‘Canadians deserve answers’: Opposition to press on with parliamentary probe after Gerald Butts resignation

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A day after the bombshell departure of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s closest adviser, the SNC-Lavalin affair shows no sign of abating as the opposition parties cast his resignation as a sign there may be more to the scandal than initially thought.

The House of Commons justice committee will reconvene today to continue its study of a report that senior members of the Prime Minister’s Office pressured former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to help Quebec-based multinational engineering firm SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution on bribery and fraud charges in relation to contracts in Libya.

Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s principal secretary and right-hand man, resigned Monday stating definitively that neither he or anyone else in the PMO pressured Wilson-Raybould to direct the Public Prosecution Service of Canada to sign a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) — a legal tool resembling a plea deal — with SNC-Lavalin.

« At all times, I and those around me acted with integrity and a singular focus on the best interests of all Canadians, » Butts said Monday.

Rather than wipe the slate clean, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said Butts’ departure « does not in any way settle this matter. In fact, it presents even more questions that must be answered. »

Scheer said the staff changeover is a sign the prime minister is « desperate to keep the truth hidden. »

« Conservatives on the justice committee will continue to demand a thorough and public investigation, and all other options remain on the table, » Scheer said.

NDP MP Charlie Angus, the party’s ethics critic, said Butts’ departure — he calls the former staffer the « architect of the Sunny Ways » Trudeau playbook — could provoke a « political revolution. »

« For Gerry Butts to resign shows how much damage [the scandal] has done inside the Prime Minister’s Office … If Mr. Butts is willing to take a jump for the prime minister, at this point, it shows that they’re in free fall and total damage control, » Angus said in an interview with CBC News Network’s Power & Politics.

« The best thing the prime minister could do to restore public confidence is come into the House and agree to an independent inquiry … or else these questions are going to continue. »

The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing. He has said he told Wilson-Raybould last fall that any decisions on matters involving the director of public prosecutions were hers alone.

The Liberal and opposition members of the justice committee are expected to squabble today over who should be called to testify at the committee and just how wide-reaching the parliamentary probe should be.

At the top of the opposition witness wish list is Butts himself, but also Wilson-Raybould, who resigned from cabinet last week after the Globe and Mail published its initial report.

Wilson-Raybould had been demoted from the high-profile justice portfolio to the Veterans Affairs ministry in January.

Wilson-Raybould has stayed silent, claiming solicitor-client privilege — as attorney general, she was the government’s top lawyer — prevents her from speaking publicly.

She has taken the highly unusual step of retaining Thomas Cromwell, a recently retired Supreme Court justice, as her legal counsel as the scandal enters a new phase.

While the Liberal-controlled justice committee has agreed to study the matter, Liberal MPs defeated an NDP motion that would have compelled Butts and Wilson-Raybould to appear.

Following normal parliamentary procedure with respect to committee planning, members will discuss who they will call to the committee and define the scope of its investigation in private. The opposition parties had demanded these proceedings be held in public, whereas Liberals successfully pushed for closed-door discussions.

The parliamentary probe itself is expected to be televised.

More to come?

Opposition members have pointed to one line of Butts’ resignation statement in particular as an indication that there might be more developments to come.

Butts said, « My reputation is my responsibility and that is for me to defend. It is in the best interests of the office and its important work for me to step away. »

Not satisfied with a committee study alone, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is calling for a public inquiry into the government’s handling — and allegations of political interference — of the SNC-Lavalin affair.

Singh is demanding Trudeau waive solicitor-client privilege to allow his former justice minister to speak freely. Trudeau has said the privilege question is complicated and he is awaiting advice from current Attorney General David Lametti on what he can say in public. He has also said some of the government’s handling of the case is protected by cabinet confidentiality.

Speaking to reporters in B.C. a week out from the Burnaby South byelection in which he is running, Singh said intransigence by Liberal members of the justice committee demands another forum for investigation.

He said a public inquiry is the best way to « get to the bottom of what’s happened. »

« The scandal cuts to the heart of our democracy, » Singh said. « Canadians deserve a government that works for them, not a powerful multinational corporation that has deep ties to the Liberal Party. »

In addition to the committee study, federal Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion is examining the prime minister personally for any potential ethics code violations.

Trudeau loses long-time political ally

​In a tweet Monday, Trudeau said Butts served Canada with « integrity, sage advice and devotion. » He thanked the former staffer for his service and « continued friendship. »

In addition to the political partnership, the prime minister is close friends with Butts — a relationship that dates back to their time as students at McGill University in Montreal where they were members of the campus debating club.

Born in Glace Bay, N.S., a coal-mining town on Cape Breton Island, Butts worked on public policy in Ontario before becoming a senior staffer under former Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty at Queen’s Park.

Butts then made the leap to federal politics and helped chart Trudeau’s political future as leader of the Liberal Party and later prime minister.

