Illinois man arrested in bomb threats made to southern Alberta schools

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Police in a southern Alberta town say a man in the U.S. has been charged in connection with bomb threats made to schools and a business in the community last week.

Taber Police announced in a statement from Chief Graham Abela late Saturday that a man in Illinois faces 10 counts of felony bomb threats.

The Horizon School Division said last week in a letter sent home to parents that two schools were the focus of bomb threats in anonymous voicemail messages early Friday.

Police said they investigated and determined the threats to be hoaxes.

Abela thanked the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Jackson County Sheriffs Department in Illinois, as well as the Medicine Hat Police Service.

He says the investigation is ongoing and police will be releasing more info on Tuesday.

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Despite Chinese threats, Canada will continue building ‘coalition’ with allies, Champagne says – National

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Canada will continue working to gather allies in its fight with China despite recent threats.

In an interview with the West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, Infrastructure Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said threats from China last week that Canada should stop gathering allies to speak out against its detentions of two Canadians after the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou will not stop the work at building a “coalition” of partners.

READ MORE: This is why China’s feud with Canada is only getting worse

“We’re going to continue our advocacy, we’re going to continue building the coalition to make sure that the voice of Canada is heard. There’s a number of discussions at high levels. We will always defend Canadians in situations like that,” he said.

“I don’t think threats are necessarily useful or helpful in any of these situations.”

WATCH BELOW: China threatens ‘repercussions’ on Canada if Huawei 5G banned






Global News had initially requested an interview with Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale or International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr to speak about China but was told Champagne would be the only one available to speak on the matter.

Freeland and Carr, as well as Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains and Finance Minister Bill Morneau, are among those heading to Davos for the World Economic Forum later this month, where it is expected they will continue work to get allies on board with supporting Canada against China.

Last week, Chinese ambassador Lu Shaye warned against doing exactly that.

WATCH BELOW: Trudeau says they’ll continue to remind China that Canada abides by rule of law






But Champagne said the allies supporting Canada realize that the risks go beyond what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called the “arbitrary” detentions of two Canadians and reflect broader concerns about the need to maintain the rule of law against authoritarianism.

“It’s not just about these two individuals,” he said.

“I think the coalition realized if you want to have a world order where the rule of law prevails, where human rights prevail, we have to stick together. We have to speak with one voice and everyone in the world watching should defend these two Canadians against this arbitrary detention.”

The goal, he said, remains to find a diplomatic solution.

He also wouldn’t say whether the threats and rhetoric coming from China should give Canada pause when deciding whether to allow Huawei to build the 5G telecommunications infrastructure set to come up for auction either this year or next.

“The lens we will be applying will be the lens of national security. We’ll listen to our experts but I would say for the rest, we’ll do what’s right for Canada,” he said.

“Whatever other people think or so, we will do what’s right for Canada.”

The government is currently conducting a review of the security of Huawei’s 5G technology.

No date has been set for when that review will be complete.

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

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Canada’s review of Huawei won’t be derailed by threats, Goodale says

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Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale is brushing off recent threats from China’s envoy to Canada, who warned of « repercussions » if the federal government bans the Chinese firm Huawei Technologies from supplying equipment to Canadian 5G networks.

Goodale spoke to reporters Friday during the Liberal cabinet retreat in Sherbrooke, Que., a day after Ambassador Lu Shaye told the media at the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa that « there will be repercussions » if Canada bans Huawei from its 5G network. Lu did not say what those repercussions would be.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau followed up on Goodale’s remarks during the closing press conference of the retreat, saying that China should keep its politics seperate from business.

« One of the things that is of concern in this situation is the apparent blending of Chinese commercial interests with Chinese political positioning and consequences, » Trudeau said. « This is something that I think should be of concern, not just to Canadians but to people around the world. »

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to reporters in Sherbrooke, Quebec on Friday 0:44

Ottawa is studying the security implications of allowing the Chinese company to help develop the next generation of mobile infrastructure in Canada, which promises to be 10 to 20 times faster than current wireless connections and is designed to serve medical devices, self-driving cars and other connected technology. Unlike some of its allies, however, Canada has not announced a ban on Huawei equipment.

Goodale said Friday that China also threatened Australia when it reviewed Huawei’s role in its telecommunications network.

