Auditor-General to probe lapse in Canada’s pandemic warning system


Canada’s Auditor-General is planning to investigate what went wrong with the country’s once-vaunted early warning system for pandemics after the unit curtailed its surveillance work and ceased issuing alerts more than a year ago, raising questions about whether it failed when it was needed most.

Sources close to the matter said the Auditor-General is planning to probe the government’s handling of the Global Public Health Intelligence Network, or GPHIN, which was a central part of the country’s advance surveillance, early detection and risk-assessment capacity for outbreaks.

The Globe and Mail reported on Saturday that a key part of GPHIN’s function was effectively shut down last spring, amid changing government priorities that shifted analysts to other work. According to 10 years of documents obtained by The Globe, the system went silent on May 24 last year, after issuing more than 1,500 alerts over the past decade about potential outbreaks including MERS, H1N1, avian flu and Ebola.

GPHIN was part of Canada’s contribution to the World Health Organization. Those alerts often helped Canada, the WHO and other countries assess outbreaks at their earliest stages to determine the urgency of the situation. It was responsible for alerting the WHO to the first signs of several potentially catastrophic events, including a 2009 outbreak of H1N1 in Mexico, a 2005 flare-up of bird flu in Iran that the government there tried to hide, and the 1998 emergence of SARS in China.

According to federal documents, “approximately 20 per cent of the WHO’s epidemiological intelligence” came from GPHIN. But sources from inside the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said the analysts were stripped of their ability to independently issue alerts in late 2018. Those alerts, which had garnered GPHIN a global reputation as a leader in pandemic intelligence, had to be approved by senior management, a move that ultimately silenced the system.

Several past and present employees told The Globe that the government had grown wary of GPHIN’s mandate in recent years, believing it was too internationally focused, given that pandemic events were rare. Analysts were given domestic projects to focus on that didn’t involve global surveillance, and the operation’s early-warning capacity soon suffered. Over the past decade, doctors inside Public Health also began to fear their messages weren’t being heard, or understood, on important topics, the employees said, which affected Canada’s readiness for the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Auditor-General is also planning to look at Canada’s risk assessments during the pandemic, which may have affected the speed and urgency of mitigation measures, such as border closings, airport shutdowns and the use of protective masks. Throughout January, February and into March, the government maintained the risk the virus posed to Canada was “Low,” even as evidence of human-to-human spread became increasingly evident around the world. Canada didn’t elevate its risk rating to “High” until March 16, nearly seven weeks after the WHO declared the global risk was high and urged countries to start preparing.

The Office of the Auditor-General has previously signalled that it would be taking a critical look at the federal government’s response to COVID-19, but the probe of GPHIN is now among its top priorities, according to sources familiar with the matter. The sources were not authorized to speak publicly and the Auditor-General, as a matter of course, does not comment publicly on its investigations. The work is to be completed late this year or early next year.

“It’s still early in the process,” said Vincent Frigon, spokesman for the Office of the Auditor-General. “We don’t comment on ongoing audits, however when we do have a better idea of what’s the scope of the audit we should be able to release the information. … We should have a more specific timeline later this year.”

A PHAC spokesman said the agency would assist in the audit. “The Auditor-General plays an important role in Canada’s democracy as a key Officer of Parliament,” PHAC said in an e-mailed statement. “The Public Health Agency of Canada is fully prepared to assist the Office of the Auditor-General as they work on their audit of the Government’s pandemic preparedness and response.”

Few outside GPHIN knew the operation had curtailed its outbreak surveillance work to the extent it had. When a senior public health official addressed the WHO in November, the government described the system as still active. In a 2018 assessment of Canada’s pandemic preparedness capabilities, the WHO referred to GPHIN as the “cornerstone” of Canada’s pandemic response capability, and “the foundation” of global early warning, where signals are “rapidly acted upon” and “trigger a cascade of actions” by governments.

The unit, which involves roughly a dozen highly trained epidemiologists and doctors fluent in multiple languages, began as an experiment in the 1990s during the advent of the internet, but was elevated after the 2003 SARS crisis, when Canada realized it needed to be better prepared for serious outbreaks.

When fully operational, it was a combination of machine learning and human analysis, with GPHIN’s algorithms sifting through more than 7,000 data points from around the world each day, from local news reports and online discussions to arcane medical data, searching for unusual patterns. Those were then narrowed down for closer analysis by medical experts.


Ontario government spending $1.6M to fight racism, supporting community-based anti-hate initiatives

Small change, more symbolic than substantive:

Ontario is investing $1.6 million over two years to fight racism and hate in the province.

The money will support community-based anti-racism and anti-hate initiatives, focusing on anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous racism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia.

“Racism and hate will not be tolerated and our government is doing everything it can to protect people from being victimized because of their race or religious beliefs,” Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said in a statement.

“This new grant program will be developed collaboratively with community partners across Ontario to ensure it leads to the most effective solutions in the fight against racism and hate in our province. These much-needed solutions cannot come from government alone.”