Trudeau chats with Butts after the Liberal leadership debate in Mississauga, Ont., on Feb. 16, 2013. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Praised by his allies as a brilliant mind, and vilified by foes as the political puppet master behind the prime minister, Butts said Monday he is proud of his time as Trudeau’s top adviser.

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Are shadowy agents targeting Canadians who criticize an Israeli spyware firm? – National

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John Scott-Railton rushed into the Peninsula Hotel on Fifth Avenue in New York City, behind schedule, half-soaked from a rainstorm and out of breath. He hurried through the lobby to the hotel’s five-star restaurant, the Clement, praying that the microphone hidden under his tie was still working, and that his lunch date hadn’t bailed.

He felt like a mess as he moved through the swanky hotel. He worried his whole plan was about to fall apart because of a bit of traffic on the way over.

Scott-Railton was set to meet with Michel Lambert, a wealthy entrepreneur who promised him a lucrative business opportunity — one that paid far better than his spyware-hunting job at Citizen Lab in Toronto.

But he says he knew the man he ultimately sat down with for dinner that afternoon was not a businessman named Michel Lambert. According to Scott-Railton, he was an ex-spy from Israel operating under a false name.

A man who identified himself as Michel Lambert reacts during an interview at a restaurant in New York on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019.

AP Photo/Joseph Frederick

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Scott-Railton says he agreed to meet the man he says was a covert operative because he wanted to “turn the tables” on a shadowy operation that had targeted his Citizen Lab colleague, Bahar Abdul Razzak, a few months earlier. A supposed entrepreneur had lured Razzak to a meeting in Toronto, then grilled him about his research into NSO Group, an Israeli tech firm with software that can hack any smartphone via text message, according to Scott-Railton.


READ MORE:
Undercover spies caught fishing for anti-Israel remarks following Canadian sting

Citizen Lab has been tracking NSO Group’s phone-cracking software for years, and its research forms the basis of three major lawsuits. The plaintiffs allege that NSO’s software was used to hack their phones and spy on them because they were critical of governments in Mexico, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

“Lambert” asked Scott-Railton several questions about NSO over lunch. He also posed leading questions about potential anti-Israel bias or outside funding at Citizen Lab, an independent research facility at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs.

John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab, poses for a photo in New York City on Jan. 17, 2019.

AP Photo/Kathy Willens

However, the man had little to say once Scott-Railton invited a hidden Associated Press reporter over to the table.

“I don’t have to speak with you,” said the man, whom the New York Times and Israel’s Channel 12 later identified as former Israeli security official Aharon Almog-Assouline. Almog-Assouline stormed out of the restaurant and refused to answer questions from the AP reporter.

The sting has shed light on an alleged wider plot targeting at least six critics of NSO, an Israeli cybersecurity firm that helps law enforcement access suspects’ smartphones. Three lawsuits accuse NSO of selling its phone-cracking program, Pegasus, to governments that allegedly used it to monitor journalists and activists. The lawsuits call for NSO to stop selling Pegasus to some of its most lucrative government clients, many of whom pay tens of millions of dollars for its services.

Global News has reached out to NSO Group for comment on Citizen Lab’s reports, the lawsuits against it and the alleged attempts by anonymous individuals to contact people linked to those lawsuits. NSO has not responded. However, it has previously refuted the Citizen Lab reports, rejected the claims in the lawsuits and denied any connection to those asking about the lawsuits.

Citizen Lab

Citizen Lab, which operates out of the University of Toronto, does independent research into human rights abuses online, such as government surveillance and censorship.

“Our work exposing these abuses is clearly making some people uncomfortable, and we are being targeted with underhanded, unethical tactics,” Scott-Railton told Global News.

“To us, this is a signal that we are doing something right, and why academic work is so important.”

Scott-Railton and his colleagues at U of T’s Citizen Lab have been monitoring NSO since 2016.

Citizen Lab has published over a dozen reports documenting alleged abuse of NSO’s software, Pegasus, based on digital forensics. They say NSO has been reckless with its choice of clients, by selling to governments with a history of human rights abuses.


READ MORE:
Toronto-based Citizen Lab, which exposed Israeli spy software, targeted by undercover agents

Citizen Lab alleges that NSO’s Pegasus software has been used for political purposes in several countries, including Mexico, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Overall, Citizen Lab estimates that 36 operators have used Pegasus on targets in 45 different nations, including the United States and Canada. It says six operators were linked to countries with a “history of abusing spyware to target civil society.”

NSO Group has repeatedly denied all allegations stemming from Citizen Lab’s research, and insists that its technology is only used for law enforcement purposes. The company has disputed Citizen Lab’s list of countries where it operates, and claims that the product “will not operate outside of approved countries.”