« We understand that those sorts of comments will be made in the process, but we will make our judgment based on what’s right for Canada and not be deterred from making the right decision, » he told reporters.

Chinese ambassador, Lu Shaye, warns there may be « repercussions » if Canada bans Huawei from its 5G network

Ambassador Lu Shaye spoke reporters at the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa 0:51

Goodale wouldn’t say when Canada is expected to finish its 5G review.

« We will make the appropriate analysis and take the decision ultimately that we believe to be in Canada’s national interests, » he said. « We’ve made it abundantly clear that we will not compromise national security. »

Trudeau said Canada would continue to follow the rule of law and that China and the rest of the world would be better off if Beijing did the same.

« We are reliant in this globalized and largely peaceful world on agreed-to rules and principles that must be respected if we are all to prosper together. That is the point we are respectfully and firmly making to China, » Trudeau said. 

Other Five Eyes countries have banned Huawei

Huawei has long insisted it is not a state-controlled company and denies engaging in intelligence work for the Chinese government. However, Chinese law dictates that companies must « support, co-operate with and collaborate in national intelligence work. »

Most of Canada’s partners in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance have taken action against the telecommunications firm.

New Zealand and Australia have banned the use of Huawei products in their 5G network development, fearing Huawei could use its access to spy for the Chinese government.

On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers introduced bills that would ban the sale of U.S. chips or other components to Huawei, ZTE Corp. or other Chinese firms that violate U.S. sanctions or export control laws.

The bills specifically cite ZTE and Huawei, both of which are viewed with suspicion in the United States because of fears that their switches and other gear could be used to spy on Americans. Huawei is the world’s biggest telecommunications equipment maker.

« Other countries have obviously made their views known, and their views are important to us. And we will weigh all of that very carefully and in the decision-making process, » said Goodale.

China’s Ambassador to Canada Lu Shaye is warning Ottawa against banning Huawei Technologies from participating in Canada’s 5G networks. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The back-and-forth between the ambassador and minister is the latest development in a deepening bilateral dispute.

Relations between China and Canada were put on ice last month when Canadian authorities arrested Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, in Vancouver on a U.S. extradition request.

China then detained two Canadian citizens: businessman Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, a Canadian diplomat on leave to work for a non-governmental organization based in China.

McCallum briefing parliamentary committee 

Lu maintains the arrests of Spavor and Kovrig were legal and just while the arrest of Meng was the opposite.

Earlier this week, a Chinese court sentenced Canadian Robert Schellenberg to death for his alleged role in the smuggling of 222 kilograms of methamphetamines. His lawyer said he plans to appeal.

In the wake of that ruling, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused Beijing of arbitrarily using the death penalty and called world leaders to solicit their support.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says she will continue to see support from Canada’s allies in its dispute with China despite warnings from the Chinese ambassador to Canada to not to do so. 1:12

Lu said the current impasse could be resolved through negotiations, but those negotiations would be threatened if Canada were to ban Huawei Technologies from participating in Canada’s new 5G network for security reasons.

Trudeau spoke today with United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres. The two « reaffirmed their commitment to supporting multilateralism and the rules-based international order, » according to a PMO readout of the call. 

« Trudeau and the secretary-general discussed the arbitrary detention of two Canadians in China, the application of the death penalty to a third Canadian in China, and the importance of safeguarding international norms, including diplomatic immunity, judicial independence and respect for the rule of law, » the readout said. 

‘Last arrow in our quiver’

The Conservatives have urged Trudeau to speak directly to Chinese Xi Jinping. Canada’s ambassador to Beijing, John McCallum, was in Ottawa Friday to brief a Parliament committee. He described a phone call to Xi as the « last arrow in our quiver. »

« I think it is more effective if other means are deployed before we get to that point, » he said.

The briefing was held behind closed doors. McCallum told reporters he expected to tell the committee some things that the families of Spavor and Kovrig might not want aired publicly.

John McCallum, Canada’s ambassador to China, talks to reporters after briefing members of the Foreign Affairs committee regarding China in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 18, 2019 (Chris Rands/CBC)

Despite the diplomatic tensions, McCallum said he believes it’s safe for most Canadians to travel to China, but added anyone who has had a past run-in with Chinese authorities might want to stay away.

