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China likely to escape scot-free in persecution of two Canadians

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From the MacDonald Laurier Institute

By Charles Burton

Beijing propagandists are already using recent claims to vindicate the appalling treatment of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor

There is a deep sadness to reports that Michael Spavor feels he was badly wronged by his fellow former political prisoner Michael Kovrig and, by extension, political officers at Canada’s embassy in Beijing and their masters in Ottawa.

Spavor reportedly wants millions in compensation from the Canadian government for its alleged complicity in his detention in his Chinese prison ordeal. If this ends up in court, Kovrig and his superiors would have an opportunity to defend themselves against these allegations, but Beijing propagandists are already using them to vindicate the appalling treatment of Kovrig and Spavor — a gross violation of international law — by a ruthless regime that arrested them to pressure Canada into releasing Chinese Communist Party figure Meng Wanzhou from house arrest in Vancouver.

While few specifics are known about Spavor’s claims, media reports depict a connection to Kovrig’s former job at Canada’s embassy in Beijing, and later with the International Crisis Group think tank, roles in which he would allegedly meet with people in China, engage them in his fluent Mandarin, and mine the conversations for nuggets of insight into China’s political or economic affairs.

Chinese authorities, of course, don’t like such activities. One expects that Kovrig and his superiors, both in government and the ICG, would have been well aware that this type of work would irritate Beijing, thus the danger of arbitrary detention on trumped-up charges was always there whenever he visited China without the protection of a diplomatic passport. And so it was.

One particularly troubling aspect of this sort of activity is the risk it presents to people who might unknowingly be sources for these information-gathering practices. Apparently Spavor and Kovrig routinely got together for drinks and sessions of good-humoured conversation. But friendships with diplomats imply that observations shared in a bar can end up the next morning in a report to Ottawa, and on to the Five Eyes. Was this possibility lost on Spavor? Was Kovrig perhaps not as forthcoming as he could have been about the full dimensions of their chats?

And there is always the possibility that China’s Ministry of State Security has access to Canadian diplomatic communications, which led them to open a file on the two.

Spavor ran a business, Paektu Cultural Exchange, that facilitated sports, cultural, tourism and business exchanges with North Korea. These pricey tours necessitated the transfer of badly-needed foreign currency into North Korea, arguably helping to enable the repressive Pyongyang regime. Perhaps more intriguing, in the course of his work Spavor developed an unlikely rapport with the third-generation Kim family dictator, Kim Jong Un, and was photographed jet-skiing and drinking cocktails with him on a private yacht. It is very plausible that China strongly disapproved of their junior proxy Korean communist dictator cavorting with non-Chinese foreign friends, hence his arrest.

Troublingly, Canadians — who were transfixed and infuriated by the two Michaels’ incarceration — have had little news about Kovrig and Spavor’s China nightmare since their sudden release in September 2021, just hours after Canada released Meng. One wonders if Ottawa really did enough to incentivize China’s Communist authorities to send them home sooner, or if there were other factors in Canada’s murky relationship with Beijing that took priority over what was perhaps downplayed behind closed doors as just another consular matter, one of many that are de facto subordinated to trade and political interests.

We may never see any Global Affairs Canada officials or former diplomats giving public evidence in a Canadian court to defend against Spavor’s accusation. To be sure, much of what goes on between Canada and China — indeed, within our own government internally — is kept from us by the secretive walls of the Security of Information Act.

Perhaps Spavor will be given a big whack of taxpayer money in an out-of-court settlement laced with ironclad nondisclosure provisions. One thing is for sure though. The Chinese authorities who so brutally persecuted him will, as usual, get off scot-free.

Charles Burton is a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, non-resident senior fellow of the European Values Center for Security Policy in Prague, and former diplomat at Canada’s embassy in Beijing.

Business

Trudeau gov’t set to introduce another internet regulation bill this week

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From LifeSiteNews

By Anthony Murdoch

While the Trudeau government claims its forthcoming ‘Online Harms’ bill is being created to protect kids, Conservative Party of Canada head Pierre Poilievre said that the federal government is just looking for clever ways to enact internet censorship laws.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is introducing its “online harms” legislation this week, spurring fears that this may mean the revival of parts of a lapsed bill from 2021 which looked to target free speech by banning certain legal internet content. 

The new bill, by Liberal Justice Minister Arif Virani, was posted on the House of Commons notice paper for February 26, 2024, and will soon be read in Parliament. 

The Online Harms Act will modify existing laws, amending the Criminal Code as well as the Canadian Human Rights Act, in what the Trudeau Liberals claim will target certain cases of internet content removal, notably those involving child sexual abuse and pornography.  

The new bill will also create an ombudsperson who will be charged with dealing with public complaints regarding online content, as well as put forth a regulatory function that will be charged with monitoring internet platform behaviors.  