Shady operators

A recent AP investigation found that at least six individuals linked to NSO lawsuits, including Citizen Lab’s Razzak and Scott-Railton, have been targeted by undercover operatives seeking information about the cases. These shady figures invited their targets to swanky dinners to discuss lucrative job offers, then questioned them about NSO, according to the AP.

Two people targeted by undercover operatives were secretly recorded and the footage later broadcast on Israeli television, the AP reports.

“There’s somebody who’s really interested in sabotaging the case,” Mazen Masri, who is one of the alleged targets, told the Associated Press. Masri teaches at City University in London, and is advising the plaintiff’s attorney in one of the NSO lawsuits. He suggested the man was “looking for dirt and relevant information about people involved.”

WATCH BELOW: Up to 500-million Marriott customers’ data accessed in cyberattack






Citizen Lab condemned the alleged operations against Razzak and Scott-Railton in a statement last month, after Scott-Railton met with the suspected spy.

“This failed operation against two Citizen Lab researchers is a new low,” Citizen Lab director Ron Deibert wrote on Jan. 25. “We have always welcomed debate and dialogue about our work, but we condemn these sinister, underhanded activities in the strongest possible terms.”

Deibert added that he has “no evidence” that NSO Group itself is responsible for the incidents.

How NSO’s phone-hacking Pegasus spyware works

Pegasus is an extremely powerful spyware program that installs itself on a phone after the target is tricked into clicking a text-message link. It’s designed to let police covertly examine everything on a target’s phone, according to an in-depth technical analysis of the program by Lookout, a California-based cybersecurity company. The analysis was conducted in partnership with Citizen Lab.

Pegasus effectively turns the target’s phone into an open book. The spyware operator can access anything connected to the phone, and can even switch on its microphones and cameras to turn it into a remote surveillance device. The only way to avoid infection is to avoid clicking on text-message links.

This diagram shows all the systems an operator can access by infecting someone’s phone with Pegasus spyware.

Citizen Lab

“The Pegasus software is highly configurable,” the Lookout report says. “Depending on the country of use and feature sets purchased by the user of the spyware, the surveillance capabilities include remotely accessing text messages, iMessages, calls, emails, logs, and more from apps including Gmail, Facebook, Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, Facetime, Calendar, Line, Mail.Ru, WeChat, Surespot, Tango, Telegram, and others.”

Citizen Lab and Lookout worked with Apple in 2016 to help it fix an iOS vulnerability that Pegasus appeared to exploit. Citizen Lab says it discovered Pegasus exploiting the vulnerability on a phone belonging to Ahmed Mansoor, a prominent human rights activist in the United Arab Emirates. NSO continued to sell the product to the UAE government long after Apple said it fixed the patch, the New York Times reports.


READ MORE:
iPhone security update prompted by spyware discovery

NSO Group says the tool has helped foil terror plots in Europe, allegedly contributed to the capture of Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and led to the arrest of many dangerous criminals and child sex traffickers.

NSO Group has not publicly revealed the names of its current clients. However, its software is not unique. Several companies, including Italy’s Hacking Team and Germany’s FinFisher, have developed technology to help law enforcement crack suspects’ phones.

Many countries, including Canada, have legal provisions that allow for “lawful interception” of certain communications in serious criminal cases. Canadian police need a warrant or a judge’s authorization to use such extreme measures, according to the Department of Justice.

WATCH BELOW: What to do if your email gets hacked






However, Citizen Lab says the Pegasus software has been deployed against unwarranted political targets, such as journalists and activists.

Amnesty International has also accused NSO Group of releasing its technology to an entity that targeted one of Amnesty’s staffers. The human rights group has called for Israel to revoke NSO Group’s export licence, which would effectively kill all of its contracts with foreign governments.

What is NSO Group?

NSO Group is an Israeli cybersecurity firm that specializes in hacking smartphones. Its headquarters are in Luxembourg and its offices are in Herzelia, near Tel Aviv in Israel. The company has between 500 and 1,000 employees, according to its LinkedIn page.

The group claims on its website that its technology is used “exclusively by government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to fight crime and terror.”

NSO Group’s co-founders, Shalev Hulio and Omri Lavie, re-acquired a majority ownership stake in the company on Thursday, in a deal that reportedly valued the company at US$1 billion. Francisco Partners, a U.S.-based private equity firm that previously owned 70 per cent of the company, announced the sale in a news release.

NSO Group sells licences to its software through an export licence approved by the Israeli government. It has dozens of licensed customers and earned $250 million in revenue last year, Francisco Partners said.

Hulio and Lavie founded NSO Group in 2010 and have been with the company ever since, serving as its CEO and director, respectively.

WATCH BELOW: Canadian cybersecurity officials outline plans to protect 2019 election






NSO Group has denied all allegations that suggest its software has been used improperly. It insists its product is meant to be used exclusively to prevent crime and terrorism.