He said his security detail suggested he remove the Canadian flags on his diplomatic car, but he called it a « crazy idea. »

« I drive proudly with the Canadian flag, » he said.

Both countries have issued travel warnings.

On Monday night, Global Affairs changed its online travel advisory for China to advise Canadians to « exercise a high degree of caution due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws. »

A day later, China issued its own advisory and urged its citizens to « fully evaluate risks » and exercise caution when travelling to Canada, citing the « arbitrary detention » of Meng.

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China has carried out death penalty threats against Canadians in the past, Star has learned

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The former Canadian ambassador to China, Guy Saint-Jacques, said in an interview he was personally involved in steps taken by the embassy and the Canadian government, including personally delivering a letter Harper wrote seeking to prevent the execution of two Canadians of Chinese origin. Saint-Jacques recalls it occurred in late 2014 or early 2015, in separate drug trafficking cases in Guangdong province.

“I think what we just succeeded in doing was delay their execution by maybe one year.”

That’s cause for alarm as Canadian Robert Lloyd Schellenberg faces execution by a Chinese justice system that had previously sentenced him to 15 years in jail on charges of smuggling 222 kilograms of crystal meth. A Chinese appeal court had ordered the sentence reviewed in late December, and after a one-day hearing the prosecution request to toughen the sentence was granted. Schellenberg, reported to have prior drug convictions in B.C., now has 10 days to file an appeal.

Harper took up their cases personally during a visit to China in a meeting with President Xi Jinping, who Saint-Jacques said told the Canadian leader China regards “drug trafficking as a very serious crime and they were following Chinese law.” Harper travelled to China in November 2014.

Harper’s letter was sent weeks after the visit, the day before the scheduled execution of one man, but was to no avail, said Saint-Jacques. He said Canadian officials were allowed one last consular visit, but the execution eventually went ahead, with the second execution occurring within weeks as well, he said. Saint-Jacques could not recall the full names of either man, nor are there any records of such cases in English-language Canadian media.

Global Affairs Canada did not confirm details of Saint-Jacques’ statements when first contacted but acknowledged late Monday that executions did occur in roughly that time period. The Star was unable to independently verify any other details.

The revelation was one of a number of alarming developments Monday.

The Canadian government warned of new travel risks for Canadians.

Ottawa said while the risk level for travel to and within China was unchanged at “high,” it added a new warning: “We encourage Canadians to exercise a high degree of caution in China due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws.”

Canada’s embassy in Beijing emailed Canadians registered in the country to be aware of the new risks, asking them to update the embassy if they leave China.

The Canadian government also made clear its concern over the fate of other Canadians now facing the Chinese justice system.

On Monday, the Chinese government formally dismissed Trudeau’s claim of diplomatic immunity for a Canadian former diplomat, Michael Kovrig, arrested by China last month.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, said Kovrig “is not entitled to diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations by any measure.

“He is not currently a diplomat. Michael Kovrig used an ordinary passport and a business visa to come to China.”

Kovrig was on leave from Global Affairs Canada to work for a non-governmental peace advocacy group, the International Crisis Group. Arrested by China after Canada arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on Dec. 1, Kovrig faces vague allegations of engaging in activities that endangered Chinese state security. A second Canadian, businessman Michael Spavor, was arrested last month as well, and faces similar unspecified charges.

Trudeau reacted Monday with dismay to the latest developments in Schellenberg’s case and tied it to his concern about China’s actions in the other cases.

“It is of extreme concern to us as a government as it should be to all our international friends and allies that China has chosen to begin to arbitrarily apply death penalty in cases facing – as in this case facing a Canadian.”

Trudeau told reporters he would seek clemency for Schellenberg, speaking after he shuffled his cabinet Monday morning. As part of that shuffle, Trudeau moved his justice minister out of the portfolio responsible for handling the U.S. extradition request of Meng, and installed a legal expert in comparative and public law, David Lametti.

Meng’s arrest infuriated the Chinese government, which has accused Canada of acting arbitrarily in the matter.

China dismissed Canada’s explanation that it was obliged to act under a bilateral extradition treaty with the U.S., with its ambassador in Ottawa publicly accusing Canada’s government last week of double standards driven by “white supremacy.”

