The upside of the Huawei confrontation: It’s teaching Canada to be wary of China


Some news stories are such a big puzzle that a journalist can sit looking at a handful of pieces and not realize for a long time that they are part of a large, coherent picture.

For me, the story of the Chinese Communist Party’s infiltration and recruiting of agents of influence in Canada has been just like that.

Jonathan Manthorpe, author of Claws of the Panda. He is also a former Toronto Star Queen’s Park columnist and European bureau chief.
Jonathan Manthorpe, author of Claws of the Panda. He is also a former Toronto Star Queen’s Park columnist and European bureau chief.  (Cormorant books)

Looking back now, I can see that pieces of the story began to fall into my lap when I was a political correspondent in Ontario in the early 1970s. And the hints started elbowing their way into my consciousness more persistently when I became a foreign correspondent in the late 1970s. In 1993, when I was appointed the Asia correspondent for Southam News, based in Hong Kong, the pieces came flying at me faster than I could catch them and work out how they fitted together.

So it was not until two years ago that I saw I had the full picture, and felt confident enough to sit down and write the outline for what has become my book, Claws of the Panda: Beijing’s Campaign of Influence and Intimidation in Canada.

What is astonishing is that just as the book was completed, the story of Meng Wanzhou and Huawei Technologies, of which she is the chief financial officer, broke.

The detention of Meng in Vancouver at the beginning of December on an extradition warrant from the U.S. Department of Justice, leans on a number of issues and themes running through the book.

So does the associated question of whether Canada should risk allowing a company closely tied to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) like Huawei to install the next generation 5G mobile communications network here. The government in Ottawa already has its own security intelligence officials warning that Huawei’s network could be a window for CCP espionage, and Canada’s allies the United States, Australia and New Zealand have already restricted the company.

What must infuriate the CCP, its diplomats and agents in Canada is that it was to avoid this sort of embarrassment that Beijing worked for 70 years or more to establish a network of friends and sympathizers in Canada.

But it is the CCP’s actions in taking hostage two Canadians — former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor — that has shattered Beijing’s image among its Canadian friends and supporters.

Chinese police are seen patrolling in front of the Canadian Embassy in Beijing last month. A new book, Claws of the Panda, argues that the Chinese Communist Party has spent decades manipulating Canadians.
Chinese police are seen patrolling in front of the Canadian Embassy in Beijing last month. A new book, Claws of the Panda, argues that the Chinese Communist Party has spent decades manipulating Canadians.  (GREG BAKER/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

The Meng-Huawei affair has confronted Canadians and Beijing’s Canadian friends and supporters in politics, business and academia with the clash in values between the two societies. With the Canadian public so clearly outraged by the CCP’s actions and the nonsensical allegations being made by Beijing’s officials, even the party’s strongest Canadian supporters have no option but to retreat.

Until now, the network of Canadian supporters has worked well in Beijing’s favour. Successive Canadian governments of both main political parties have been dependable supporters of Beijing as the CCP regime emerged from the isolationism of the 1960s and 1970s, rode the waves of its commercial opening up, and now strides confidently forward as an economic and military super power.

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Ottawa’s support through diplomatic recognition in 1970, and the minimizing of criticism over the Tiananmen Square massacre, cultural genocide in Tibet and Xinjiang, and Beijing’s imperial expansion in the South China Sea has been matched by Canada’s business and academic communities.

Canadian businesses have been mesmerized by the fanciful desire to get access to the Chinese market of 1.2 billion people. So addictive has been that hope that they have been largely silent about the persistent theft of their technologies and other intellectual property by Chinese partners.

More troubling perhaps, the fixation of Canadian businesses on the China market has tended to blind them to far more promising prospects in other parts of Asia.

Something similar has happened in Canadian colleges and universities. What started as a dream in the 1970s when China opened up to Canadian scholarship has become a nightmare.

What began as a well-motivated effort to give students from China the skills they needed to develop their country has become something else. Canadian universities have become the crime scenes of technology theft, a trend that is hard to reverse as several academic institutions have become dependant on tuition revenues from Chinese students.

There is an even darker side. The CCP and its agents are determined to keep control of Chinese students here, both to dissuade them from becoming political dissidents and to marshal them to support Beijing’s causes.

The Beijing-financed Chinese cultural centres called Confucius Institutes set up in several Canadian colleges, universities and schools are essentially outposts for Beijing’s diplomats and intelligence agents to keep tabs on Chinese students.

