Liberal government will still seek deeper trade ties despite Beijing fury over Meng extradition

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OTTAWA —Two weeks ago when the Canadian government put global bonds worth $3 billion (U.S.) up on auction, Chinese investors dove in to buy up a “significant” portion of what was on offer.

It was smack in the midst of Beijing’s fury over Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

In an auction that drew about $8 billion worth of orders from North America, Europe and Asia, nearly $6 billion are said to have come from China – a clear sign, according to a senior Canadian official, that tensions in the deepening dispute over Canada’s arrest of Huawei’s deputy chair and chief financial officer have not blown up Canada-China relations.

“Of course we’re in a difficult moment,” said the senior government insider, speaking on a background-only basis. “Many things are currently on hold.”

However, the source said, “it’s a good thing” if China is interested in holding Canadian government debt.

“We want them to invest, right?” the official said and, although bilateral relations are tense at the moment, “It’s a long-term relationship.”

In fact, if anything, the Trudeau government is determined to solidify long-term ties even as Beijing warns Canada and the U.S. of consequences for Meng’s arrest and extradition request; even as the Conservative opposition blasts Trudeau for his “naïve” approach to China; amid signs Canadians are uneasy about the Liberal handling of the affair.

One national poll by the Angus Reid Institute said nine in 10 Canadians view the diplomatic tensions as a serious matter for the government. It pegged Canadian dissatisfaction with its approach at 52 per cent.

There’s little question the Meng Wanzhou affair has set Trudeau’s government on a diplomatic knife’s edge.

After Ottawa approved a U.S. request to arrest Meng at Vancouver airport on Dec. 1, China’s state security forces jailed two Canadians — Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — and slapped the death sentence on a third Canadian, Robert Schellenberg.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, ignoring Beijing, told a town hall in Milton on Thursday he will continue to rally international allies to “make sure that China understands Canada is going to unequivocally stand up for the rule of law, respect our international treaties and obligations, and always put the safety of Canadians first.”

Trudeau hastened to add, “But we don’t want to escalate.” He recognized China as “an extremely important and growing economy, a significant player on the world stage.”

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He said his government looks forward to “continuing to trade with China but we need the Chinese authorities to understand that when it comes to the rule of law, Canada and an awful lot of other countries will stand firm regardless of the political pressures they put on us.”

Observers like former ambassador to China David Mulroney, speaking on CBC, argue events have shown there can be no return to the diplomacy of the past.

“The illusion dies hard, but we’ve got to let it die,” said Mulroney on CBC’s Power and Politics.

Mulroney said while Canada has economic interests in having a relationship with China, “we also need to think about risks to our democracy, we need to think about China threats at home and abroad; and we need to think about shedding the illusion that somehow it’s a democracy or a state just like us, because it isn’t.”

Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole believes the government has badly handled the Meng affair and worse, has “no coherent” China strategy at all.

O’Toole says Trudeau never understood the shifting sands in China because he was too eager to make free trade with world’s fastest growing economy his political legacy, and didn’t take into account that China had “doubled down” on state control of enterprise. He said Trudeau was oblivious to President Xi Jinping’s growing powers.

That hard-sell “rah-rah-rah Team Canada approach” led the Chinese on to think “hey, we’re growing as sort of their best friend within the Western alliance,” says O’Toole.

Certainly Trudeau’s strategy shifted away from pursuing a comprehensive free trade deal after the prime-minister’s ill-fated December 2017 trip to Beijing. That’s when the Chinese rejected outright Canada’s demand that free trade talks include gender and labour rights, according to Canadian journalists covering the trip.

Scant months later, in March 2018, China’s Xi consolidated his power and presidential term limits were formally lifted, leading Western critics to describe his ambition as “president for life.”

That is when, according to a third government source, the Trudeau government realized it had to shift its sights.

In the past year, the Liberals turned to a sector-by-sector approach to improving trade, with cabinet members like finance minister Bill Morneau and trade diversification minister Jim Carr travelling to Beijing as recently as two weeks before Meng’s blockbuster arrest.

Even if that strategy is on hold amid the current tensions, Guy Saint-Jacques, another former Canadian ambassador to China, says it too is doomed to fail because, for the Chinese, it will never be enough.

Saint-Jacques said the recent events “force us is to look at what I would call the dark side of China, which is an authoritarian regime . . . and will force the government to revise the engagement strategy . . . and work with our partners, and say what can we achieve by working together.”

He said Canada is too small a country to force Beijing to play by different rules. “They will just ignore us and punish us. That’s why we are at the stage where we need to revise our approach and be a bit smarter.”

The next big test for the Canada-China relationship is Ottawa’s looming decision whether to allow Huawei to participate in developing high speed next-generation or 5G wireless internet technology.

Several U.S. agencies have already banned Huawei, citing security fears the Chinese government would force Huawei to spy on the West. Australia and New Zealand, two of Canada’s other “Five Eyes” allies followed suit. Britain is considering it, as its biggest telecom company BT Group rejected Huawei gear for its systems.

Trudeau said Thursday the Huawei decision must not be approached with a “political mindset” but will be decided on “evidence-based” recommendations from Canadian security experts who are consulting “experts around the world to evaluate how . . . to keep Canadians safe, make sure that our data is safe, make sure that our secure communications are secure, but also that we’re taking on the best technology in the world at affordable prices.”

That leaves the door still open to Huawei. For now.

For University of Ottawa professor Roland Paris, who had a front-row seat to the early days of Trudeau’s engagement with China, a lot has transpired since 2015 when Trudeau met Xi at the G20 in Turkey on his first trip abroad as prime minister.