“Any use of our technology that is counter to that purpose is a violation of our policies, legal contracts, and the values that we stand for as a company,” NSO Group said in a written statement to Amnesty International last August. The statement was issued after Amnesty claimed one of its members was spied on using NSO software.

NSO Group has signed several lucrative contracts with foreign governments, including multi-million-dollar deals with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to reports in the New York Times and Haaretz, an Israeli daily newspaper.

Khashoggi friend allegedly hacked

One of the three lawsuits against NSO was filed in Israel on behalf of Saudi dissident Omar Abdulaziz, a permanent resident of Canada living near Montreal. Abdulaziz alleges that Pegasus software was used to monitor his conversations with Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year, shortly before Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul.

WATCH BELOW: Omar Abdulaziz says he was targeted by Saudi Arabia






Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor-turned whistleblower, has also suggested that Abdulaziz’s hacked phone may have contributed to the death of Khashoggi, citing an analysis by Citizen Lab.

“The reality is that they bugged one of his few friends and contacts using software created by an Israeli company,” Snowden told an audience in Tel Aviv via video link last November.

Citizen Lab published a report about Abdulaziz’s hacked phone on Oct. 1, one day before Khashoggi was killed. The Citizen Lab researchers concluded with “high confidence” that the breach was caused by NSO’s Pegasus spyware.


READ MORE:
Saudi Arabia used controversial spyware to monitor Canada-based political refugee: report

NSO Group disputed some details in Abdulaziz’s lawsuit in a written statement to the Times of Israel in December. The company said the lawsuit “appears to be based on a collection of press clippings that have been generated for the sole purpose of creating news headlines and do not reflect the reality of NSO’s work.”

NSO Group CEO Shulev Hulio says the company looked into the allegations and concluded that its software was not involved in Khashoggi’s murder.


READ MORE:
Jamal Khashoggi’s friend sues Israeli surveillance company, saying it helped track journalist

“Khashoggi was not targeted by any NSO product or technology, including listening, monitoring, location tracking and intelligence collection,” he told Yedioth Ahronoth, a Hebrew-language daily, in an interview last month. The interview was translated by Yedioth Ahronoth’s English-language sister site, Ynetnews.

He added that the company immediately sanctions any customer that is found to be using its software for anything other than saving lives and thwarting crime or terrorism.

WATCH BELOW: What we know about Khashoggi’s murder






NSO has also denied any connection to the individuals who contacted Abdulaziz’s lawyers or Scott-Railton and Razzak at Citizen Lab.

Scott-Railton says the whole situation is shining some much-needed light on the highly secretive and extremely lucrative business of military-grade spyware.

“The problem is, this industry operates in the shadows, and not everything that happens there is just about catching bad guys,” he said.

“Sending private spies to go after academics is a tactic you might use if you have something to hide.”

With files from The Associated Press and Reuters

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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U.S. response to detained Canadians in China not strong enough: Sen. Lindsey Graham – National

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U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said Friday the response by the United States to China detaining two Canadians in apparent retaliation for the arrest of a Chinese Huawei executive has not been strong enough.


READ MORE:
Chinese ambassador threatens ‘repercussions’ on Canada if Huawei 5G banned

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Graham also told Munich Security Conference delegates the international reaction to China’s arrest of ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor hasn’t been enough to persuade China that its apparent use of hostage diplomacy won’t be tolerated.

“The president has been tough on China but this is one area where I think we need to make a more definitive statement, because the two people arrested in China had nothing to do with the rule of law. It was just grabbing two Canadians,” Graham said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who appeared on the panel with Graham, mouthed the words “thank you” to Graham after he said it. Roland Paris, one of the delegates and a former foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, asked Graham about it.

WATCH: Pompeo says U.S. might scale back operations with countries that are doing business with Huawei






U.S. ambassador to Canada Kelly Craft said last Saturday her country is “deeply concerned” about China’s “unlawful” detention of the two Canadians in what was her first public comments on the cases since China detained them on Dec. 10 in an apparent attempt to pressure Canada to release Chinese executive Meng Wanzhou, who was arrested Dec. 1 at the request of U.S. authorities.

Meng is the chief financial officer of the Chinese tech giant Huawei and the daughter of its founder. The U.S. wants her extradited to face charges that she committed fraud by misleading banks about Huawei’s business dealings in Iran.

China also re-sentenced a convicted Canadian drug smuggler, Robert Schellenberg, to death after the Meng arrest as part of an apparent campaign of intimidation and retribution against Canada.


READ MORE:
Analysis: China pulling out all the stops to force Canada to back down

Some analysts have said the U.S. response to China’s arrests of the two Canadians has been muted. U.S. President Donald Trump himself has not commented on the Canadians. But U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has, saying China ought to release them. White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders and the State Department have issued brief statements of support.

Beijing threatened grave consequences for America’s neighbour and longtime ally after Meng was arrested at Vancouver’s airport.