Chunying fired a shot at the Canadian government’s insistence that Trudeau is bound to respect the independence of a Canadian court now seized with the Meng case.

“As to the Canadian side’s claim that all countries should respect judicial independence, I believe this is quite right if only the Canadian side itself could first prove its judicial independence with concrete actions.”

Saint-Jacques, who was Ottawa’s envoy from 2012 to 2016 and worked with Kovrig, said in an interview there is little doubt that with the men’s arrests and Schellenberg’s suddenly toughened sentence, China “is sending a clear message” to Canada.

He said the government needs to “prepare a Plan A and a Plan B in case this further escalates because this problem is going to be with us for some time,” said Saint-Jacques.

Saint-Jacques predicted Meng’s legal defence team will try to block the U.S. request and draw out the legal arguments for years, and he encouraged the Trudeau government to keep up the international pressure because China cares about its international reputation, even if it does not care about Canada.

Trudeau said Canada would continue to enlist the support of its international friends and allies to object to China’s actions.

Trudeau said all governments should be worried about China’s “arbitrary” moves.

“We are extremely concerned as should be all countries around the world that China is choosing to act arbitrarily whether it is in application of its own justice system to its own citizens and people around the world or whether it’s in its choice to not respect longstanding practices and principles in regard to diplomatic immunity.

“This is something that everyone should be alert to and certainly something we as a government take very seriously and will continue to engage strongly with China on.”

Several governments, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, the European Union, and Australia have already stepped up to express concern about China’s arrests of Kovrig and Spavor.

Schellenberg’s aunt, Lauri Nelson-Jones, in an email to the Star’s Vancouver reporter Perrin Grauer, said “All I can really say at this moment is, it is our worst case fear confirmed. Our thoughts are with Robert at this time.”

“It is rather unimaginable what he must be feeling and thinking. It is a horrific, unfortunate, heartbreaking situation. We anxiously anticipate any news regarding an appeal.”

Canada seeks clemency for all Canadians facing the death penalty in foreign jurisdictions. We have sought clemency in the case of Mr. Schellenberg and will continue to do so,” said Global Affairs spokesman Guillaume Bérubé.

Global Affairs says about 200 are currently detained in China “for a variety of infractions and continue to face legal proceedings. Many of these Canadians are out on bail or serving probation,” while a handful are in custody.

Alex Neve, of Amnesty International Canada, said Monday the sentence against Schellenberg “was imposed after a rushed retrial,” and called on the Chinese government to abandon its plans to carry out the death sentence.

Neve called on the Canadian government “to intervene at very senior levels, including the Prime Minister, to press that request.”

Neve said the fact the Schellenberg death penalty “has arisen in the context of the strained relationship between China and Canada arising from Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition warrant, adds greater urgency to the need for immediate and concerted effort on the part of the Canadian government to convince Chinese authorities to overturn the death penalty in this case.”

John Kamm, head of Dui Hua, a San Francisco-based non-governmental group that advocates for political prisoners in China, said in an interview that Schellenberg’s aunt has asked for his help in advocating for the Canadian man.

He said his organization is aware of 19 foreigners, but no North Americans among them, who have been executed by China from 2009 to present.

Kamm said the best thing that could happen now for Schellenberg is for an appeal to be filed, and “a cooling off period between the two countries,” the sooner the better.

However, Trudeau’s comments, and Ottawa’s travel advisory update, signaled a distinct shift in tone from the Liberal government towards China.

In December, Trudeau told reporters he has learned since taking power that it does no good to “politicize” or “amplify” consular cases because it can actually hinder what he said is the ultimate goal of securing Canadians’ release from detention and their safe return home.

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

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Rash of bomb threats a learning opportunity for response capacity, says Goodale

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Law enforcement officials in Canada and beyond will be working to learn lessons about how to best respond to bomb threats after a rash of such incidents this week, the federal public safety minister said Friday.

Ralph Goodale said policing and security experts around the world will be scrutinizing the fallout from the wave of threats, which triggered varying responses from forces in Canada and the United States on Thursday.

The idle threats, delivered via email, touched off everything from quiet divisional-level investigations to full-scale evacuations of public buildings and deployments of specialized explosives investigators.