Evan Balgord, the executive director at the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, said in an interview that allocating the funds from the new Anti-Racism and Anti-Hate Grant has to be meaningful.

“We see grants disproportionately go towards research projects or small-scale education programs or art programs,” said Balgord.

“We’re just not at the point anymore where we need a whole bunch more research on it. We need tangible action, and governments should be prioritizing grants that promise to take tangible, measurable actions against hate speech, hate crimes, and groups that promote organized hate in Canada.”

A press release said beginning in fall 2020, Ontario’s Anti-Racism Directorate (ARD) will collaborate with community groups to learn about individual experiences and local needs to form the grant. The ARD was established in 2016. It works to eliminate systemic racism in government policies, decisions, and programs and advance racial equity for Black, Indigenous, and racialized people.

The grant will focus on increasing public awareness of the impact of systemic racism and hate. It supports Ontario’s Anti-Racism Strategy to fight and mitigate systemic racism in government decision making, programs, and services.

Balgord said people should be concerned about racism and hatred in Canada.

“People feel very emboldened to be racist and spread death threats,” he said. “That’s something we need to bring social accountability back to.”

Source: Ontario government spending $1.6M to fight racism, supporting community-based anti-hate initiatives

WE’s history with Beijing, from endorsements in People’s Daily to appearances at Chinese embassy

Yet another aspect of WE and how its business interests made it blind to Chinese government interests:

Amid the impressive array of endorsements, honorary degrees, actual degrees and accomplishments on Craig Kielburger’s LinkedIn page , one bit of acclaim particularly stands out.

His 2008 book Me to We: Finding meaning in a material world , was not just a New York Times bestseller, the profile says. It was also named “one of the best books for Chinese young people in People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the government of China, along with CCTV, China’s government broadcaster.”

Citing testimonials from an authoritarian regime’s chief print and television organs, though, is only one way the co-founder of the WE movement has forged ties with China.

WE Charity and its for-profit partner, Me to We, have had a significant presence there for years, performing development work in poor rural villages, holding at least two “mini” versions of their inspirational WE Day events and selling trips to Chinese youth that combined tourism and volunteer work.

Marc Kielburger, Craig’s brother and WE co-founder, was hosted by the Chinese ambassador to Canada at the Ottawa embassy in 2015, and Me to We was declared part of China’s celebrations of the 45 th anniversary of the restoration of diplomatic ties between Canada and Beijing.

The organization’s embrace of China mirrors in a sense the actions of myriad Canadian companies, post-secondary institutions and school boards eager to tap into the world’s second-biggest economy.

It also parallels the Liberal government’s policy until recently to broadly engage China.

But the response from Beijing seems part of an attempt by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), through its United Front Work Department (UFW), to co-opt such Western NGOs and burnish its own international image, says one critic of the regime.

“WE’s relationship with PRC has the classic signature of UFW at work,” said Ivy Li, spokeswoman for the group Canadian Friends of Hong Kong. “At the minimum, it tells us that UFW considers Kielburger and his book useful propaganda tools…. The CCP was essentially announcing to the Chinese people (and the world) that this Western guy is a ‘friend of China.’”

Despite continued reference online to its China connections, however, WE appears to have pulled back somewhat from the country.

It has not held a WE Day there in almost five years, no longer does “youth cultural trips” and its charity work is focused on supporting “past development projects,” said an unnamed WE spokesperson in response to questions.

It flatly denies having become cozy with Beijing authorities, or that China’s abysmal human-rights record calls into question its involvement in the country.

“WE Charity does not have a relationship with the Chinese government,” said the spokesperson via email. “WE Charity strives to ensure that all children, regardless of the political persuasion of their government, have access to healthcare, food security, and the fulfillment of their basic needs.”

The Kielburgers’ WE movement has attracted unprecedented scrutiny lately because of the untendered contract the federal government awarded it to run a student work program, despite close ties with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Some of that attention has focused on its unorthodox corporate structure, involving WE Charity and Me To We, a “social enterprise” that says it funnels most of its profits into the charity.

Both have been active in China.

WE Charity – formerly called Free the Children—- says it has built 250 school rooms , including multi-storey school buildings in rural China, spurred to action by reports in 2002 of child labourers being killed in a fireworks factory.

Meanwhile, Me To We has operated in China as a joint Sino-foreign venture since 2012, according to its Chinese website , catering to much more affluent schoolchildren. It says it engaged in quality international education, student exchanges between Canada and China and partnerships with official state bodies like the Beijing Dongcheng District Education Commission.

The trips for Chinese students included one to Fujian province. That involved studying the local culture, taking part in volunteer work and learning about the belt and road initiative, the infrastructure project that is a centrepiece of Beijing’s foreign policy, according to the company website .

And the group held “mini” versions of the flashy WE Day events that pack thousands of youth into arenas in North America and the United Kingdom.

At one in Beijing in 2015, former NBA star Yao Ming was among the presenters, according to a local news site, while a famous TV host appeared at a ME Day in Shanghai.

