Tech firm blacklisted in U.S. over facial-recognition allegations invited to Vancouver conference

Yet another story on the obliviousness, wilful blindness and complicity of institutions and individuals with respect to serious human and minority rights violations in China:

A Vancouver conference promoting business links between Canada and China is under fire for inviting a company that’s blacklisted in the United States for its work monitoring the Uighur ethnic group in China.

Jimmy Zhou, executive director of SenseTime, is one of the Chinese corporate leaders invited to speak at the China Forum to be held Nov. 16 and 17 and sponsored by BizChina Club from the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business.

SenseTime is an artificial intelligence startup based in Hong Kong that has worked with Chinese tech giant Huawei to launch a facial recognition program, according to the latter’s website.

In early October, the U.S. Department of Commerce blacklisted SenseTime with other Chinese tech companies for alleged human rights violations against Uighurs in Xinjiang province. Facial recognition technologies from these firms have reportedly been used by the Chinese government to monitor the Muslim minority in the northwestern Chinese province.

Shalina Nurly, youth leader for the Vancouver Uighur Association, said the event at the Vancouver Convention Centre is a disappointment, and the group is considering mounting a protest.

“We have been let down by the UBC community,” said Nurly in an email to CBC News.

“At a time where the world is re-experiencing the Nazi concentration camps [in Xinjiang], we as Canadians should be joining the U.S. as it takes a stand against Communist China for the basic fundamental rights of the Uighur and other Muslim minority groups.”

Promoted as ‘great opportunity’

The event has been promoted by UBC president Santa Ono and George Chow, B.C. minister of state for trade, who describes the two-day conference in a promotional video as “a great opportunity to bridge Canadian and Chinese business and culture.”

The conference has also received support from the Chinese consulate in Vancouver, according to a message on the Chinese instant messaging platform WeChat.

Nurly, a 19-year-old student at Simon Fraser University, also expressed concern about Lina Chen, the chief editor of Sina Weibo, appearing at the conference.

As China’s major social media platform, Sina Weibo has censored topics that Beijing deems politically sensitive, including the animated TV series South Park and the June 4 anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

“What is peculiar about Lina Chen is that she is the deputy secretary of the Chinese Communist Party for her company. How that works is in China, every private company has such a committee in place for the party to get control of the private sector,” said Nurly.

According to Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, 68 per cent of China’s private companies had an internal communist presence by the end of 2016, and that continues to grow.

Business with China carries ‘high risks’

Mabel Tung, the president of the Vancouver Society in Support of Democratic Movement, which organizes the Tiananmen anniversary vigils and rallies in support of Hong Kong protesters, said Canadians should be vigilant about Chinese business ties.

“The recent case of Canada’s two Michaels [Kovrig and Spavor], arbitrarily detained in China since December 2018 without formal charges … serves as a blunt reminder to us Canadians that doing business with communist China carries very high risks that are entirely unpredictable.”

BizChina Club’s president, Michelle Lau, said she was “surprised to hear” about the concerns from local Uighurs, but added that her association “will certainly take these concerns into consideration moving forward.”

A UBC spokesperson said the university is “proud of the initiative and work of all students who are engaging on global issues and ideas.”

Both SenseTime and Sina Weibo have not responded to interview requests.


Fears of election meddling on social media were overblown, say researchers

Hype versus the reality (perhaps Canada not important enough…). The hype was in both mainstream and ethnic media:

Now that the election is over and researchers have combed through the data collected, their conclusion is clear: there was more talk about foreign trolls during the campaign than there was evidence of their activities.

Although there were a few confirmed cases of attempts to deceive Canadians online, three large research teams devoted to detecting co-ordinated influence campaigns on social media report they found little to worry about.

In fact, there were more news reports about malicious activity during the campaign than traces of it.

“We didn’t see high levels of effective disinformation campaigns. We didn’t see evidence of effective bot networks in any of the major platforms. Yet, we saw a lot of coverage of these things,” said Derek Ruths, a professor of computer science at McGill University in Montreal.

He monitored social media for foreign meddling during the campaign and, as part of the Digital Democracy Project, scoured the web for signs of disinformation campaigns.

Threat of foreign influence was hyped

“The vast majority of news stories about disinformation overstated the results and represented them as far more conclusive than they were. It was the case everywhere, with all media,” he said.

It’s a view mirrored by the Ryerson Social Media Lab, which also monitored social media during the campaign.

“Fears of foreign and domestic interference were overblown,” Philip Mai, co-director of the Social Media Lab, told CBC News.

A major focus of monitoring efforts during the campaign was Twitter, a platform favoured by politicians, journalists and partisans of all stripes. It’s where a lot of political exchanges take place, and it’s an easy target for automated influence campaigns.