Police forces said probes into bomb threats are particularly time-consuming and resource-intensive, and Goodale said experts around the world would be looking for ways to limit the toll on those on the front lines.

« The level of international collaboration here is very high — police, security, intelligence across three continents making sure that we examine an incident like this and learn every conceivable lesson from that experience, including response capacity, » Goodale said at an appearance in Toronto. « We will go to school on all of that. »

Thursday’s wave of bomb threats, which American investigators declared a hoax, swept across communities on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.

Police departments in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Ottawa and Winnipeg, as well as Ontario’s provincial force and RCMP detachments in B.C. and Manitoba, investigated multiple threats that all proved groundless.

One busy subway station in downtown Toronto was briefly evacuated as part of the investigation from city police, who said they received at least 10 false calls throughout the day.

In the U.S., hundreds of schools, businesses and government buildings received emails that triggered searches, evacuations and fear. Investigators, however, dismissed the threats as a crude extortion attempt intended to cause disruption and compel recipients into sending money.

Public safety

Some of the emails had the subject line « Think Twice. » They were sent from a spoofed email address. The sender claimed to have had an associate plant a small bomb in the recipient’s building and that the only way to stop him from setting it off was by making an online payment of $20,000 in Bitcoin currency.

Goodale said experts in three continents have already begun analyzing Thursday’s threats for potential lessons.

For several Canadian police forces, the day’s events highlighted the difficulty of balancing public safety with limited internal resources.

Staff Sgt. Carolle Dionne of the Ontario Provincial Police said officers were called to at least 15 cites that fall under its jurisdiction, adding all calls followed the same pattern as the threats detailed by U.S. authorities.

‘We can’t gamble with public safety’

She said protocols dictate that a member of a local explosives disposal unit attends any bomb threat from the outset, adding police from local detachments are on hand as well.

Dionne concedes that such an approach is resource-intensive and makes it challenging to react to genuine police calls, likening the response to one reserved for swatting calls where false emergencies are phoned into local officials.

In both cases, however, Dionne said the public safety risk merits the strong response.

« We can’t gamble with public safety, so we really need to investigate to the fullest,’she said. « That means using all of our resources available to us. »

‘It’s wasteful for resources’

The RCMP echoed the need to take all threats seriously while focusing on equipping the public to cope with the situation.

« In the case of threats, scams or frauds, the RCMP uses awareness and education to warn members of the public and to provide them with instructions on how to handle the situation, » the force said.

Alok Mukherjee, former chair of the Toronto Police Service Board, said the issue of threat response is a sensitive one that can be difficult to navigate. Regardless of which approach a force may opt for, he said every agency grapples with the same core struggle.

« These are difficult situations requiring police agencies to assess and decide on appropriate public communication balancing the need to inform against the need to avoid causing undue alarm, » he said.

The balancing act is on display in both Toronto and Montreal, where forces tend to deploy officers to evaluate the threat before enlisting help from more specialized explosives experts.

But Toronto Const. Caroline De Kloet said the response is often shaped by the amount of information received at the beginning of a call, adding it’s necessary to be flexible and react to whatever details are available.

Sometimes time-consuming precautions, such as building or neighbourhood evacuations, wind up being part of the process until the most credible information can be obtained, she said.

Regardless of how widespread the response may be, she said bomb threats are inevitably draining.

« It’s wasteful for resources, absolutely, » she said. « We don’t have numerous teams and they can’t be everywhere at the same time. »

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Friends of Canadians detained in China say they aren’t national security threats

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Friends of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig tell Global News they can’t understand how the two men, arrested separately in China, could pose threats to Chinese national security.

University of Ottawa associate professor Costanza Musu calls Kovrig a close friend. She’s known him for more than a decade.

“The International Crisis Group is a highly regarded NGO that he works for and that he provides analysis for as a senior analyst. They don’t engage in any non-transparent activity at all,” Musu told Global News.

“In no capacity would he really have done anything of the sort that would endanger Chinese security.”

WATCH: China says 2 Canadians were placed in detention on suspicion of ‘endangering national security’






On Thursday, Chinese government officials confirmed the two Canadians are being detained over national security concerns. They added that the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver was a mistake and called for her immediate release.

Musu said Kovrig has always had a passion for global politics and developed a love for China while working for Global Affairs Canada. She says he spent months and months learning Mandarin to prepare for a diplomatic posting in that country.

