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China levels national security accusations against two detained Canadians

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OTTAWA —In the wake of Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou, a high-profile Chinese business executive wanted by the U.S, China says it has detained two Canadians “on suspicion of engaging in activities that harm China’s state security.”

Both men were arrested two days after China threatened Canada with “grave consequences” if Meng — the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies Inc. who is sought by the U.S. on allegations of fraud and bypassing Iran sanctions — was not immediately released, but a day before she made bail.

The turn of events prompted Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer to demand Prime Minister Justin Trudeau intervene with Chinese President Xi Jinping on behalf of the Canadians detained in China.

Without discussing whether the arrests were retaliatory in nature, a Chinese government spokesman, Lu Chang, repeated China’s demand Thursday from Beijing.

“On the case of Meng Wanzhou which is a wrong move made by the Canadian side, we ask the Canadian side to immediately correct its mistake and release Ms. Meng Wanzhou. As for the cases involving two Canadian citizens, I have already told you that China’s state security authorities have taken compulsory measures in accordance with law.”

A B.C. judge ordered Tuesday that Meng would be allowed to leave prison on strict bail conditions, including a $10-million guarantee she would remain in Vancouver while the U.S. pursues its extradition case against her.

Lu, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said that on Dec. 10, Michael Kovrig was arrested in Beijing and, separately, Michael Spavor was detained in Dandong City near the China-North Korea border.

Kovrig is a former Canadian diplomat on leave to work for International Crisis Group doing research and analysis on China, North Korea and northeast Asia generally.

Spavor is an entrepreneur who runs a China-based company that organizes sport and cultural trips into North Korea, and was a fixer for former NBA superstar Dennis Rodham’s trip to meet North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

Lu dodged direct questions about whether their arrests were in retaliation for Meng’s arrest, whether the two men were connected to each other, or whether the so-called allegations of harming Chinese national security had anything to do with their work in North Korea.

But an editor of Global Times, an English-language tabloid that has close ties to the Chinese government, posted a video Thursday saying “China will take revenge” if Canada does not free Meng.

Scheer on Thursday cited reports in Chinese media that the men’s plight was linked to the Meng arrest, and laid much of the blame at the feet of Canada’s Liberal government, saying Trudeau has pursued a “policy of appeasement” that has reduced Canada’s leverage with Canada.

He urged Trudeau to pick up the phone and call president Xi, saying it’s time to elevate the issue to the very top levels of the Chinese government.

“We need to make sure we unequivocally denounce any type of repercussions to Canadians on foreign soil in China as a result of the actions of independent police agencies here,” said Scheer.

“That message has to be sent loudly and clearly by this government to the government of China. And I believe that this situation demonstrates that Justin Trudeau’s naïve approach to relations with China isn’t working.”

Scheer, who told the Star he has never himself travelled to mainland China only to Taiwan, said it is time for Canada to stop making “concessions” to China and announce that Huawei will not be permitted to participate in the development of Canada’s 5G wireless networks.

He declined to say whether Canada should warn Canadians to avoid travel to and within China, saying the government has access to more national security information than he does and must make that determination. Scheer noted thousands of Canadians travel back and forth to China for business and family reasons.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Wednesday, “The current advice urges Canadians to exercise a high degree of caution in China and that is advice that Canadians should take seriously.”

Freeland said the government constantly reviews events and would adjust the caution if necessary.

However, China’s foreign ministry spokesman, Lu Chang insisted China remained a safe destination, and that foreign nationals in China have “nothing to worry about as long as they abide by Chinese laws and regulations.”

Lu said from January to November 2018, 780,000 people have travelled from Canada from China, while a much smaller number of Chinese visit Canada on a per capita basis.

“I want to add that since the Canadian government wrongfully detained Ms. Meng Wanzhou at the behest of the U.S. side, many Chinese people are starting to question the safety of travelling to Canada.”

Canadian officials say the government has not been advised of the nature of any charges, nor where the men are being held.

Meng’s arrest came Dec. 1 in Vancouver at the request of the U.S. as she was in transit, flying between Hong Kong and Mexico.

China’s foreign ministry hauled in the Canadian ambassador to Beijing, John McCallum, on Saturday and the U.S. ambassador Terry Branstad on Sunday in protest.

China called Meng’s arrest “lawless, reasonless and ruthless, and it is extremely vicious.”

On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump said he would intervene in her case and could make it go away if it would break the trade deadlock between the U.S. and China.

“Whatever’s good for this country, I would do,” Trump told Reuters Tuesday.

U.S. Assistant Attorney General for Security John Demers tried to do damage control at a senate committee the next day: “What we do at the Justice Department is law enforcement. We don’t do trade.”

And Trump’s remark drew a veiled rebuke from Freeland who suggested Meng’s lawyers could use the remarks in her defence to argue the prosecution was politicized.

“I think that it is incumbent on parties making an extradition request to be sure that an extradition request is about ensuring that justice is done, is about respecting the rule of law, and our extradition partners should not seek to politicize the extradition process or use it for ends other than the pursuit of justice and the rule of law,” Freeland told reporters Wednesday.

Freeland said the Canadian government is “deeply concerned” about the detentions of the two Canadians.

Kovrig was on special leave to work with a non-governmental organization in Hong Kong, does not have diplomatic status, yet is considered to still be an employee of the department.

“It adds another layer to the concern,” admitted Freeland. She said the government has a special duty of care to its own employees, but it is “agonizing” when any Canadian is detained outside Canada.

Canadian officials who briefed reporters said Meng’s arrest provoked such a storm of “anti-Canadian sentiment” and protest on official Chinese state media, on social media channels and in emails to the Canadian embassy that Canada asked Beijing to beef up security around its embassy in the capital, and its consulate offices in Hong Kong, Chongqing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc

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Anglais

‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Anglais

Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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