When Marc Kielburger and Victor Li, ME’s China-raised CFO, visited the embassy in Ottawa, then ambassador Luo Zhaohui praised ME for “promoting social welfare and charity programs, improving youth social responsibility consciousness and teamwork skills.“

Guy Saint-Jacques said the WE organization never popped onto his radar when he was Canada’s ambassador to China from 2012 to 2016, but said the official praise for Kielburger’s book might have been a response to incidents there in which bystanders callously ignored accident victims.

“It fits with the ideology of the CCP, ie., to be selfless and help others, etc.,” he said. “This happened at a time when the leadership was concerned that people were acting in very selfish ways, not providing assistance to someone injured.”

Li says she believes Beijing worked with WE for other purposes.

Those include helping to “build a gentle and benign facade for CCP, to provide evidence that CCP is working on human rights in China, CCP is trying hard to be ‘progressive left’, and to gain trust not just from WE, but from other similar NGOs and the international progressive left camp.”

Source: WE’s history with Beijing, from endorsements in People’s Daily to appearances at Chinese embassy

Canada’s troubles with China are only temporary, says former ambassador: ‘Chinese people and Canadian people are good friends’

How unseemly and unethical, cashing in on his brief time as immigration minister and as Canadian Ambassador. And revealing his conversations with the current Minister (or presenting them as such) is equally shameful:

Canada’s troubles with China are temporary and relations with the rising superpower will return to sunnier times, including borders once again open to immigration and investment, John McCallum, the former ambassador fired from his position last year, has told clients of a major Chinese immigration company.

Mr. McCallum served in the federal cabinet, including as immigration minister, before he was named Canada’s ambassador to China in 2017. He was fired in 2019 after repeatedly speaking in support of the release of Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei executive accused of fraud in the U.S. and arrested in Canada, where she is in the midst of extradition proceedings.

But his experience and connections have made him a coveted speaker for Wailian Group, a Shanghai-based company with a 20-year history of smoothing the path for people to immigrate to Canada. Last fall, Wailian paid to have Mr. McCallum speak to clients in five Chinese cities, according to a person familiar with the arrangement. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the person because they are not authorized to speak publicly.

On Saturday, Mr. McCallum delivered remarks to another event organized by Wailian, this one online, in which he pitched Canada as a worthwhile destination for people from China, and cited his friends in the current cabinet to offer reassurances.

“Basically, I think China-Canada relations will be good going forward,” Mr. McCallum said.

Canada’s economy needs Chinese students, tourists and investors, he said, and the Liberal government is eager to reopen Canada’s borders to large numbers of new arrivals. He based his comments in part on a recent conversation with Marco Mendicino, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, who “plans to admit large numbers of immigrants to Canada in 2021,” Mr. McCallum said.

The government has not publicly disclosed how the pandemic will affect plans to admit 341,000 new permanent residents this year, and 351,000 next year. The global spread of COVID-19 has dramatically slowed the pace of immigration, with many visa and biometrics collections offices closed around the world. At a parliamentary hearing in June, Mr. Mendicino would only promise a “comprehensive update in the fall” on anticipated immigration levels.

Information about the government’s plans, however, is of keen interest to those seeking to immigrate, and to companies such as Wailian, whose business is built around ushering clients through the complexities of the application process.

Mr. McCallum offered reassurances that COVID-19 will create only a temporary pause in Canadian acceptance of new residents. “The Canadian government remains extremely positive about continuing high levels of immigration,” he said, citing his conversation with Mr. Mendicino.

He was equally optimistic about the prospects for Ottawa and Beijing to resolve the “substantial problems” that have arisen following the arrest of Ms. Meng, and China’s subsequent seizure of two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, in what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said is an “obvious” effort to put pressure on the Canadian government

The current frictions “are less long-term in nature than the U.S. challenges with China,” Mr. McCallum said. While the U.S. and China wrestle for what he called “top dog” status, “Chinese people and Canadian people are good friends,” he said. He pointed to a history that goes back to Norman Bethune, the ideologically communist Canadian doctor who came to China to treat Communist forces and who was famously eulogized by Mao Zedong. Canada also sold wheat to China in the early 1960s, in defiance of the U.S.

Today again, “economic interests will drive Canada and China to continue to work together,” Mr. McCallum said. For example, Chinese students “cover a lot of the costs” for Canadian postsecondary institutions, so “the last thing in the world Canadian universities would want to do would be to lose their 140,000 Chinese students.”

Similarly, Chinese tourists “spend a lot of money, create a lot of jobs. And they are most welcome in this country,” Mr. McCallum said. On investment, too, he said. “I think Canada will be open for Chinese investment in all but the most sensitive sectors.”

Mr. McCallum made no mention of the broader reassessment of China that has prompted a series of liberal democracies – from Australia to Europe and the U.S. – to erect new barriers to Chinese investment and apply new scrutiny to the motives of Chinese students and researchers with ties to their home country’s military institutions.

Less than six months after he was fired as ambassador last year, Mr. McCallum became a senior strategic adviser for McMillan LLP, the law firm.