Kovrig took a leave from Global Affairs at the end of 2016 because he wanted to keep living and working in the region, she said. Musu doesn’t see how a person with such an extensive understanding and appreciation of China — as well as extensive connections with Chinese officials — could be seen as endangering national security.

Kovrig is based in Hong Kong, but Musu believes he was on a trip to Beijing to see friends and contacts when the arrest occurred.

“We just don’t know exactly where he is or why he’s being detained so not knowing the reasons make it very difficult for everyone who knows him to figure out what’s best to do,” Musu said.

READ MORE: Who is Michael Kovrig, the Canadian ex-diplomat arrested in China

On the other side of the country, Vancouver lawyer Shaun Driver is also worried about his friend.

Spavor took Driver to North Korea in 2011.

“He connects people to the culture in North Korea and he gives you an opportunity and he opens up a window for people who are interested to understand it, to go and do it,” Driver told Global News.

“I don’t get how he’s a national security threat.”

READ MORE: Michael Spavor, who facilitated North Korea travel, ID’d as second Canadian to go missing in China

Calgary-born Spavor founded the Paektu Cultural Exchange, which focuses on making connections in North Korea. He facilitated former NBA star Dennis Rodman’s visits there in 2013 and 2014, and his Facebook page shows Spavor in photos with leader Kim Jong Un.

“I’ve considered him to be the greatest unknown Canadian,” said Driver.

“You have this guy who has all these connections in North Korea, he’s building bridges and trying to resolve things on a grassroots level, and I always respected that.”

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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‘No one is going to stick their neck out:’ Memos suggest Saudi threats chilled support for Canadian tweets – National

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Divide and conquer.

That seems to have been the strategy Saudi Arabia used to muzzle allies from speaking out in support of Canada in a diplomatic crisis that broke out in August over a tweet calling for the release of detained civil and women’s rights activists.

READ MORE: The exclusive report on how Canada spent months on Saudi diplomacy before embassy suggested tweet behind firestorm

As Global News was the first to report on Friday, the unprecedented backlash to the tweet posted in Arabic by the Canadian Embassy in Riyadh caught officials in both Ottawa and the embassy unprepared and left them reeling as they tried to figure out what was happening.

Further evaluation of the hundreds of pages of emails, briefing notes and memos released to Global News under access to information laws shows that Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland began reaching out to “like-minded” countries as the crisis unfolded.

WATCH BELOW: The first 24 hours of the Saudi-Canada tweet feud left Canadians reeling






Emails and documents prepared for the minister show meetings arranged in Ottawa with officials from the British High Commission on Aug. 7 as well as phone calls with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan, foreign minister for the United Arab Emirates.

“We would indeed welcome public support from friends,” read emails from officials.

But that was not to be.

READ MORE: ‘I’m in shock:’ The first 24 hours of the Saudi-Canada tweet feud left Canadians reeling

On Aug. 7,  notes sent from the embassy in Riyadh show officials beginning to grapple with the need for “contingency plans.”

That came after Saudi Arabia’s Cultural Bureau issued a tweet recalling its thousands of students and doctors studying in Canada, which Canadian officials described in emails as “the hardest line envisaged.”

At the same time, Saudi officials were at work gathering support.

WATCH BELOW: Canada calls for German backing amid Saudi human rights spat






“Saudi MOFA [Minister of Foreign Affairs] is in the process of holding briefings all day today for all HOMs [heads of mission], except EU and Canada, but separated by each geographic region,” the notes state.

A later email describes the meetings organized by the Saudis as “calling in regional groupings to make a pitch for support.”

Further documents state that in those meetings, Saudi Arabia Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir “warned representatives that taking a negative position on KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) would force ‘a response.’”

It goes on to note that the meetings, and the exclusion of the EU in addition to Canada, suggest the “Saudis were well aware that there was a movement led by a Dutch MEP, Marietje Schaake — which at the time had 44 signatures — for Mogherini to issue a public statement in support of Canada.”

Federica Mogherini is the EU’s High Representative for Security Affairs and Policy.

A response sent from a Global Affairs official minutes later says “needs to be corroborated but another level up.”