While the Trudeau government claims the bill is being created to protect kids, Conservative Party of Canada head Pierre Poilievre said that the federal government is looking for clever ways to enact internet censorship laws.  

During a February 21 press conference, Poilievre said that Trudeau is looking to, in effect, criminalize speech he does not like. 

“What does Justin Trudeau mean when he says the word ‘hate speech?’ He means speech he hates,” said Poilievre. 

Virani had many times last year hinted that a new Online Harms Act bill would be forthcoming in 2024.  

Of important note is that the new Online Harms Act looks to amend Canada’s Human Rights Act, to put back in place a hate speech provision, specifically, Section 13 of the Act, which the previous Conservative government under Stephen Harper had repealed in 2013.  

It was feared that if passed, it would target bloggers and social media users for speaking their minds.  

Bill C-36 included text to amend Canada’s Criminal Code and Human Rights Act to define “hatred” as “the emotion that involves detestation or vilification and that is stronger than dislike or disdain (haine).”  

If passed, the bill would have theoretically allow a tribunal to judge anyone who has a complaint of online “hate” leveled against them, even if he has not committed a crime. If found guilty, the person would have been in violation of the new law and could have faced fines of up to $70,000 as well as house arrest.  

Two other Trudeau bills dealing with freedom as it relates to the internet have become law, the first being  Bill C-11, or the Online Streaming Act, which mandates that Canada’s broadcast regulator the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) oversee regulating online content on platforms such as YouTube and Netflix to ensure that such platforms are promoting content in accordance with a variety of its guidelines.  

Trudeau’s other internet censorship law, the Online News Act, was passed by the Senate in June of last year.    

The Online News Act  mandated that Big Tech companies pay to publish Canadian content on their platforms. As a result, Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, has blocked all access to news content in Canada.

Critics of Trudeau’s recent laws, such as tech mogul Elon Musk, have said it shows that “Trudeau is trying to crush free speech in Canada.”

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Alberta

Canadians in three provinces will spend roughly the same on debt interest as K-12 education

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From the Fraser Institute

By Grady Munro and Jake Fuss

From 2008/09 to 2023/24, the federal government is projected to have run deficits every single year, with no interruptions. This has resulted in federal net debt (total debt minus financial assets) increasing by $603.6 billion (inflation-adjusted).

For more than a decade, Canadian governments have increasingly relied on borrowed money to fund their excessive spending habits. However, as debt has continued to pile up so have the costs associated with this debt—namely interest costs. A recent study shows that in some of the largest provinces, governments now spend nearly as much or more on debt interest costs than on K-12 education.

Since the 2008/09 financial crisis, governments across Canada have fallen into the habit of utilizing debt to fund their spending habits. For example, consider the federal government.

From 2008/09 to 2023/24, the federal government is projected to have run deficits every single year, with no interruptions. This has resulted in federal net debt (total debt minus financial assets) increasing by $603.6 billion (inflation-adjusted). Conversely, from 1996/97 to 2007/08, the federal government actually lowered its net debt by $348.1 billion (inflation-adjusted). Clearly, there’s been a shift in the government’s approach towards debt accumulation.

This is not simply a federal problem, as provinces have also seen their debt burdens rise as well. Cumulatively, provincial and federal net debt has increased by $1.0 trillion (inflation-adjusted) from 2007/08 to 2023/24.

Government debt carries costs, primarily in the form of the interest payments, which represent money that doesn’t go towards paying down the actual debt amount, nor does it go towards providing government services or tax relief. And since governments must utilize tax revenues to pay interest, taxpayers are ultimately on the hook for servicing government debt.

But how much do Canadians actually pay in debt interest costs?

Using data from the most recent fiscal updates, a new study compares combined (federal and provincial) debt interest costs for residents in three of the largest provinces (OntarioQuebec and Alberta) with what those provinces expect to spend on K-12 education in 2023/24. The study utilizes combined debt interest costs because Canadians are ultimately responsible for interest costs incurred by both the federal government and the province in which they live. The following chart summarizes the comparisons from the study.

As is clear from the chart, combined interest costs for residents in these provinces are nearly as much or more than their province expects to spend on K-12 education in 2023/24. Specifically, combined interest costs are $31.5 billion for Ontarians, which is only $3.2 billion less than the province will spend on K-12 education in 2023/24. Combined interest costs for Quebecers ($20.3 billion) will actually exceed the $19.9 billion the province will devote towards K-12 education. And combined interest costs for Albertans are only slightly lower than the $8.9 billion that will be spent on K-12 education.

In other words, taxpayers in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta are paying nearly as much or more to service federal and provincial government debt than they are paying to fund K-12 education in their province. This budget season, it’s important to remember the costs associated with growing government debt.

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