He first made a public appearances for Wailian last October and November, when he came to China to deliver remarks and pose for photographs. Over two weeks, he appeared at Wailian events in Qingdao, Beijing, Suzhou, Shanghai and Shenzhen. In each city, he spoke to a room with dozens – in some cases more than 100 – prospective clients for Wailian. The company paid for his attendance through an agreement with McMillan, according to the person familiar with the events.

Wailian promotional materials identify Mr. McCallum only as former ambassador and immigration minister, with no reference to McMillan.

Mr. McCallum in turn has called on his federal government connections.

Mr. Mendicino spoke with Mr. McCallum in mid-June, Kevin Lemkay, the minister’s spokesman, said in a statement. He “reached out to Mr. McCallum as a former colleague to discuss immigration and refugee issues,” Mr. Lemkay said, adding: “At no time did Mr. McCallum ever mention this company [Wailian] to the minister.”

Under Canadian law, Mr. McCallum is barred from lobbying the federal government for five years after leaving office. He said his conversation with the minister did not constitute lobbying. Mr. Mendicino “approaches me from time to time for general discussion as a friend and former minister,” Mr. McCallum said in response to questions from The Globe and Mail.

Still, the former ambassador’s comments risk giving a wrong impression, said David Mulroney, who previously served as Canada’s top diplomat to China.

“I would find any public reference in China by Mr. McCallum to a conversation with a current Immigration Minister very troubling,” said Mr. Mulroney. Such a reference could be seen in China as an indication of “continuing guanxi or connectedness, the idea that the former office holder retains a continuing degree of influence. Canadians in that position, like Mr. McCallum, should be very careful about business relationships in China for this very reason.”

Wailian describes itself as a major immigration company, with some 500 employees across 12 Chinese cities. Reached by telephone, a representative for the company described Mr. McCallum as a special guest.

Critics equate past friendly policies toward China to “appeasement” and say it is time for reconsideration of how Western countries interact with the rising superpower.

“It has become impossible to remain ambivalent on China,” said Guy Saint-Jacques, who was Canada’s ambassador to China before Mr. McCallum’s appointment.

Mr. Saint-Jacques pointed to China’s management of the early outbreak of the pandemic, its treatment of the largely Muslim Uyghur population, its imposition of a national security law on Hong Kong and “the way they have treated Canadians and Canada. To turn around and say, ‘Well, this is just a bump in the road and things will get back to normal’ – I don’t understand how someone can say this.”

In his comments to the Saturday event, however, Mr. McCallum called on long-standing arguments for why people from China might choose Canada as an immigrant destination, citing its quality of life, its beauty and its open attitude toward people arriving from other countries.

He was careful to point to its appeal to the well-heeled who might consider Canada a destination for profit as well as immigration. Canadian free-trade agreements make the country a favourable place to relocate to, he said, while “with the United States becoming less friendly to China, I think that increases the attraction of Chinese companies to invest in Canada.”


US Census Bureau Head: No Advance Warning Over Citizenship Count

Incompetence or deliberate disfunction:

The U.S. Census Bureau director testified Wednesday that he was not given advance notification about an order by the Trump administration that called for undocumented immigrants to be excluded from the national census.

President Donald Trump issued an executive order earlier this month in which he argued that having people who are in the country illegally affect representation in Congress “would be a perversion of our democratic principles.”

Steven Dillingham was called before the U.S. House of Representatives Oversight Committee to discuss the order affecting the 2020 census, the once-a-decade count of every person living in the United States and its five territories.

The census has vast implications for the country. The results are used to decide how many congressional seats each state gets, as well as the allocation of hundreds of billions of dollars in federal spending.

Dillingham told lawmakers that he did not know if any Census Bureau staff were involved in drafting the order, which has been called unconstitutional by civil rights groups.

The Democrats who chair the House Oversight Committee said Trump’s order went against prior assurances from administration officials who pledged at earlier hearings to conduct a complete count that includes everyone residing in the United States.

But Republicans said the order was constitutional, saying the president’s order applied only to redrawing the congressional districts, not the count or how $1.5 trillion in federal spending is distributed.

The Census Bureau was forced to suspend field operations in March and April because of the coronavirus pandemic. The deadline for finishing the count was pushed from July 31 to October 31.

Dillingham also offered in his testimony that despite the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 census self-response has been a “tremendous success.”

“We are now at almost 63 percent, with more than 92 million households counted. About 80 percent have chosen to respond using the internet. Our response system has not had a single minute of downtime since we first invited people to respond online, beginning in March,” he said.

Source: US Census Bureau Head: No Advance Warning Over Citizenship Count

China’s Muslim Uighurs Are Stuck in U.S. Immigration Limbo

Yet another consequence of Trump administration immigration policies and practices:

Kalbinur Awut came to the U.S. in 2015 from China’s far west for graduate study. Soon after arriving at the University of Rhode Island, she applied for political asylum. A member of the mostly Muslim Uighur minority, she had been harassed in China for wearing headscarves and was briefly detained after she applied to study overseas.

When she signed into a website run by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services this month to check her status, the same old message greeted her, with her wait time the only update: “Your case has been pending with USCIS for 1,796 days, not including delays,” it said.