Canada has embarked on a campaign with allies to win the release of Kovrig and Spavor, and many countries have issued statements in support.

WATCH: Trudeau says China trying to interfere with Canada’s judiciary by asking for release of Huawei CFO






“These are human beings and they only thing they did was be Canadian in China,” Freeland said. Freeland said she would be grateful if more countries spoke out.

“We will all be stronger and safer if we all can do that for each other,” she said. “We can’t descend to a might-makes-right world and that’s especially essentially for middle powers.”

The two Canadians were detained on vague allegations of “engaging in activities that endanger the national security” of China. They remain locked up without access to lawyers.

Meng is out on bail in Canada and awaiting extradition proceedings.

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Most Canadians trust media, but a similar share worry about fake news being weaponized: survey – National

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Nearly three-quarters of Canadians profess trust traditional media, but the same share admitted to be worried about false information, and fake news being weaponized, said a poll released by a global communications firm on Thursday.

The Edelman Trust Barometer found 71 per cent of Canadians saying they’re increasingly concerned about fake news, with the share of worried respondents having climbed six points from last year.

Some of this anxiety may come from a lack of understanding about what “fake news” really is, Edelman CEO Lisa Kimmel told Global News.

WATCH: Edelman Trust Barometer






“What it’s now evolved to, that term, is if people don’t like coverage by the media, then it’s coined as fake news. The president of the U.S., who anytime there’s negative coverage around him, just terms it and deems it fake news,” she said.

This share is on par with the rest of the world, as 73 per cent of respondents in the 27 countries surveyed by Edelman reported their concerns about the weaponization of “fake news.”

Anxiety about the future may be driving an increase in news engagement among Canadians.

WATCH: Trump says public ‘loves’ border patrol, but ‘fake news’ does not







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The share of Canadians who claimed to consume news every day was 42 per cent, up 11 points from 2018.

Meanwhile, the share of people who have disengaged from the news has fallen from 54 per cent to 33 per cent.

Traditional media may be seeing an uptick in trust — but the opposite is true of social media.

In every market surveyed — Europe, North America, Latin America, and the Asia Pacific, Middle East and African regions — social media was considered the least reliable source of information.

In the U.S. and Canada, social media commanded the trust of only 34 per cent of respondents.


READ MORE:
Who do Canadians trust most? Their employers, apparently

“It’s not surprising, given the fact that fake news has been disseminated over social media, that social media is now the least trusted source for general news and information,” Kimmel explained.

However, it’s important to note that while trust in media rose in Edelman’s latest report, media organizations remained the least-trusted institutions among those polled in the survey.

In Canada, approximately 61 per cent of men and 53 per cent of women indicated that they trusted their media.

That was higher than the average of all 27 countries that were surveyed — there, 50 per cent of men reported trust in media, compared to 45 per cent of women.

See the full results of the poll here. 


METHODOLOGY

Edelman conducted an online survey of over 33,000 people in 27 countries. 

The margin of error was considered three ways.

There was a “27-market global data margin of error” which showed a margin of 0.6 per cent among the general population, 1.3 per cent among respondents considered the “informed public” and of  0.8 per cent among a “global general online population.”

There was also a “market-specific data margin of error” of 2.9 per cent among the general population and 6.9 per cent among the informed public.

Finally, there was an “employee margin of error” of 0.8 per cent across 27 markets, and an additional “market-specific” margin of error of anywhere between 3.2 and 4.6 per cent.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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U.S. official says America is deeply concerned about China’s detention of Canadians – National

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The Associated Press

WATCH: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday that China has been trying to interfere with Canada’s judiciary by repeatedly asking for the release of Meng Wanzhou, but said they have support of multiple countries and will continue to defend the rule of law and the rights of Canadians. He also said they are letting national security agencies tackle 5G, saying they cannot politicize it.

The U-S ambassador to Canada says her country is deeply concerned about China’s “unlawful” detention of two Canadians.

Ambassador Kelly Craft said Saturday in a statement to The Associated Press the arrests of ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor are unacceptable and urged China to end the arbitrary detentions.

It is her first public remarks on it.


China detained the two in apparent retaliation for the arrest in Canada of Chinese Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

The U-S wants Meng extradited to face charges that she misled banks about the company’s business dealings in Iran.

Craft said the Department of Justice’s criminal case against Meng is based solely on the evidence and the law.

She added that the United States appreciates Canada’s steadfast commitment to the rule of law.

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© 2019 The Canadian Press

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U.S. ambassador to Canada calls on China to release Canadians from ‘unlawful’ detention

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The U.S. ambassador to Canada said Saturday her country is « deeply concerned » about China’s « unlawful » detention of two Canadians.

Ambassador Kelly Craft said in a statement to The Associated Press the arrests of ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor are « unacceptable » and urged China to end the arbitrary detentions. It is her first public comments on the cases.