WATCH BELOW: Spat? Dispute? What’s going on between Saudi Arabia and Canada?






That same day, Canadian officials from the embassy in Riyadh said they had plans to meet with representatives from General Dynamics Land Systems about the matter. That’s the company contracted to provide $15-billion worth of armoured vehicles to the Saudis under a controversial, secret deal inked by the former Conservative government but protected by the Liberals since 2015.

“GDLS guys based in Riyadh already planning to meet me either today or tomorrow – will report on it, in case any significant/new points raised by them,” the official reports back to Ottawa.

READ MORE: As Saudi-Canada feud escalates, here’s how axing armoured vehicle deal could hurt Trudeau in 2019

Representatives for Governor General Julie Payette had also requested a briefing on the crisis on Aug. 7.

Global Affairs officials had also quietly begun drafting a statement that might walk back the language of the tweets that prompted the crisis.

“Canada remains concerned about the fate of civil society activists in Saudi Arabia,” one excerpt of the proposed statement reads. “However, it was never Canada’s intention to interfere in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or challenge its sovereign rights as has been suggested.”

The next day, on Aug. 8, officials were looking for ways to reframe the conversation and potentially repair ties.

Proposals put forward included casting the crisis as a “personal dispute” between Saudi Arabia and Dennis Horak, the exiled Canadian ambassador.

“Is there a possibility of looking at this for our current situation? This would allow us to move forward and open a new chapter with a new HOM,” one note reads.

WATCH BELOW: Diplomatic dispute forces Saudi students out of Canada






Another warns that the situation at the embassy was becoming a challenge.

“Morale at the mission is declining as more measures are put in place and rumours are circulating,” another email reads and adds that many staff were asking “if the mission is closing or if they will lose their jobs.”

But by 5:33 PM on Aug. 9, it was clear: no one was going to come to Canada’s aid.

“Minister has been calling around to review with friends,” one email reads. “No one is going to stick their neck out.”

In the days that followed, Canada refused to back down.

READ MORE: Is Canada a ‘whipping boy’ for Saudi Arabia? Why the kingdom picked a fight over a tweet

A readout from a phone call between Freeland and Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, describes a discussion on Aug. 13, in which she said exactly that to her counterpart.

“MINA said we cannot back down on the tweets as this would suggest an element of self-censorship and backing down which would not be well received by the Cdn public,” the readout states. “Past is past and we need to move forward.

“MINA said that we can make a clear affirmation on the importance of the relationship and our belief in the importance of Vision 2030 and Canada’s desire to support these reform efforts.”

MINA is the shorthand way government departments refer to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, based from when the position was originally known as the Minister of International Affairs.

Documents obtained by Global News in November showed there has been little resolution to the tension between Canada and Saudi Arabia.

Federal officials deem the relationship “fractured.”

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Only 3% of ‘potential threats’ led to action at Canadian border last year

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OTTAWA–Only three per cent of “potential threats” identified by Canada’s border security agency last year resulted in any enforcement action, an internal review reveals.

The Canada Border Services Agency reported last week that of the “potential threats to the safety and security of Canada” identified by the agency — including both inadmissible goods and people — only three per cent led to an “enforcement action or inadmissibility recommendation.” The agency’s target for 2017-18 had been 18 per cent.

Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Ralph Goodale is responsible for the Canada Border Services Agency.
Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Ralph Goodale is responsible for the Canada Border Services Agency.  (Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO)

“The CBSA uses various methods to identify potential threats, including security screening, risk-based targeting, intelligence analysis, and the issuance of lookouts to flag high-risk entities for increased scrutiny,” the agency wrote in a report.

“The result of (three per cent) was obtained by dividing the number of resultant threats (i.e. threats that led to an enforcement action on inadmissibility recommendation) by the total number of potential threats identified.”

The Star requested comment from the agency last Thursday, but as of Tuesday CBSA had not responded. The office of Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, the minister responsible for oversight of CBSA, said the matter was operational and declined to comment.

It’s not clear, based on the CBSA’s own reporting, what “potential threats” it identified last year and why such a low percentage resulted in any enforcement action. The Star has asked for a complete list of what the agency considers a “potential threat.”

Michelle Rempel, the Conservative critic for immigration and border security issues, said that it’s incumbent on the agency to release more information.