China’s treatment of Uighurs exploded into the American consciousness around two years ago with reports that China was rounding up around a million Uighurs in what appeared to be concentration camps in the western region of Xinjiang.

Roughly around the same time, changes in U.S. asylum policies slowed the process for many of those claiming risk in their home countries. As a result, while the Trump administration is targeting China with various Xinjiang-related sanctions, hundreds of Uighurs like Ms. Awut are in U.S. immigration limbo with asylum bids hung up for years.

Applicants say that they are grateful the U.S. lets them work while awaiting a decision, but that their options are limited as prospective employers or landlords can be wary about their legal status. Lawyer charges and fees to renew work permits and temporary legal documents like driver’s licenses are a constant worry. Their quasi-legal status also leaves them at risk of deportation.

USCIS said its backlog for those seeking asylum, which provides a path to permanent residence and citizenship, was about 340,000 as of last September, the latest figures available, which equates to several years worth of cases. A few hundred Uighurs are in that queue, among Syrians fleeing civil war, Rohingya forced out of Myanmar and Hondurans fearing gang violence, according to lawyers.

Lawyers say the holdup is most acute in USCIS’s center in Arlington, Va., near where the majority of Uighurs in the U.S. have settled. Rights groups put the number of Uighurs in the country at less than 8,000.

Many Uighurs whose applications have been held up came to the U.S. to study or for work or holiday, then filed for asylum as Chinese authorities tightened control in Xinjiang and it became clear that having international ties was cause enough to get locked up.

Among those in limbo is Tahir Hamut, a poet and filmmaker who applied in late 2017 and has spoken to The Wall Street Journal about the detention camps and his family’s harrowing escape from China. Shortly after one article was published, Mr. Hamut said, his younger brother disappeared in Xinjiang and two female relatives got called in for police interrogation.

“Since the situation in our homeland is so hard right now, the Uighur people in the United States are facing a huge psychological stress,” he said by telephone from Fairfax, Va., as his 18-year-old daughter Asena translated. Mr. Hamut said he used an appearance two years ago at a religious-freedom event chaired by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to request faster application processing, but hasn’t seen results.

His daughter said the family’s uncertain legal status makes her ineligible to join the U.S. Air Force, despite spending two years in a high-school Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program. She is giving up hopes of affording her dream schools, George Mason University or Virginia Tech.

“I’m thinking of changing my plans, going to a community college,” she said.

President Trump last month signed a law aiming to punish top Chinese policy makers and companies associated with repression of Islamic minority groups, including Uighurs. The State Department has targeted Chinese officials, including Chen Quanguo, China’s top appointee to Xinjiang and a member of the Communisty Party’s 25-member Politburo.

The U.S. has also blocked certain imports from Xinjiang and placed goods on watch that might be produced with forced labor.

Uighurs overseas applaud such actions as long overdue. But unprecedented political recognition has done little to get asylum applicants out of their immigration logjam.

The Trump administration has rarely made exceptions for applicants from any particular country, including Cubans or Venezuelans, whose governments are the target of tough U.S. policies. U.S. congressional efforts to welcome some Hong Kong residents after China enacted a national-security law in the territory would run on a separate track from the asylum process.

Beijing has defended stepped-up policing and what it calls vocational training centers in Xinjiang as necessary to combat extremism. It denounces sanctions by the U.S. as interference in China’s domestic affairs.

Lawyers say Uighurs have traditionally had very little problem winning asylum in the U.S. “Uighur cases have an astonishingly high approval rate,” said Rockville, Md., lawyer Brian Mezger. Nearly 100% of the Uighurs he has represented over more than two decades have obtained asylum.

In a pivotal change to the asylum system, U.S. immigration authorities in early 2018 adopted a type of last-in, first-out system to prioritize interviews with the newest applicants. The idea was to weed out those the administration said had in past years mainly sought ways to work legally in the U.S. and didn’t have a clear claim to asylum.

The effect was to push existing applicants to the back of the line. A 32-year-old Uighur woman in Boston said she and her husband have been waiting for an interview since 2014—and have had a son in the meantime—while an application by her younger sister after the policy changed in 2018 was approved in three months.

USCIS said that its broader efforts to control frivolous and fraudulent asylum claims are paying dividends and that the most recent numbers show its backlog is growing less quickly.

Like other Uighurs interviewed, the woman in Boston said she and her sister didn’t come to the U.S. intending to stay but both grew anxious as friends and family members back in China were increasingly harassed and sometimes detained, making their own returns to China all but impossible. “We do not have a country, and our life is jeopardized if we go back,” she said, fearing problems for her parents in Xinjiang if she speaks out.

Ms. Awut, who lost teaching jobs during the pandemic, is for now living with her son at the home of a friend near San Francisco. She said Chinese police sometimes attempt to question her via the social-messaging platform WeChat but that she has been unable to connect with her mother, brother or sister since 2016.

“I don’t know if they are alive,” she said.