China detained the two on Dec. 10 in an apparent attempt to pressure Canada to release Chinese executive Meng Wanzhou, who was arrested Dec. 1 at the request of U.S. authorities.

Meng is the chief financial officer of the Chinese tech giant Huawei and the daughter of its founder.

The U.S. wants her extradited to face charges that she committed fraud by misleading banks about Huawei’s business dealings in Iran.

Craft said the U.S. Department of Justice’s criminal case against Meng is based solely on the evidence and the law.

« The United States appreciates Canada’s steadfast commitment to the rule of law, » she said.

Michael Spavor, left, and former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig were taken into custody in December. (Associated Press/International Crisis Group/Canadian Press)

Some analysts have said the U.S. response to China’s arrests of the two Canadians has been muted. President Donald Trump has not commented on the Canadians. But U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has, saying China ought to release them. The State Department has also issued statements of support.

Craft made no mention of China’s planned execution of a third Canadian. China re-sentenced a convicted Canadian drug smuggler to death last month as part of an apparent determined campaign of intimidation and retribution against Canada.

Beijing threatened grave consequences for Canada after Meng was arrested.

Watch: How can Canada, China mend relationship following Meng arrest?

Canada-China relations are at their worst since the 1970s, according to some analysts. What can be done to mend the fences, and what’s the state of Canada’s broader foreign policy strategy? Our At Issue Panel is here to discuss. 12:17

Canada has embarked on a campaign with allies to win the release of Kovrig and Spavor and many countries have issued statements in support.

The two were detained on vague allegations of « engaging in activities that endanger the national security » of China. They remain locked up without access to lawyers.

Meng is out on bail in Canada and living in one of her two Vancouver mansions awaiting extradition proceedings.

Despite the escalating frictions resulting from the detentions, trade talks between Beijing and the Trump administration remain ongoing. The U.S. has taken pains to emphasize that their trade talks are entirely separate from the U.S. case against Meng.

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Goodale says he won’t put Canadians ‘at risk’ to bring ISIS fighters home for trial

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A day after the United States called on its allies fighting in Syria and Iraq to bring their foreign fighters home for prosecution, Canada is insisting it will not put its citizens at risk to answer the call.

« We have heard the request, or the suggestion, from the United States, but at this point, the fact of the matter remains that is a dangerous and dysfunctional part of the world in which we have no diplomatic presence and we are not going to put our diplomatic officers or consular officials at risk, » Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Tuesday.

Goodale said Tuesday that Canada is still working with its allies in the Five Eyes intelligence sharing network (Australia, Britain, New Zealand and the U.S.) to gather evidence that can be used to convict Canadians who went abroad to join ISIS — but he said he would not risk Canadian lives to do so.

« The issue is in part working with our allies to make sure that we are collecting the maximum amount of useable evidence that can be practically available and useable in the justice system to lay charges, to prosecute, » he added.

As the U.S. prepares to withdraw its remaining troops from the region, the U.S. Department of State issued a statement Monday that said the Syrian Defence Forces have taken custody of hundreds of foreign fighters from countries all around the world.

« The United States calls upon other nations to repatriate and prosecute their citizens detained by the SDF and commends the continued efforts of the SDF to return these foreign terrorist fighters to their countries of origin, » the statement said.

According to Amarnath Amarasingam, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue who has been to Syria to visit camps where foreign fighters are being held, there are currently four Canadian men, three women and seven children in custody in the country.

A spokesperson from Goodale’s office said the government would not confirm Amarasingam’s figures « due to the privacy act. »

All of the children born to Canadian women who left Canada to join ISIS are under the age of five, with several being under the age of one, Amarasingam told CBC News Network’s Power & Politics.

« The behaviour of the parents that have put those children in that situation is absolutely appalling and reprehensible, » Goodale said. « We will examine carefully what can reasonably be done to protect those who are innocent in these circumstances.

« But this is a situation that [ISIS] has created, and to which those who have gone to that part of the world to participate have also contributed, and they need to show to their responsibilities. »

The risk of ignoring America

Amarasingam said that the Syrian Defence Forces are not going to be able to hold foreign fighters in camps indefinitely and the U.S. may fear they’ll escape or be released before they can be returned to their countries of origin.

« Leaving hundreds of jihadist fighters — well-trained jihadist fighters — in a kind of weird limbo state, if the Americans do pull out, is not ideal from a national security point of view, » he told Power & Politics host Vassy Kapelos.

Amarasingam said the SDF could strike a deal with the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to turn the fighters and their children over for execution.

« There’s this assumption that bringing them back brings about a whole bunch of complexity, which is true, but I think leaving them leaving them there is just as chaotic as bringing them back, » he added.