“Our preliminary analysis of the [Twitter hashtag] #cdnpoli suggests that only about one per cent of accounts that used that hashtag earlier in the election cycle can be classified as likely to be bots,” said Mai.

The word “likely” is key. Any social media analyst will tell you that detecting bonafide automated accounts that exist solely to spread a message far and wide is incredibly difficult.

#TrudeauMustGo and other frenzies

A few times during the campaign, independent researchers found signs that certain conversations on Twitter were being amplified by accounts that appeared to be foreign. For example, the popular hashtag #TrudeauMustGo was tweeted and retweeted in large numbers by users who had the word “MAGA” in their user descriptions.

But this doesn’t mean those users were part of a foreign campaign, Ruths said.

“It’s very hard to prove that those MAGA accounts aren’t Canadian,” he said. “How can you prove who’s Canadian online? What does a Canadian look like on Twitter?”

Few Canadians use Twitter for news. According to the Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, only 11 per cent of Canadians got their news on Twitter in 2019, down slightly from 12 per cent last year.

Twitter’s most avid users tend to be politicians, journalists and highly engaged partisans.

Fenwick McKelvey, an assistant professor at Montreal’s Concordia University who researches social media platforms, said he feels journalists overestimate Twitter’s ability to take the pulse of the voting public.

“Twitter is an elite medium used by journalists and politicians more than everyday Canadians,” McKelvey told CBC News. “Twitter is a very specific public. Not a proxy for public opinion.”

In fact, most Canadians — 57 per cent — told a 2018 survey by the Social Media Lab that they have never shared political opinions on any social media platform.

Tweets for elites

For an idea of just how elitist Twitter can be, take a look at who is driving its political conversations. For some of the major hashtags during the election — like #cdnpoli, #defundCBC and the recently popular #wexit — just a fraction of users post original content. The rest just retweet.

And the users who get the most retweets, the biggest influencers, represent an even tinier sliver of Twitter users, according to data from the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, another outfit that monitored disinformation during the campaign.

“What we thought was a horizontal democratic space is dominated by less than two per cent of accounts,” said Gabrielle Lim, a fellow at the Citizen Lab.

“We need to take everything with a grain of salt when looking at Twitter. Doing data analysis is easy, but we’re bad at contextualizing what it means,” Lim said.

So why this focus on Twitter if it’s such a small and unrepresentative medium for Canadians? Because it’s easy to study. Unless a user sets an account to private, everything posted on Twitter is public and fairly easy to access.

On the other hand, more popular social networks like Facebook make it much harder to harvest user content at scale. A lot of misinformation may also be shared in closed channels like private Facebook groups and WhatsApp groups, which are nearly impossible for outsiders to access.

But even taking into account those larger social media audiences, the evidence shows that Canadians are getting their news from a variety of sources, Lim noted.

Although the threat posed by online disinformation to Canadian democracy was overblown in the context of the 2019 campaign, Ruths said he still believes it was important to be alert, just as it’s important to go to the dentist even if no cavities are found.

And he suggests that journalists looking for evidence of bot activity apply the same level of rigour as the people doing the research.

“We saw a lot of well-intentioned reporting,” he said. “But finding suspected accounts is not the same as finding bots. Saying that MAGA accounts don’t look like Canadians’ doesn’t mean they’re not.”

Source: Fears of election meddling on social media were overblown, say researchers

Former Obama adviser urges Canada to scale back exchanges with Beijing and ban Huawei from 5G

Of note. Money quote highlighted:

Canada should scale back engagement with China until two Canadian hostages are released and ban telecom giant Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. from supplying next-generation 5G mobile technology on national-security grounds, says a member of former U.S. president Barack Obama’s national-security council.

Tarun Chhabra, who was a director on the White House national-security council from 2015-17 and is now a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institute, said Beijing crossed a “red line” in arresting Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in retaliation for the detention of senior Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

“There still has to be a red line, and arbitrary arrests like the two Michaels have to be the red line,” Mr. Chhabra said in an interview with The Globe and Mail on Wednesday.

He said he had expected Beijing’s use of what he called “hostage diplomacy” to have a chilling effect on engagement between Western countries and China, including unofficial discussions and interaction on a non-official level.

“I have to say, I am somewhat disappointed by the fact that hasn’t been the case,” Mr. Chhabra said. “There’s obviously official government business that has to go on, there’s going to be some commerce … [but] I think all of us should be sending a stronger message to Beijing.”

Mr. Chhabra said countries such as Japan, South Korea and Norway have faced “intimidation and coercion” during disputes with China, and he urged liberal democracies to “inoculate themselves” to withstand this bullying.