Source: China’s Muslim Uighurs Are Stuck in U.S. Immigration Limbo

Chinese diplomat accuses critics of sowing division among Chinese Canadian community

As if Chinese diplomats are not themselves sowing divisions:

A Chinese diplomat is accusing Canadians who criticize Beijing’s new Hong Kong security law of trying to sow discord among people of Chinese origin in Canada.

Tong Xiaoling, China’s consul-general in Vancouver, told a Chinese-language radio program in Vancouver this week that pro-democracy activists in Canada who criticize the new security law enacted in Hong Kong are trying to foist their views on people who support Beijing’s move. Her interview was broadcast over Monday and Tuesday.

She said a “very few people, in both Hong Kong and local [Canada], have been maliciously denigrating and sabotaging Hong Kong’s national security legislation,” and she accused them of colluding with “anti-China forces” and trying to cause “trouble” overseas.

“Some people were trying to intimidate people who truly care about Hong Kong, stop them from voicing [their opinions] and launch personal attacks on them. [They] also try to create divisions in the ethnically Chinese community and sabotage China-Canada relations,” Ms. Tong said to Vancouver radio station 1320 AM, which bills itself as the “voice of Vancouver’s Chinese community.”

Ms. Tong proceeded to list various members of the Chinese community in Vancouver: those from Hong Kong, from Macau, from mainland China and the self-governing island of Taiwan.

Canadian activists for democracy in Hong Kong say that’s an unusual thing for a foreign government official to be concerned about. It’s not the Chinese government’s business to be actively concerned with the opinion of Canadians of Chinese origin, they say.

The Beijing-drafted national security law punishes what China broadly defines as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison. Critics of the law fear it will crush the wide-ranging freedoms promised to the territory when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997, including the right to protest and an independent legal system. Supporters of the law say it will bring stability after last year’s often-violent anti-government and anti-China unrest.

Vancouver has been home to a number of rallies against the new national security law Beijing imposed on Hong Kong, including demonstrations outside Oakridge Centre and the local Chinese consulate.

Cherie Wong, executive director for Alliance Canada Hong Kong, an umbrella group for Hong Kong pro-democracy advocates in this country, said the Chinese government acts as though it has a proprietary claim on people of Chinese origin in Canada.

“Why would a foreign diplomat care about what the Chinese Canadian community thinks? It’s because the Chinese Communist Party feels a level of ownership over ethnically Chinese individuals,” Ms. Wong said.

“The accusation that we are dividing Chinese people is in fact reinforcing the idea that we are a monolith, which is very much incorrect. It’s part of the same propaganda, erasing the differences in political opinions.”

Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to Beijing, said that in his opinion the Chinese government devotes a lot of resources to try to shape the opinions of ethnically Chinese communities in foreign countries in the hope of influencing public policy. “The message is repeated all the time: Don’t forget the Motherland.”

He said Ms. Tong’s comments reflect a more assertive brand of Chinese foreign policy. “She should be reminded that Canadians are Canadians: We don’t make a distinction between Canadians of Chinese origin and Canadians of British origin.”

Members of the House of Common’s special Canada-China committee, meanwhile, are meeting this week to consider holding hearings on the new Hong Kong security law.

“Conservatives proposed months ago for the Canada-China Committee to reconvene for intensive study of the horrific and deteriorating situation in Hong Kong. A lot of time has been lost in the interim, and it is all the more urgent now for us to hold intensive hearings on the situation in Hong Kong,” Conservative MP Garnett Genuis, a member of the committee, said.

Ms. Tong told 1320 AM that the national security bill was designed to bring calm to Hong Kong. Mass protests began in mid-2019 over proposed legislative changes that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China. This civil disobedience later evolved into demands for greater democracy and autonomy.

She blamed foreign governments and even the self-ruled island of Taiwan for encouraging this disobedience.

She also said she understands some overseas Chinese people have expressed concerns over the new law, worrying that it will violate Hong Kong people’s rights and freedoms, but blamed biased media reports and foreign politicians for their concerns.

She said the law will target only a tiny minority of people who sabotage Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability and the national security.

“If you do not break such law, and aren’t involved in these activities, why do you need to worry about your safety?”

Source: Chinese diplomat accuses critics of sowing division among Chinese Canadian community

Parliament should label Uyghur persecution as genocide to foster global support against China’s human rights abuses, says former Liberal justice minister

Needed debate and action:

Parliamentarians heard from activists during hours-long committee meetings last week who were calling for the Chinese government’s oppression of Uyghur Muslims to be acknowledged as genocide, and a former justice minister says Parliament is uniquely positioned to have a “distinguishable role” in condemning Beijing’s alleged behaviour to build an international partnership to counter China’s bullying.

The House Subcommittee on International Human Rights heard from more than 20 witnesses over 14 hours on July 20 and July 21 about the persecution of the Uyghurs. Many said the mistreatment and abuse of Uyghurs was tantamount to genocide and called for Canada to take a stand.

