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My friend Michael Kovrig was arrested in China. Please, pay attention

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VANCOUVER—This morning, when I heard that former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig had been arrested in China, I hoped it was one of those brief detentions officials routinely use to intimidate foreign researchers, charity workers and journalists.

I rushed to the Star’s Vancouver newsroom and got on the phone to see if I could find out anything more about my friend. It was past midnight in Beijing, and none of our mutual friends and acquaintances were getting back to me. I was starting to panic.

Finally, I reached the previous Canadian ambassador to China, Guy Saint-Jacques. He was Michael’s boss when he worked in Canada’s Beijing embassy from 2014 to 2016.

When Saint-Jacques told me he feared Michael could be charged with espionage, my heart sank.

It would not be unprecedented. In 2014, Canadian Christian aid workers Julia and Kevin Garratt were arrested by Chinese officials and accused of spying. Many believed it was retaliation for the arrest in Canada that same year of Chinese citizen Su Bin, who was accused of hacking U.S. military databases.

“In my view, this is part of China’s efforts to put pressure on Canada on the Huawei case,” he said, referencing the Dec. 1 arrest of the telecom company’s CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver, which my newsroom has been busy covering.

In a state of shock, I filed the former ambassador’s quotes to our story as messages started pouring in from friends who had also learned about Michael’s detention. The Canadian government has since confirmed it.

Michael was one of the first people I met in Beijing four years ago when I worked as a foreign correspondent for European news agencies. A group of Western diplomats invited me to join them at a Chinese folk concert in one of the ancient “hutong” alleyways of the capital city.

We were all new to working in mainland China, though some of us (like me and Michael) had worked in Hong Kong. We were excited to explore Beijing’s night life and cultural offerings.

Michael reached out to me to grab lunch because both of us were interested in politics and human rights in China. We wanted to trade notes on these complex and overwhelming subjects.

After that, he always tried to make it to my gatherings, and he invited me to the fabulous bashes he threw in his apartment — including one party where he even hired a swing band and bartender.

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Despite the wonderful friends I made in my years covering human rights in China, it was depressing to write about the arrests or mysterious disappearances of lawyers, writers and activists.

It was exciting to run with Chinese human-rights lawyers down back streets to evade the police watching their every move — but also crushing to hear when yet another advocate had been arrested.

One attorney, Wang Quanzhang, has not been heard from since he was detained in 2015 during a police sweep on hundreds of lawyers and advocates. I sat with his wife as she cried in a restaurant. She, too, had been put under house arrest.

Last summer, I travelled to the northeastern city of Shenyang to try to find pro-democracy advocate Liu Xiaobo as he lay dying of liver cancer. He remained locked away in a hospital and was the first Nobel Peace Prize laureate to die in state custody since the days of Nazi Germany.

I moved back to Vancouver this July, where I soon got a job with the Star.

I last heard from Michael in the spring, when he told me he was loving his job as senior adviser on northeast Asia for the International Crisis Group, an internationally respected NGO that examines ways to prevent and resolve deadly conflict.

The job allowed him to travel widely, speak with many people and write for a wider audience to promote peace.

Michael is emotionally very open. Many in his social circle knew that he struggled with his decision to take a leave of absence from work as a diplomat in 2016. He chose to do so because he didn’t want another posting somewhere else. He wanted to stay in China and keep learning more about the country.

In short, he was a China nerd and eager to keep learning.

“He loved China,” said Saint-Jacques. “I told him you can take a leave of absence from the government and try to find something, and good luck with your plans. And that’s why he decided to stay and enjoy living and working in China.”

Michael could not have foreseen what would happen to him. I am still hopeful that he won’t be detained for long, even though I know that the outcome could be awful.

A foreign passport can provide little protection. Just look at the case of B.C. winery owners John Chang and Allison Lu, who have been detained in Shanghai since 2016, accused of failing to pay sufficient taxes on wine shipments.

Those who track human-rights cases in China worry that people around the world are becoming numb to their concerns.

Please, pay attention to what is happening with Michael’s case.

Joanna Chiu is assistant managing editor of StarMetro Vancouver. Follow her on Twitter: @joannachiu



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A stunning Water Lantern Festival is coming to Montreal

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What might just be the most magical night ever is coming up for Montreal this year.

The Water Lantern Festival has announced that it will be gracing Mississauga with thousands of floating lanterns later this year, as part of a celebration that spans the entire world.

According to the festival’s official website, the event is a celebration of life with proceeds going towards charities and non-profit organizations within the area.

“Water Lantern Festival brings together individuals from all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life to join in one emotional and memorable night. At the Water Lantern Festival, we cherish these moments and will do our best to help you have a memorable experience that you’ll never forget as you witness the beauty of thousands of lanterns reflecting upon the water,” the website states.

The festival takes place throughout multiple cities around the world, with the Canadian cities of Quebec, Regina, Vancouver, Hamilton, Calgary, Ottawa, Mississauga, and, of course, Montreal taking part.

For the Calgary event, a date has been confirmed and tickets are already rolling out. Montreal shan’t be far behind, and you can click the Notify Me tab on the event’s site to be kept in the loop.

Expect an evening filled with food trucks, music, lantern designing and finally, a magical launch of the lanterns into the water as the sun goes down.

For our pals over in Calgary, their event includes a floating lantern, a commemorative drawstring bag, a marker, and a wristband. Expect something similar, if not the same, when more details float through about Montreal’s event.

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Euthanasia order on hold for Montreal dog that attacked children

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A pit bull dog that attacked four children and two adults in August 2018 in Montreal North will not be euthanized in the immediate future.

The euthanasia order has been temporarily suspended pending the appeal of a Quebec Superior Court decision.

On Tuesday, Judge Lukasz Granosik rejected a request to halt the euthanasia order issued by the Montreal North borough, which declared the animal a “dangerous dog.”

The City of Montreal has not changed its mind. This is only a delay before it proceeds with euthanizing the dog, a source told the Canadian Press.

Shotta, the one-year-old dog, was in the care of its owner’s acquaintance in August 2018. The dog attacked four children and two adults, causing serious injuries in separate incidents on the same day.

After the attacks, the dog was taken from the home and entrusted to the SPCA.

WATCH: Dog found dead in Angrignon Park

The Road to Home Rescue Support, an American shelter, asked the court if it could take in the dog. Christa Frineau, the dog’s owner, had also asked that Shotta not be euthanized.

Granosik refused to grant the request.

—With files from Global’s Kalina Laframboise

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9 Things To Do In Montreal This Friday, Saturday & Sunday

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Today’s sunny skies have me itching to make weekend plans. I absolutely cannot wait to make the most of this warmer weather. This might be the time to inflate my bike tires and dust off my running shoes…

Whether you want to brush up on your cooking skills, let loose, or fill your stomach with amazing food, there’s an event out there for you. Read on for 9 fun things you can do with friends or a fling this weekend.

TL;DR Read on for 9 fun things you can do in Montreal this weekend.

Let Yourself Go At Dress Up

Where: 185 Avenue Van Horne, Montréal.

When: Friday, March 29, 9:00 p.m.

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