“Anybody who’s looking the report is going to see the three per cent figure and just go, ‘This is beyond the pale,’” Rempel told the Star.

Rempel said she wants more details from the agency on three areas: opioids entering the country, potential threats in terms of people entering Canada, and the issue of illegal firearms crossing the Canada-U. S. border.

“People are actually wondering if Canada can maintain the integrity of the border, so statistics like that really don’t help maintain public confidence that the system is working,” Rempel said.

“And frankly it’s not just about the confidence issue. Borders exist for a reason. That statistic should be significantly higher and I think most Canadians when they see that would demand better action.”

According to the CBSA’s report, a total of 751 firearms were seized at the border in 2017-18, as well as 10,466 other weapons. That’s up slightly from the year before, when a total of 546 firearms were seized at border crossings.

Drug seizures were slightly down, with a total of 16,180 including 438 seizures of opioids. The agency made “well over” 18,000 seizures the year before, worth an estimated $404 million.

The union representing border agents did not respond to a request for comment.

Alex Boutilier is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @alexboutilier

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Democracies must take action against threats to freedom of expression

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Today, the freedom of opinion and expression — a cornerstone of any strong and healthy democracy — is in great danger. This fundamental right cannot survive if journalists lack the ability to speak and write freely and provide people with free, factual, and reliable information. Some of the gravest threats to the media’s ability to fact check and provide contrasting points of views stems from the digital transformation.

Widespread online disinformation continues to spread, influencing debates, and interfering in elections, to distort the outcome. Almost everywhere, private interests continue to control information. Many countries have seen a severe upsurge in threats against journalists and suppression of the press by political parties.

(From L) Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Nobel peace prize winner Nadia Murad Basee Taha, Tunisian President Bej Caid Essebsi, 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, French President Emmanuel Macron, Reporters Without Borders secretary general Christophe Deloire, President of Senegal Macky Sall, Director-General of United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Audrey Azoulay, President of Costa Rica Carlos Alvarado, and Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjorn Jagland pose for a photo ahead of the Paris Peace Forum at the Villette Conference Hall in Paris on Sunday. The Paris Peace Forum is a new annual event based on international cooperation and aimed at tackling global challenges and ensuring durable peace.
(From L) Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Nobel peace prize winner Nadia Murad Basee Taha, Tunisian President Bej Caid Essebsi, 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, French President Emmanuel Macron, Reporters Without Borders secretary general Christophe Deloire, President of Senegal Macky Sall, Director-General of United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Audrey Azoulay, President of Costa Rica Carlos Alvarado, and Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjorn Jagland pose for a photo ahead of the Paris Peace Forum at the Villette Conference Hall in Paris on Sunday. The Paris Peace Forum is a new annual event based on international cooperation and aimed at tackling global challenges and ensuring durable peace.  (YOAN VALAT / AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Against this backdrop, our democracies must take urgent action. We cannot resign ourselves to this situation. We must act now to protect our access to independent, pluralistic, facts-based information, which is essential for people to freely form their opinions and play an active and constructive role in democratic debates. That is why we commend the work of the International Information and Democracy Commission, which presented the outcome of its work at the Paris Peace Forum on Sunday.

This commission, which was created at the initiative of Reporters Without Borders, calls on all of us to value the global communication and information area as a common good of humanity, in which the freedom, pluralism and integrity of information must be promoted.

It proposes that global media and communications leaders, particularly of digital platforms, take greater responsibility to pursue political and ideological neutrality, pluralism and transparency. The commission also calls for the recognition of individuals’ rights, not just to independent and pluralistic information, but also reliable information.

These are thought-provoking, innovative proposals, and as leaders, we must take action to bring them to life and set a political process in motion. The goal is for our states, in the coming months, to create their own road maps to promote the right to freedom of opinion and expression in the technological and political context of the 21st century.

We hope as many states as possible will join us. Seventy years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we are reiterating through this initiative our commitment to our peoples’ most essential rights.

Justin Trudeau is the prime minister of Canada, Emmanuel Macron is the president of France, Erna Solberg is the prime minister of Norway, Carlos Alvarado is the president of Costa Rica, Beji Caïd Essebsi is the president of Tunisia, Macky Sall is the president of Senegal, and Saad Hariri is the prime minister of Lebanon.

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