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Liberals push end of Mali peacekeeping mission to August

The Canadian Press

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OTTAWA — The Canadian Forces’ peacekeeping mission in Mali is going to last a little longer than previously planned — but not as long as the United Nations hoped.

Canada’s operations in the African nation were supposed to cease at the end of July and the eight helicopters and 250 military personnel providing transportation and logistics help in a UN mission there were to come home.

The UN had asked Canada to stay until October, when Romanian troops take over, to minimize a gap in providing lifesaving medical evacuations for injured UN peacekeepers.

Global Affairs Canada said Friday that operations will wind down after July 31 and gradually be restricted to only medical evacuations until Aug. 31.

A small Canadian transition team will help Romania set up its operations, including the use of C-17 airplanes to help get troops and equipment into the country.

The department said in a statement that the decision reflects strategic advice from the Canadian Forces and should “minimize disruption” in medical evacuation services.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan insisted the announcement doesn’t mean the government is extending the mission.

“Up until the end of July, we will maintain all the missions that we’ve been conducting. However, to conduct a smooth transition we are going to be focusing strictly on medical evacuations so we can start doing that transition,” he told reporters outside the House of Commons. “And this will allow for that gradual handover.”

The six-year-old United Nations mission in Mali is trying to stabilize the country after a rebellion and a coup. It includes about 16,500 personnel, mostly from other African countries.

Since Canadian troops arrived last July, they have done 10 medical evacuations, Global Affairs said.

The government also said that Canadian helicopters have also spent more than 3,000 hours in the air, moving 6,400 passengers and almost 168,000 kilograms — or more than 370,000 pounds — of cargo. Hired civilian contractors can do some of the same work but in much more limited circumstances. They won’t rescue wounded peacekeepers under fire, for instance.

Sajjan told reporters “troops on the ground will always have that medical evacuation” through the transition, but not cargo transport.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland called the change in plans a “practical and pragmatic plan to ensure a smooth transition between the Canadian and Romanian rotations” in Mali. She said the Romanians would have access to “four C-17 aircraft flights” to help move personnel and equipment.

The UN formally asked Canada at the end of the February to stay in Mali until mid-October. Freeland rejected that request following a March peacekeeping summit in New York.

The United Nations had told MPs on the House of Commons defence committee that peacekeepers would be forced to scale down operations without the Canadians or Romanians available for emergency evacuations.

Sajjan said Canada doesn’t have an exact date when Romania’s contingent will arrive.

“But now, based on the information that we have, we’ve been able to come (to) the conclusion that having a thorough handover focusing strictly on medical-evacuation missions is going to allow for the same handover that we had received,” he said.

Why the government has refused to push the mission to October is unclear but the committee’s report on the mission suggested military officials were worried about the helicopters’ mechanical condition and want them ready for crises back home.

Others have linked the Liberals’ stance to an electoral calculation, with the fall federal campaign winding up with a vote in late October.

The Canadian Press


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China asks for suspension of Canadian meat, citing forged certificates

The Canadian Press

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OTTAWA — The Chinese Embassy said Tuesday it has asked Canada to suspended all meat exports, a surprise move that comes amid the diplomatic dispute over the December arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.

The latest Chinese move comes as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to depart Wednesday for a G20 leaders’ summit in Japan, where he is expected to rely on U.S. President Donald Trump to raise the plight of two detained Canadians during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The embassy said in a statement to The Canadian Press on Tuesday that this latest move follows Chinese customs inspectors’ detection of residue from a restricted feed additive, called ractopamine, in a batch of Canadian pork products. The additive has permitted uses in Canada but is banned in China.

“The subsequent investigation revealed that the official veterinary health certificates attached to the batch of pork exported to China were counterfeit and the number of those forgery certificates was up to 188. The Canadian side believes that this incident is criminal offence,” said the embassy statement.

“These forged certificates were sent to the Chinese regulatory authorities through Canadian official certificate notification channel, which reflects that the Canadian meat export supervision system exists obvious safety loopholes.”

China is therefore taking “urgent preventive measures” to protect Chinese customers and has asked the Canadian government to suspend all meat-export certificates, the embassy said.

“We hope the Canadian side would attach great importance to this incident, complete the investigation as soon as possible and take effective measures to ensure the safety of food exported to China in a more responsible manner.”

A spokeswoman for Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau did not immediately comment on the report.

A report in the newspaper Journal de Quebec, which first reported the story, quotes a Montreal-based diplomat with the Chinese consulate-general as saying the ban is temporary.

China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor and sentenced another Canadian to death in an apparent attempt to pressure for Meng’s release.

China has also stopped imports of Canadian canola and has suspended import permits for three pork producers.

A senior Canadian government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the dispute, described the matter as a “technical issue.”

The official said the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is “seized with the issue and looking into the matter to ensure that all the rules are being followed.”