After the Canadian Security Intelligence Service warned the academic institutions about the darker functions of these institutes, several have been closed.

The Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to control the message reaching Canadians, especially Canadians of Chinese heritage, about Beijing’s activities extends into the media.

Starting about 20 years ago, the CCP and its agents began exerting pressure on the publishers and managers of Chinese-language media in Canada. Those with other business interests in China have been particularly vulnerable to the CCP’s pressure; out of the scores of Chinese language media outlets in Canada, only a small handful present independent journalism.

Perhaps the most venal activity of CCP agents is the intimidation here in Canada of people the party considers dissidents or a threat to its continued monopoly on power.

Early in 2017, a group of Canadian organizations promoting political reform in China and Beijing’s adherence to international human rights standards prepared a report on CCP violations in Canada.

That report was presented to officials in Global Affairs Canada, CSIS and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in April that year. It has become part of the joint indictment among Canada’s allies of the CCP’s predatory actions among the diaspora of people of ethnic Chinese origin.

The cover of Claws of the Panda, by Jonathan Manthorpe. Learn more at Cormorant Books.
The cover of Claws of the Panda, by Jonathan Manthorpe. Learn more at Cormorant Books.

An essential theme that I have woven through the story in Claws of the Panda is that it is Canadians of Chinese, Tibetan, Taiwanese and Uyghur origin who are the main target and victims of the CCP’s campaign of intimidation here.

What reinforces and confirms that picture is that the CCP is conducting almost exactly the same campaigns in Australia, New Zealand and the United States

In the end, I think the Huawei-Meng affair must be regarded as a positive turning point in the story of Canada-China relations. For the first time since the Chinese Communist Party came to power in 1949, Canada’s leaders and opinion-makers have been forced to look at Canada’s relationship with Beijing as it really is, and not as they would like it to be.

The CCP’s values and objectives are not like those of Canada and never will be. This is not an argument for Canada to disengage from China under the CCP regime. That is neither possible nor desirable.

But it is an argument for ending the naivete and wishful thinking with which China has been regarded, and address Beijing from now on in a mood of skeptical realism.

Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of three books on international relations, politics and history. He has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. From 1976-1981 he worked as the Star’s Queen’s Park columnist and European bureau chief. Claws of the Panda: Beijing’s Campaign of Influence and Intimidation in Canada is due to be published by Cormorant Books on Feb. 2.


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Class size, teacher hiring part of new education consultations, leaving one teachers union wary


Class sizes and hiring rules could be in for changes under the Ford government, which has just launched consultations with education unions and trustee associations.

However, the head of Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario called the talks “concerning and disturbing.”

Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario.
Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario.  (Jim Rankin / Toronto Star)

The government began discussions with teacher unions on Wednesday by “highlighting the $15-billion deficit, the need to reduce that deficit and … leading to potential cuts in education,” said ETFO president Sam Hammond.

“Make no mistake, they are talking about removing” class-size caps in elementary school and especially for full-day kindergarten.

Education Minister Lisa Thompson said in a statement that the government is “modernizing the way we fund education in a responsible manner and we are eager to hear the innovative ideas of educators and sector partners.”

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Also up for discussion is the rule known as “Regulation 274” — the bane of principals and school boards that argue they can’t hire the best fit for any position because the rules force them to choose supply teachers with the most seniority for long-term and permanent positions.

Put in place to curb nepotism and liked by the unions, it has nonetheless caused troubles for members who lose seniority as they move from board to board.

Minister of Education Lisa Thompson during question period in the Ontario Legislature, July 18, 2018.
Minister of Education Lisa Thompson during question period in the Ontario Legislature, July 18, 2018.  (Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star)

Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, struck a more conciliatory tone than his elementary counterpart, saying “We are absolutely prepared to engage in consultation with this government and can offer, as we have in the past, solutions to some outstanding problems with the hiring regulation.

“Understandably, we remain committed to protecting locally negotiated class size limits that respond to local circumstances and support student achievement as well as the staff complement that provides for excellent and unique programming around the province.”

Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy


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Buyers wary of homicide homes, but a property’s past may stay hidden – National


TORONTO — It was a “stunning” property in the heart of downtown Toronto, but for broker Caroline Baile it was a tough sell.