Jessica Davis and Amarnath Amarasingam on the logistics of the U.S. call for countries to repatriate foreign fighters and prosecute them at home. 11:34

Jessica Davis, former senior strategic analyst with CSIS, told Power & Politics that Canada has been avoiding bringing home its foreign fighters — but continuing to turn a blind eye to the situation will be more difficult now.

« Despite all of the dynamics around the Trump administration, the Americans are still our number one ally, particularly in the security and intelligence space, so this is the kind of thing that has to be taken very seriously, » she told Kapelos.

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Global Affairs Canada warns Canadians to avoid ‘all’ travel to Venezuela

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Global Affairs Canada has updated its official travel advisory for Venezuela to warn Canadians to avoid all travel to the South American country because of the ongoing humanitarian and political crisis there.

« Avoid all travel to Venezuela due to the significant level of violent crime, the unstable political and economic situations and the decline in basic living conditions, including shortages of medication, food staples, gasoline and water, » Global Affairs says on its website.

Venezuela is a major oil producer that has been wracked by hyperinflation, food shortages and rising violent crime since Nicolas Maduro came to power in 2013 by a thin margin following the death of socialist leader Hugo Chavez. 

Maduro was inaugurated Jan. 10 to another term in office following a widely boycotted election that many foreign governments — Canada included — described as a fraudulent.

Maduro’s government accuses the U.S. and other countries of launching an « economic war » against Venezuela, blaming foreign sanctions against his country for most of its problems.

The change to the official travel advisory comes a day after the Liberal government hosted a gathering of foreign affairs ministers from the Lima Group of countries in an effort to find a resolution to the crisis gripping Venezuela.

At the close of that meeting in Ottawa on Monday, the Lima Group — Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Saint Lucia — officially elevated Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido to the status of a « fully fledged » member of the group.

Guaido, the head of the National Assembly, swore himself in as interim president last month and was quickly recognized as such by Canada, the U.S. and other nations, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Colombia.

Bolivia, Cuba, Turkey, Mexico and Russia, among others, have not followed suit and continue to back Maduro as the rightful president, accusing the U.S. and others of interfering in Venezuela’s internal affairs.

« It is very important to understand that Guaido derives his legitimacy from the National Assembly, which is the sole remaining democratically constituted body in Venezuela, » Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said at the closing press conference of the Lima Group meeting.​

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Even single Canadians who have enough money are hesitating about buying a home: Survey

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Frazer Hadwin is single, has an above-average income and $3,000 in debt. He’s looked and even bid on homes in Toronto, but Hadwin has put aside buying a place for the time being.

The 47-year-old project manager, who has worked on international events, including the London Olympics, Toronto’s Pan Am and Invictus games, doesn’t think the region’s housing market has caught up to the reality of the post-2016/2017 boom.

According to a new survey, 52 per cent of single Canadians say economic uncertainty and high home prices are making them hesitate about buying a home.
According to a new survey, 52 per cent of single Canadians say economic uncertainty and high home prices are making them hesitate about buying a home.  (Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star File Photo)

He also has doubts about the global economy: Brexit, the unpredictability of U.S. President Donald Trump, pipelines and China are some of the international issues that trouble him.

Hadwin is among the 32 per cent of Ontario singles considering buying a home on their own and the 52 per cent of single Canadians (the number is the same in Ontario) who say economic uncertainty and high home prices are making them hesitate, according to the findings of a Leger online survey for Re/Max released Tuesday.

Hadwin says he’s not the most economically savvy guy. But, he said, “We’re damned if we do and we’re damned if we don’t. Interest rates are low enough that a mortgage is still decent and even a variable rate mortgage is probably not that big a gamble. But the other side of that is that interest rates are low enough that you don’t make money on your money because the banks can’t turn it around and make more money off your money. To me it feels like we’re kind of in a stalled economy.”

The survey found that urban singles are more hesitant than suburbanites —48 versus 43 per cent — because of the high cost of ownership. Thirty-eight per cent of the singles surveyed saw a home as a good investment. Among urban residents, the number was higher at 51 per cent.

Read more:

Ontario looks at revamping the rules of the real estate game

Canadian consumer confidence slump shows no sign of reversing

Appeals backlog has left up to 28,000 homes in development limbo, says business group

Thirty-five per cent say they have saved the downpayment.

Among those surveyed, the 80 per cent of singles who want to buy a home indicated they have the ability.

Hadwin is one of those. He had more than $70,000 for a downpayment just before the Toronto region real estate bubble burst in the spring of 2017. He bid on a loft near Queen St. W. and Dufferin St. It was listed for $450,000. Hadwin offered $490,000. The condo sold for $650,000.

“What I’ve found is that the market hasn’t come back down to Earth,” said Hadwin.

He owns a car but doesn’t like driving in the city so really wants to live on a streetcar or subway line. He is just about to move into a rental near Roncesvalles Ave.

“I’m at the point now where (I am) talking to friends and colleagues about I’m probably never going to buy anything to live in, so maybe we should get together and buy something to turn into income,” he said.