The CFIA is working with Chinese officials to resolve the matter.

“This is a technical issue related to potentially fraudulent permits,” said the official. “We stand by the quality of Canadian products.”

The Conservatives blamed Trudeau.

“Conservatives know that Canadian farmers produce some of the highest-quality meat in the world. Any assertion by the Chinese government to the contrary is both false and baseless,” said a statement from Tory agriculture critic Luc Berthold. “It is clear that this is not an issue of food safety, but a political issue caused by Justin Trudeau’s incompetence and weakness on the world stage.”

Berthold said Trudeau has to “personally raise this issue” with Xi in at the G20 meeting and demand the trade barriers be lifted.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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Trudeau leans on Trump to help Canadians detained in China at G20 summit

The Canadian Press

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OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will lean on the power and influence of the mercurial Donald Trump to raise the issue of two detained Canadians during a bilateral meeting with the Chinese president at a G20 summit in Japan this week — something the U.S. president publicly committed to doing at “Justin’s request.”

The summit comes at a critical moment for Trudeau, just months ahead of the October election and as Canada continues to push for the release of the Canadians in China — Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

Canada is in multiple trade-related disputes with China as well. Tuesday, China suspended imports of Canadian meat on the grounds that its authorities don’t trust Canadian assurances about the quality of its exports. That broadened restrictions on Canadian pork. China has also all but banned Canadian canola seeds on the grounds that previous shipments have contained pests. Exporters of peas and soybeans have also had problems.

Canadian ministers and officials have had little luck getting to speak to their opposite numbers in China.

Earlier this month in Normandy, France, Trudeau said he was looking forward to attending the G20 and that the “opportunity to engage with the Chinese president directly is certainly something that we are looking at.”

So far, however, no such meeting has been confirmed by the Prime Minister’s Office. Trudeau’s staff will only say they expect to have information soon on which leaders Trudeau will meet in Osaka, where key themes include the global economy, trade and investment and innovation.

Trump pledged his support during a meeting with Trudeau last Thursday in the Oval Office, where the two leaders sat together in bright yellow armchairs and the president vowed to bring up the issue in a sit-down with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“Are you trying to get a meeting?” Trump asked of Trudeau in response to a reporter’s question, to which the prime minister replied: “We’ve got a lot of things to discuss. “

“Anything I can do to help Canada, I will be doing,” Trump said.

Trudeau needs that assistance.

The detentions of Kovrig and Spavor are largely viewed as retaliation for the December arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver, where she awaits extradition to the U.S. to face allegations of fraud in violating Iran sanctions.

David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said it should not come as a surprise that China is not interested in a meeting between its president and the prime minister.

Trump will be Canada’s best shot to address the issue of the detentions, said Mulroney.

“That would be the strongest card that could be played in our interests,” he said.

“It would be an American card played to say … ‘If you want a normal relationship with us, you’ll leave our allies alone.'”

Mulroney said he would also use the G20 to talk to other leaders who face similar challenges with China and are susceptible to its bullying.

“If we can build this sense of shared purpose in pushing back against China, in not allowing ourselves to be isolated like this, that’s a big step forward,” he said.

“It is in America’s interest and it is in the interest of a lot of other countries to see China pull back from hostage diplomacy and bullying… The only way to counter that is through collective action and that is a long, hard slog.”

Christopher Sands, the director of the Center for Canadian Studies at John Hopkins University, said Canada doesn’t play offence very much but he agreed it would be advisable for Canada to talk to other leaders about the detained Canadians.

Beyond asking for Trump’s support, countries like Japan, South Korea and perhaps India might be willing to do the same, Sands said, adding that would only strengthen the U.S. president’s commitment to the cause.

To date, a list of countries including Australia, France, German, Spain, the U.S. and the U.K. have spoken in support of the detained Canadians. 

Rohinton Medhora, the president of the Centre for International Governance Innovation, said he will be watching to see who else Xi meets in one-on-one sessions — called “bilaterals,” or just “bilats,” in diplomatic circles.

“Beyond the Trump bilat, how many other bilats does he grant?” Medhora said. “If it turns out that he has very few others, then I wouldn’t read that much into it. On the other hand, if he has half a dozen and Canada isn’t one of them, then I would read something into that.”

The G20 is an opportunity to show whether Canada is a player or not and its place in the world, Medhora added.

“I would say the pressure (is on), especially going into an election when you have to demonstrate that Canada is better and different than four years ago,” he said.

Conservative foreign-affairs critic Erin O’Toole echoed that point, saying it is critical Canada not let the opportunity afforded by the G20 pass, especially given the upcoming election campaign.

“As of September, the writ will drop,” he said. “This is really the last major time to really shake up and try to stop the spiral of the China relationship.”

—Follow @kkirkup on Twitter

 

Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press

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