The Canadian military was criticized after The Globe reported that Ottawa sent 170 athletes and coaches to an armed-forces sports competition in China earlier this month. China’s embassy in Canada cited this participation in the games as more evidence that Beijing’s conduct is not costing it allies. Small-business minister Mary Ng came under fire for travelling to Beijing this summer, even as the two Canadians remained jailed, and tweeting about the ice cream that a Canadian firm is selling there.

“Beijing is very attuned to opportunities to use symbolic gestures, sometimes ones that are perceived to be routine or that have been long-scheduled … as propaganda weapons,” Mr. Chhabra said. “I think you have to review all kinds of exchanges and think more defensively about the ways in which they could be manipulated against you.”

Mr. Chhabra, who is visiting Canada this week to speak to the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy about China’s growing threat, said the federal government should not allow Canadian telecoms to buy Huawei’s 5G technology.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faces a difficult decision on whether to join the United States, Australia and New Zealand in barring Huawei equipment from 5G mobile networks. The United Kingdom and Canada, which with those other three countries form the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance, are conducting security reviews of 5G technology.

“There are serious security concerns with Huawei providing the key components of 5G networks because of cybersecurity concerns that have to do with confidentiality as well as network availability,” Mr. Chhabra said.

This week, Germany’s foreign intelligence service chief warned that Huawei should not be given a significant role in that country’s 5G network because it “cannot be trusted fully.”

Huawei has been fighting U.S. attempts to persuade its Five Eyes partners and other allies to bar the Chinese firm from supplying gear to their 5G networks.

Mr. Chhabra cautioned Ottawa and other Western countries against allowing Huawei equipment because they fear that if they did not, China would punish them economically – as Beijing has done in the case of Ms. Meng, whose father is the founder of Huawei.

China detained Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor only days after Canada arrested Ms. Meng at Vancouver International Airport on an extradition request from the U.S. government.

“Any country that has come under the boot of Chinese intimidation and coercion – why give them more leverage over you?” Mr. Chhabra asked. “Surely the answer cannot be that because we have faced Chinese coercion, we should submit ourselves to far more by making ourselves vulnerable to Chinese control over our telecommunications networks.”

He noted that China itself is wary of allowing foreign telecommunication firms a significant role inside its borders. “Internally, China has always been quite clear about the political power in telecommunications and its absolute insistence that no foreign telecommunication companies be allowed in their networks,” he said.

The U.S. has threatened to curtail sensitive intelligence to countries that allow Huawei into their 5G networks, particularly members of the Five Eyes.

Mr. Chhabra said he wished the Trump administration had not threatened U.S. allies and instead quietly focused on the technical reasons Huawei equipment can’t be trusted.


Beijing says Canadian military participation at Chinese sports competition more proof it’s not losing global support

Another reminder of how the 2020 International Metropolis conference in Beijing will be presented as legitimization of the regime’s repressive policies towards minorities (e.g., “re-education camps” for Uighurs, Tibet) and general human rights abuses.

How DND and others attending didn’t think or consider how this would be presented hard to understand.

If you haven’t already, please consider signing the petition a number of us initiated against the holding of the conference in Beijing:

Beijing’s embassy in Canada says the fact the Canadian military just sent a “big delegation” to a sporting competition in China is more evidence the Asian power is not losing friends.

Canada-China relations are in a deep freeze after Beijing locked up two Canadians in apparent retaliation for Ottawa’s detention of a Chinese high-tech executive on an extradition request from the United States. China banned Canadian pork and beef and severely curbed purchases of Canadian canola seed and soybeans.

China has also come under heavy criticism for how the Beijing-backed administration in Hong Kong is handling unprecedented protests there, and in the mounting scrutiny of the internment of an estimated one million Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang Province.

But the Chinese government, through its representatives in Canada, wants Canadians to know Beijing is not isolated or losing support.

It posted a statement on the website of its embassy in Canada to criticize a column published in The Globe and Mail last week, titled How China Loses Friends and Alienates People. The guest column by a U.S. academic discussed the backlash from China after Daryl Morey, general manager of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, tweeted remarks in support of the protests in Hong Kong and said bullying is self-defeating behaviour that will cost Beijing support.

The embassy said the list of China’s friends is growing. “More and more countries commend China’s foreign policy and development path. China’s friends are all over the world. This is a fact that can neither be obliterated nor changed by some people’s groundless accusations,” the Chinese embassy said.

“In the future, we will have more and more friends in various fields.”

It highlighted the presence of Canada and other nations in the World Military Games, held in China from Oct. 18 to 27.

International participation in the games, which attracted “9,308 military athletes from 109 countries, including a big delegation from Canada, speaks volumes in this regard,” the embassy said.