“Genocide obliges us all—internationally, domestically, governments, Parliaments, civil societies—and here the Canadian Parliament has a distinguishable role to call out genocide,” said Irwin Cotler, a former Liberal justice minister and now founding chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights. He told The Hill Times that Parliament has set a precedent of playing a leading role in calling out human rights abuses and acts of genocide.

“I think it’s very important that governments act in concert, that Parliaments act in concert, as well as civil society acting in concert in calling out China,” said Mr. Cotler, who was a Liberal MP from 1999 to 2015. “If we want to protect the rules-based international order—and justice for the victims in China and accountability for the violators—we’re going to have to do so in concert governmentally and in Parliament.”

“Canada can play a leading role in this,” he said, citing the work that Parliamentarians have previously done raising the issue of genocide prevention, and raising awareness of the Rohingya genocide, among other targeted mass killings.

“China has been assaulting the rules-based international order and committing these international crimes with impunity thus far,” Mr. Cotler said. “They’ve been able to do so with impunity because they have been leveraging their economic and political power, and targeting countries one by one if those countries dare stand up to them.”

“What is needed now is an inter-governmental alliance, an alliance of democracies, so China doesn’t leverage its power and bully countries one by one.”

Some witnesses told the subcommittee that it is necessary for Canada to place sanctions on top Chinese Communist Party officials in Xinjiang where there are reports of mass detentions and forced sterilization of the Uyghur population.

The Associated Press reported on a systematic program to reduce the Muslim population in China, with the government enacting population control measures, which included IUDs and sterilization.

Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow in China studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, told the subcommittee that in 2018, 80 per cent of new IUDs in China were placed in Xinjiang, which only makes up 1.8 per cent of China’s population.

The Chinese government has long held that human rights abuses aren’t taking place in Xinjiang and have called the alleged detention facilities “vocational education and training centres” that are being used to combat terrorism.

University of Ottawa international law professor Errol Mendes, who appeared virtually before the subcommittee, said Canada should apply Magnitsky sanctions on the “chief planners of the detention.” He said that should be Xinjiang regional government chairman Shohrat Zakir and Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, a member of the politburo.

Prof. Mendes told The Hill Times that imposing sanctions would prove that Canada is not staying silent and is upholding its commitment as a party to the United Nations Genocide Convention.

He added that the sanctions will “probably not” have tangible results in the short run. In spite of that, Prof. Mendes said when countries have “sufficient proof” that a genocide is taking place, “they must act.”

Magnitsky sanctions have already been applied on Chinese Communist Party officials in Xinjiang by the U.S., including on Mr. Chen.

Prof. Mendes said other levers can also be used, such as stopping companies from purchasing products in their supply lines from Xinjiang, which have reportedly been through forced labour.

He said that a motion of Parliament labelling the actions of the Chinese government as acts of genocide might not have impact for Beijing.

“Sending a direct signal to one of the main politburo members sends a message to President Xi [Jinping],” Prof. Mendes said.

Mr. Cotler said a parliamentary condemnation of the Chinese government’s mistreatment should include sanctions as well.

“Under the Genocide Convention, there is an obligation to act pursuant to that determination and an obligation to hold a country—that is engaged in acts that constitute genocide—accountable,” he said.

It is the responsibility of Canada and the international community to bring justice to the victims and hold criminals accountable, Mr. Cotler said.

University of Ottawa professor John Packer, director of the Human Rights Research and Education Centre, said that it is clear that China has been committing genocide based on the Genocide Convention.

According to the convention, an act of genocide is taking place if any of the five conditions are met: killing members of a group; causing “serious bodily harm or mental harm” to member of a group; intentionally “inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”; “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group”; and “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Prof. Packer said it looks “quite clear” that there have been breaches of the convention, adding that “it is very difficult not to draw the negative inference that this is purposeful state policy.”

“That would mean that it is genocide,” he said. “This is not by accident.”

“If China really believes this is all mistaken, they should be entirely open to exposing to international scrutiny what is going on,” he said, adding that if there is a dispute, the convention states it should be referred to the International Court of Justice.

Prof. Packer also noted a party to the Genocide Convention has a duty to prevent acts of genocide.

“If we see something happening and we are silent then there are fundamental issues about how seriously we consider this fundamental norm of international relations,” he said.

“Where such cases [of genocide] are quite clear in terms of international exposure, such as the Rohingya, such as the Uyghurs, it strikes me as extraordinary that we would demure—that we would shuffle our feet and look the other way,” Prof. Packer said.

He added that a motion of Parliament acknowledging a genocide is taking place would set a “very big international symbol.”

Conservative MP Garnett Genuis (Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.), his party’s critic of Canada-China relations, said the subcommittee heard “clear-cut” evidence of genocide.

“We should recognize that the Chinese state is guilty of genocide in Xinjiang,” he said, adding that Canada should respond with Magnitsky sanctions and by addressing the possible complicity of investment in Chinese companies that are involved in the oppression in Xinjiang, as well as imported products that are produced through forced labour.

“All of that flows from recognition” that a genocide has taken place, Mr. Genuis said, adding that both the Canadian government and the House of Commons should make that acknowledgement.

