and Organized Crime agency.
Likewise, Christelle Chartrand of Global Affairs Canada said the Government of Canada “will not be commenting on issues before the court.”
Human rights activist: “more to it than just some online prank”
A Swedish human rights activist who was held in a secret Chinese jail five years ago said the Canadian government’s silence speaks volumes.
“There’s a lot of threats all the time, from Chinese netizens, from the-so called Wumao army [state-paid social media commenters], etcetera, so the fact that some type of death threat would be made, that in itself is not that special,” Peter Dahlin of Safeguard Defenders told theBreaker.news.
“The fact they are not denying it or saying that they ruled it out, that, of course, makes it a lot more interesting for sure.”
Dahlin ran China Action, a non-governmental organization that advocated for lawyers and journalists, when he was arrested in early 2016 on trumped-up charges of endangering national security. His release came after 23 days when he was forced to make a false confession on state TV.
“Obviously one cannot know for sure, but the refusal to deny [the threats] indicates there is something more to it than just some online prank. Because, if they had dismissed it, they would most likely just say so out loud.”
Dahlin was intrigued by the threat specifying two Canadians.
Not only were the Two Michaels, Kovrig and Spavor, kidnapped and subject to torture, but two other Canadians were sentenced to death for drug trafficking crimes in the wake of Meng’s arrest.
Robert Schellenberg’s 15-year sentence in November 2018 was upgraded to death in mid-January 2019 and Fan Wei was sentenced to death in April 2019.
Former federal deputy minister Margaret McCuaig-Johnston was in China in early December 2018 on a business trip. The retaliatory arrests of Kovrig and Spavor reminded her of a 2014 tit-for-tat case. After B.C.-based spy Su Bin’s arrest for stealing U.S. military secrets, Chinese authorities nabbed Kevin and Julia Garratt at their restaurant near the North Korea border and accused them of spying. They were deported two years later.
McCuaig-Johnston was a member of the Canada-China Joint Committee on Science and Technology for seven years and is now senior fellow with the University of Ottawa and University of Alberta. She hopes answers come in court about Larsen’s report.
“I think it’s interesting that there were threats, we’d want to know where they came from in the first instance and who they were made to,” McCuaig-Johnston said. “Was it somebody who the person thought might be in a position to change the status of her arrest?”
While two Canadians did not die by China’s hand, McCuaig-Johnston did acknowledge that Kovrig and Spavor’s lives “have been taken away from them for more than two years.”
Kovrig and Spavor were charged in June 2020 for alleged spying. Chinese state media reported last week they would be tried “soon.”
“I was a friend of China for 40 years. I will never be a friend of China again,” she said. “I am just outraged this would happen to two innocent Canadians.”
Support theBreaker.news for as low as $2 a month on Patreon. Find out how. Click here.