Re/Max executive vice-president Christopher Alexander blamed government interventions in the housing market, such as the mortgage stress test that requires home buyers to qualify for loans above the consumer rates their banks offer.

“It’s concerning to see qualified buyers showing hesitancy toward home ownership. Price and economic factors aside, the additional unnecessary layers of government intervention have left many feeling pushed out of the market or uncertain of it,” he said in a release.

The survey of 590 single, divorced, separated and widowed Canadians was completed between Jan. 11 and 14. Forty-three per cent of the survey respondents said they had less than $5,000 in debt.

Tess Kalinowski is a Toronto-based reporter covering real estate. Follow her on Twitter: @tesskalinowski

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Canadians in the west, more than those in the east, say Ottawa does not treat them fairly: poll

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Nearly three out of four Canadians living west of Ontario believe their province is not treated fairly by the federal government, according to a new poll from the not-for-profit Angus Reid Institute.

And Westerners who feel that way — that the rest of the country is not giving them any respect — say it’s been getting worse in recent years.

This survey, the third in a four-part series from Angus Reid looking at Western Canada and its place in Confederation, shows that Western Canadians increasingly believe that the values and lifestyles of their region are distinct from the rest of Canada, a finding that has key implications for national political parties — each of which has their own regional bases of power — as they campaign in this election year to build the kind of broad national coalition that can not only win government, but can also be seen to be governing in the interest of Canadians from all regions.


READ MORE:
B.C. has few friends among the provinces, but Quebec has bigger rivals: poll

The survey also paints a picture of a federation where residents in all regions, except British Columbia and Ontario, do not believe they have the respect of Canadians living outside their region, a finding that also has political implications for any government in Ottawa that is trying to design, for example, a national housing strategy, a defence procurement program that benefits all regions, a national climate change strategy, or a national employment insurance program fine-tuned to regional variations.

WATCH: Trudeau discusses Alberta oil crisis and Western alienation






Angus Reid also tries to come to grips with the question: What is the West? And it finds that, even within Canada’s four westernmost provinces, there are some strong differences in politics and identity, most notably between British Columbia and the three provinces to its east: Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

But those four provinces are united on this: A healthy majority of all of their residents agree with the statement that their province is not treated fairly by the federal government. Just 28 per cent of Canadians west of Ontario agree that they are getting a fair shake from Ottawa.

 

Angus Reid then asked those Westerners who do not believe their province is getting a fair shake from Ottawa if things have been getting better or worse in that regard in “the past few years.”

Not one of that group of Westerners — zero per cent — told Angus Reid they believe the treatment of the West over the past few years is “a lot better.” Instead, 46 per cent said treatment of the West over the last few years was getting “a lot worse”; 21 per cent said it was getting “a little worse.” Just 12 per cent thought it was getting “a little better” and 21 per cent said the West’s treatment by Canada was unchanged.

By contrast, those who live in Ontario and Quebec were much more satisfied with the way Ottawa treats their provinces, while Atlantic Canadians felt about as disconnected from Ottawa as those in the West.

That said: Canadians in all regions — save B.C. and Ontario — say they don’t get enough respect from the rest of the country.

In this, Quebecers and Albertans, for example, are united. Angus Reid found that 74 per cent of Albertans disagree with the statement “My province is respected by the rest of the country.” In Quebec, 71 per cent disagreed with that statement. But it didn’t stop there: 71 per cent of those in Saskatchewan and 71 per cent of those in Atlantic Canada also say they are not respected by the rest of the country.


READ MORE:
Western Canadians still feel more connected to their province than to country as a whole: Ipsos

It was only in Ontario and B.C. where a majority said they believed the rest of the country respected them — 53 per cent in Ontario and 57 per cent in B.C.

Angus Reid also found that Westerners situate themselves in different communities of interest. Those in Alberta and Saskatchewan seem to identify with each other, seeing many similarities in values and lifestyle when they look across the border at each other. Manitoba, Angus Reid noted, appears to have “unrequited love” for Saskatchewan, in that 70 per cent of Manitobans say they identify most with Saskatchewan, while 61 per cent of those in Saskatchewan say they most identify with those in Alberta.

WATCH: 62 per cent of Alberta feel they’re not getting enough from Confederation (October, 2018)






British Columbians, though, stand distinctly apart with 54 per cent of those in that province saying they identify most closely with those in the state of Washington. The number two pick in this category of British Columbians — 18 per cent — was the state of Oregon.

The survey of 4,024 Canadian adults was done online between Dec. 21 and Jan. 3 by Angus Reid Institute, a Vancouver-based not-for-profit research organization. Angus Reid itself paid for the poll and designed its questions. Margins of error cannot be calculated for online polls of this kind, but the pollster says that a poll of a randomly-selected group of 4,024 Canadians would be accurate to within 2.5 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

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