Paris, Trudeau’s former foreign policy adviser, says he now shares the security concerns about Huawei, and sees China behaving “much more aggressively both at home and internationally.”

But Paris says it doesn’t serve Canada’s interests “to adopt a Cold War mentality.”

China, then and now, “is unlike any power we’ve ever seen,” said Paris. “The Soviet Union was a full-spectrum enemy during the Cold War. China is not an enemy. It is simultaneously a partner and an adversary.”

What that means, he says, “is we have to defend ourselves against China when it acts aggressively but it’s also in our interests to co-operate with China in areas of mutual interest.”

That includes increasing exports to China and working with its Communist Party leaders on the environment and tackling climate change, for example.

But Paris says the Trudeau government has to also be realistic about public opinion even as it continues to engage with China.

“By detaining Canadians,” said Paris, “China has acted with a measure of aggressiveness that Canadians will not forget.”

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

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Prestigious Toronto school sinks deeper into hellish sex assault scandal

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St. Michael is not really a saint. He’s an angel, archangel.

According to scripture, Michael led the army of angels who cast Satan into Hell. He stood guard at the gates of paradise after Adam and Eve were banished from Eden.

A warrior-angel, usually depicted wielding the sword of justice, to separate the righteous from the evil (Revelations) on Judgment Day.

Michael’s duties include escorting the faithful to Heaven at the hour of death.

He is the protector, especially from lethal enemies. Patron “saint” of soldiers and police officers and doctors.

First they huddled, then they investigated internally, and only belatedly did police learn of the allegations.

On Tuesday, 24 hours after six boys were charged with assault, gang sexual assault and sexual assault with a weapon, police revealed they are investigating “two additional occurrences” related to videos at the core of the sordid case, footage documented by participants and/or witnesses and posted to social media.

Two more videos rising to the surface of the internet muck pit.

One of the videos had been out there, making the online rounds, for at least two weeks, seen by untold numbers of voyeurs.

At Toronto police headquarters, Insp. Domenic Sinopoli, commander of the sex crimes unit, said he wasn’t astounded that further incidents have been discovered — one described as “threatening,” the other as an assault with a belt.

“I don’t think anyone is surprised by this. I don’t really want to alarm anybody (but) but it did not surprise when I learned that we had an additional two videos. I expect that we’ll get more people coming forward and I encourage that. I don’t want them to assume that someone else has talked.”

Six videos. At least four victims. It’s unclear if the individuals on the most recently obtained videos are the same boys being mistreated in the earlier footage. Police are still trying to identify these youths. “We believe they’re related but we haven’t been able to identify them at this stage.” Sinopoli wouldn’t say how police came in possession of the new evidence. But police believe the videos were also made at the school.

To be clear: The activities depicted aren’t the stuff of mild hazing, which is a common form of bonding on sports teams — like then-Blue Jays rookie pitchers Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman being made to wear women’s corsets and fishnet stockings as they boarded the team bus on the way to catch a charter flight.

These, as described, are criminal acts which have resulted, thus far, in 18 criminal charges. In one video, a boy appears to be sexually assaulted with a broom handle in a locker room. According to the school, members of the junior football team and its coaches met with school authorities after the videos became known to them but before police were summoned.

So of course St. Michael’s, renowned for both its athletic and scholarly achievements, is under the microscope, with questions asked about just what kind of vile culture is being incubated at the institution, however unfair that might be to the more than 1,000 students who had nothing to do with the alleged assaults.

“I have no information to suggest a ‘fight club’ or any culture of hazing,” Sinopoli stressed.

St. Mike’s has already expelled eight students and suspended another in connection with at least two of the videos. Five boys subsequently turned themselves into police and one was arrested on his way to school. All were released on bail after making court appearances on Monday.

It’s also unclear if that sixth student arrested is among the expelled. “It is my understanding that the school was not aware of his involvement,” said Sinopoli.

“In fairness to the principal, they’re not privy to everything that we know.”

While minor physical contact can be consensual, “once you engage a weapon or you cause bodily harm, that’s different,” Sinopoli noted.

The timeline of events — who knew what when — appears more a concern of the media, which brought to police early this week the locker room video and another showing a boy, in his underwear, sitting in a sink, getting slapped as water is splashed on him.

“I appreciate there’s a lot of media interest with respect to the timeline of all this,” said Sinopoli. “That ship has sailed. The timelines are not at the forefront of this investigation.”

Nor, apparently, is the Roman Catholic school’s principal, Greg Reeves over the lag in getting police involved.

“I don’t know,” said Sinopoli when asked directly whether Reeves might be charged. “That is not the focus of this investigation.”

The school is looking into opening an app where students can provide information anonymously. Although police will be given that information, the school is obviously conducting a parallel investigation, which might not be wise.

“Sometimes students may be a little reluctant to come to police. We prefer that students would come to us with information.”

Repeatedly, as if learning nothing from their bumbling, the school has wrong-footed this scandal.

“I think this is a teaching moment, particularly for the school principal,” said Sinopoli. “ I think if he could walk this back he’d likely do things differently.”

The Basilian Fathers, an order devoted to education, opened the Toronto school in 1852, originally in a basement, and still runs it as a private, independent institution.

But St. Michael is a ubiquitous presence around Toronto. There’s St. Michael’s Cathedral, St. Michael’s College at U of T. And a mural of the saint covers the outer western wall of St. Michael’s Hospital, which bills itself as the city’s “Urban Angel.”

And St. Michael’s College School, a-roil now in ghastly events, the traumatizing of boys by boys.

The soldier-angel would weep.

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Rosie DiManno is a columnist based in Toronto covering sports and current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno

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