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That’s because the home had been the site of a recent murder, a domestic dispute turned fatal. Baile would tell potential buyers about the tragic death that took place, but the property’s story was already well known thanks to intense media coverage of the crime.

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“It was challenging to sell it,” she said, not wanting to go into too much detail to protect client privacy. “So we ended up leasing it to cover carrying costs.”

The renters were aware of the property’s history and once the media attention subsided, the property was sold.

But for some people, the knowledge that a murder took place in a home is enough to make them walk away from a purchase — even if it is at a steep discount in a hot market.

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That is, for those who are aware that something happened.

While there are rules requiring disclosure of issues concerning a property such as a defect like a hole in a roof or mould, for non-physical problems such as violent crime, the law largely says “caveat emptor” or buyer beware, said Alan Silverstein, an Ontario-based real estate lawyer.

Quebec does have a law that requires sellers to disclose when a person has died an unnatural death on their property. But in other provinces, the guidelines are blurry.

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“A murder is more psychological than factual… When you get into the area of murder and suicides, natural causes, we don’t have clear rules,” Silverstein said.

There are also differing guidelines for agents or sellers, he added.

In Ontario, for example, the seller has no legal requirement to disclose a stigma such as murder and the onus is on the buyer and their realtor to find out.

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However, real estate agents in the province have an ethical obligation to disclose the existence of stigmas, according to the Ontario Real Estate Association.

Agents are also required to tell potential buyers about these issues at the earliest possible convenience, said Barry Lebow, a Toronto realtor and expert on stigmatized properties.

“You cannot disclose it at the table once there is an offer…. you don’t wait until the last minute, but that happens,” he said.

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If the agent or seller is asked a question, they cannot give a false answer, Silverstein said.

The former owner of a Vancouver mansion learned this lesson after the B.C. Supreme court ordered her to return a $300,000 deposit after a sale fell through because she didn’t tell the buyer about a suspected gang-related murder of her son-in-law at the front gate in 2007.

Feng Yun Shao reneged on her $6.1-million offer on the 9,000-square-foot mansion in 2009 just days after forwarding the deposit. The would-be buyer asked why they were selling and was told the owner had moved back to China and her daughter had moved to a location closer to her child’s school, according to court documents.

Neither the owner, her daughter or the realtor told Shao about the unsolved slaying, and the judge said she was the victim of a “fraudulent misrepresentation.”

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Still, as homes change hands over the years, a property’s dark secrets don’t always get passed on.

“If the seller doesn’t know about something, it’s hard to hold them liable,” Silverstein said.

Also, it’s unclear how far back in a property’s history must be disclosed. Some jurisdictions, such as California, stipulate the seller is obligated to disclose a death on a property if it occurred within the three years prior to the sale.

“We need some hard and fast rules,” Silverstein said.

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Buyers who are uncomfortable with living in a home where a violent crime took place should do extensive research on any property that catches their eye. In addition to the obvious online address searches, potential buyers should also ask their would-be neighbours for information about the home, said Silverstein.

Another thing to look for is a line in the listing that asks potential buyers to call the listing agent before preparing an offer, said Toronto realtor David Fleming.

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“It could mean something big or it could mean something small… When you see something like that, it usually means that there is a catch and they don’t want to put it in a listing,” he said.

Buyers can also add a clause that the sellers acknowledge that to the best of their knowledge there hasn’t been a murder or suicide in the home.

Sandra Pike, a realtor based in Halifax, said most agents in the region add in this caveat stipulating that the property has not been stigmatized by things such as murder, suicide or illegal drug cultivation.

“You wouldn’t want to be dishonest and not bring that up… If it comes back and bites you, it’s not worth it,” she said.

Some homes may never shake off the stigma, no matter how much time passes. The St. Catharines, Ont. home where convicted killer Paul Bernardo and his former wife Karla Homolka raped and murdered two teen girls was torn down in 1995.

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Even in high-profile cases, there are some people who aren’t deterred, said Barry Cohen, a Toronto-based luxury property realtor.

The unsolved murders of Apotex Inc. founder Barry Sherman and his wife Honey at their mansion in northern Toronto has not hurt the sale prospects for nearby homes that he is representing, as most see it as an isolated incident and not a reflection of the neighbourhood, Cohen said.

As well, while the Shermans’ home is not currently on the market, Cohen said there is buyer interest.

“The client would buy it as is.”


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