Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Glen Argan: Trudeau is right to stick by the rule of law

  • July 2, 2020

The Chinese government has unjustly imprisoned Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. The “Two Michaels” are innocent pawns in a high-stakes game China is playing with Canada to secure the release of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies.

The United States wants Wanzhou extradited to face fraud charges. Kovrig and Spavor, who were imprisoned on what are seen as trumped-up espionage charges shortly after Wanzhou was detained in Canada at the Americans’ request, deserve freedom, not to spend the rest of their lives in prison.

If you had six children and one was kidnapped, wouldn’t you pay every cent you had to get that child back? But if you are Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, you have 35 million children. And that changes everything.

If you want to protect those 35 million, you don’t pay the ransom demand. For if you do, those kidnappers will return again and again to kidnap others whenever you act in ways that make them unhappy.

Trudeau is doing the difficult but right thing by refusing to negotiate with the hostage-taking Chinese government. He is defending the rule of law and the future safety of Canadian citizens. China has no respect for the rule of law (normally) practised in Western democracies.

Our bowing to China’s strong-arm tactics would demonstrate that kidnapping Canadian citizens is the way to hold sway over our nation in any disagreements. It would also show countries with which we have extradition treaties that we cannot be trusted to live up to those treaties.

Foremost among those is the United States which is seeking Wanzhou’s extradition. Canada has had numerous disagreements with the U.S. government, and successive governments there have had their own integrity issues. Still, the U.S. does not take our citizens hostage when Canada-U.S. disputes arise.

One mark of Canada’s own relative integrity as a free nation is that we have not suspended the operations of Huawei Technologies here. Our beef is not with Huawei or even Wanzhou, but with the repressive Chinese government. One way for Canadians to stand up for Kovrig and Spavor is to boycott Chinese-made products. Such a boycott would be aided if our government placed a trade embargo on China.

Canada should also urge other democratic countries to put political and economic pressure on China. Those nations should be willing comrades in this cause; if Canada caves into China’s treachery, the citizens of other nations travelling in China will also be at greater risk.

Comparisons have been made between our current prime minister’s handling of this case and his father’s actions during the 1970 October Crisis. In fact, similarities are few. The terrorist FLQ kidnapped British diplomat James Cross and Quebec cabinet minister Pierre Laporte, seeking the release of so-called political prisoners. The federal government negotiated with the FLQ to obtain the release of the two captives.

When talks broke down, Pierre Trudeau implemented the War Measures Act on the false premise that the Quebec government faced an insurrection. Hundreds of innocent Quebeckers were jailed without charges, and the following day the FLQ announced Laporte had been executed.

Nearly two months later, after more negotiations, Cross was released and the kidnappers flown to Cuba.

The crisis led to the murder of Laporte and the disappearance of the terrorist FLQ as a political force, but arguably also to the election of the separatist Parti Quebecois government in 1976. The federal government’s handling of the crisis increased polarization and heightened nationalist fervour in Quebec. The resulting constitutional crises and long-term entrenchment of Quebec nationalism have helped paralyze the functioning of the federal government. As well, the crisis led Pierre Trudeau to refocus the Canadian military on internal security, making it incapable of fighting an overseas war. Perhaps that is a good thing, but to this day, the military remains underequipped for its traditional role.

On one hand, the government of the elder Trudeau did negotiate with the terrorists, albeit not for the release of political prisoners. On the other, the government’s heavy-handed approach to the crisis led to unforeseen consequences which negatively affect our country. One can deplore the elder Trudeau’s actions in 1970 while supporting his son’s response to China 50 years later.

In the current crisis, negative effects are foreseeable if Canada attempts to trade Wanzhou’s freedom for the release of Spavor and Kovrig. However, negative unforeseen consequences are also possible, if not likely.

Canada is compelled to uphold justice — stand by the rule of law and use other methods to bring about the release of the two innocent Canadians.

(Argan writes from Edmonton.)

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