Echoing Mr. Cotler, he said there is a need for principled multilateralism of likeminded countries that follow their own obligations in concert with each other.

“What we’ve seen from the government is occasional words but no actions,” Mr. Genuis said. “The government has acknowledged the issue of abuses of human rights involving Uyghurs. They have not used the word ‘genocide,’ they have not used the words ‘crimes against humanity.’ In other words, they haven’t used words that carry international legal significance.”

In a brief to the International Human Rights Subcommittee, Global Affairs noted that Canada is “deeply concerned” about human rights abuses against Uyghurs by Chinese officials.

Canada is urging that Beijing release “Uyghurs and other Muslims who have been detained arbitrarily—based on their ethnicity and religion.”

“Publicly and privately, in multilateral fora as well as in bilateral dialogues, Canada has consistently called the Chinese government to address repression in Xinjiang,” the brief notes.

Mr. Genuis said the government hasn’t addressed the issue in areas that have “legal weight.”

NDP MP Heather McPherson (Edmonton Strathcona, Alta.), her party’s representative on the International Human Rights Subcommittee, said the committee will release a statement on the meetings in early August.

“I think what we pretty universally agreed upon is that there needs to be more done,” she said. “We need to take a stronger stance to ensure that we are protecting human rights around the world. It doesn’t matter where it happens, the rule of law and the protection of human rights is vital.”

Ms. McPherson wouldn’t say whether the subcommittee meetings will lead to a recognition by Parliament that acts of genocide have taken place.

“I will say that the testimony that we heard—the very credible witnesses that we heard from, the survivors that we heard from—there’s pretty strong proof and testimony that there have been acts of genocide perpetrated against the Uyghur people,” she said.

She added that it is vital to figure out a strategy to re-engage on the world stage to jointly address China’s human rights record.

“We’re not ever going to want to do this alone. … We’re never going to want to take giant steps by ourselves. I think we want to work with our multilateral partners and we want to work with our likeminded allies and use those tools at our disposal to put some pressure on China to come back to the side of international law, to come back to the side of protection of human rights.”

Source: Parliament should label Uyghur persecution as genocide to foster global support against China’s human rights abuses, says former Liberal justice minister

Drover: Parliament should invoke Notwithstanding Clause to reverse judicial overreach

To date, haven’t seen any commentary in the mainstream right of centre press (Postmedia). Further to the right, True North published this piece by Devin Drover, a member of NL Strong (affiliated with Ontario Proud) and former NL Conservative staffer, with minimal legal understanding and the realities of current US immigration and asylum policies under the Trump administration:

Judicial activism in Canada has continued to be on the rise in the last decade.

Our unelected judiciary appear to be favouring their own interpretations of the Canadian Constitution rather than a firm commitment to historical precedent and the text of the document itself.

The latest example of this comes from the Federal Court.

Last week, a federal court ruled that the law underpinning the Safe Third Country Act is a violation of our Charter-protected guarantee of life, liberty and security of the person. This interferes with Parliament to make their own foreign policy decisions.

The Safe Third Country Agreement, which took effect in 2004, is an agreement between the United States and Canada which recognizes that both countries are safe places for refugees to seek protection. The Agreement requires that Canada refuse the claim of an asylum claimant who arrives at the land ports of entry along the Canada-US border by requiring them to pursue their claim in the US instead – the country they first arrived in.

Through this decision, the Federal Court has attacked parliament’s ability to make decisions on Canada’s foreign affairs.  Appealing to what they deem the “spirit” of the legislation, they have ruled that the United States is a country which is now unsafe for refugees to return to – a dangerous precedent to set which can have negative consequences for our relations with our greatest foreign ally.

Trying to apply the Canadian Charter to asylum claimants upon return to another country – yet alone an allied country – is a massive overreach that goes far beyond the intention of who the Charter was intended to protect. It is not up to the courts to consider how non-citizens are to be treated in a different state – specifically a democratic one with their own firm commitment to the rule of law. It is certainly not the role of courts to determine they do not enjoy how the United States treats refugees upon return.

That is not to say one must endorse the United States treatment of refugees in opposing this decision. But we must endorse a commitment to an interpretation of the Charter which focuses more on protecting the ability for democratic lawmakers to exercise their rights, rather than judicial overreach and activism.

In the wake of this interference of Canadian foreign policy by the Federal Court, some legal commentators have gently shrugged and suggested Canadians should just wait for the Federal Court of Appeal to weigh in – if they choose to at all.


The Charter does not exist to allow the courts to slide into areas of governance where they do not belong.

Parliament should assert itself as the guardian of separation of powers by invoking section 33 of the Charter – the aptly named Notwithstanding Clause – immediately to enable legislation to correct this judicial overreach.

In doing so, Parliament can tell the judiciary to stay in their lane, while ensuring that important lawmaking is done by those elected to do it.

Source: DROVER: Parliament should invoke Notwithstanding Clause to reverse judicial overreach

#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 22 July Update

USA has moved ahead of France in terms of deaths per million. India has moved ahead of Pakistan. No major change in order of Canadian provinces.