Ottawa didn’t issue any news release before or during the games to draw attention to Canada’s participation.

Daniel Le Bouthillier, head of media relations at the Department of National Defence, said Canada sent 114 athletes, 57 coaches and support staff.

Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said he’s surprised Canada sent soldiers.

He said Canada must rethink how it engages with Beijing. “Now that we have seen the dark side of China, we have to have a much more realistic approach to China. Yes, we have to engage them … but at the same time we have to take into account they can be very brutal if we do something they don’t like.”

Mr. Saint-Jacques said China’s pressure on other countries and companies to avoid criticism of its conduct is growing: “Their list of red lines is getting longer all the time. It used to be Falun Gong and Tibet and Taiwan. Now it’s Hong Kong and Xinjiang too.”

The Defence Department did not directly answer when asked why Canada sent athletes to China even as Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland accuses Beijing of arbitrarily detaining former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor.

The department said Canada “remains deeply concerned by China’s actions, including the arbitrary detention,” added that it hoped the games foster friendship.

“The spirit of the World Military Games is to create a space for friendly competition among armed forces,” Mr. Le Bouthillier said.

China expert Charles Burton, who served in the Canadian embassy in Beijing, said National Defence should not have participated in the military sports games.

“At this time, there shouldn’t be any celebratory activities going on between Canada and China, and I would suggest a major sports competition is about celebrating friendship and therefore I think it was a mistake for our military to go,” he said.

Mr. Burton said Canada’s participation “must be quite offensive” to the families of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor. The two were arrested and later charged with stealing state secrets after Canada detained senior Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. executive Meng Wanzhou last December. They have been in prison for almost a year.

Canada’s new ambassador to China, Dominic Barton, undertook consular visits with Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig over the last week.

Mr. Burton, a senior fellow at Centre for Advancing Canada’s Interests Abroad, said he hopes the Canadian government will not send athletes to the Beijing Winter Olympic Games in February, 2022, because that would be signalling “that relations are normal and passively accepting what China is doing.”

Conservative MP Peter Kent said it was inappropriate to send athletes to Beijing.

“It is unacceptable. Basically, the government should be curtailing completely collegial events at a time when Canadians are held hostage and where trade embargoes have been improperly placed on contracted Canadian sectors,” he said.

Mr. Kent also said Canada should also consider boycotting the Olympics.

Source: pointing to

How Assad’s man got a priceless antiquity out of Canada and into Syria

Sometimes, literally following the rules makes governments miss the bigger picture:

Waseem Ramli, the notorious Montreal businessman whose diplomatic status as honorary consul for the blood-drenched Baathist regime in Syria was revoked by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland last month, is being officially heralded in Damascus these days as a selfless and patriotic national hero.

But it’s not because he’d managed to secure diplomatic credentials from Global Affairs Canada this summer, despite being feared and loathed by the Syrian refugee community in Montreal—he’s often seen driving around in a fire-engine-red Humvee with a portrait of Syrian tyrant Bashar al-Assad on a side window. It’s because he pulled off an altogether different and equally dramatic Canadian caper, right under everybody’s noses, in the weeks before the Assad regime appointed him to serve as a diplomat in Canada. And no law was broken.

In broad daylight, Ramli walked out of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts with a priceless 1,820-kilogram late 5th century Byzantine Christian mosaic. Measuring roughly 3.5 meters by 2.8 meters, the mosaic, originally from the vicinity of Hama on the Orontes River, was unveiled at a glamorous ceremony in Damascus on Monday. At the celebration, Ramli was praised to the skies for having secured the Hama mosaic’s acquisition over the repeated objections of Canadian officials.

But Canadian officials raised no objections at all to surrendering the Early Christian artwork to the Syrian Arab Republic, Maclean’s has learned. The process that led to the ceremonial unveiling of the Hama mosaic in Damascus on Monday was a lot like the cavalcade of official and inadvertent Global Affairs sign-offs that led to Ramli’s authorization to act as the Syrian regime’s honorary consul in Montreal.

Freeland pulled Ramli’s credentials after she learned from a Sept. 23 report in Maclean’s that her own department’s Office of Protocol had authorized and registered Ramli to act on the Assad regime’s behalf. But it’s too late for the Hama mosaic. It’s now at the Syrian National Museum in Damascus.

The massive mosaic came from a shipment of 82 mosaic fragments that the Syrian regime exported illegally in the late 1990s, likely in connivance with the smugglers themselves. The collection was intercepted by the RCMP and Canada Customs officials, and the artifacts were eventually returned to Syria, except for the Hama mosaic. Although it had been cut into two pieces, apparently for ease in transport, the mosaic was so magnificent that McGill University professor John Fossey, the Montreal museum’s curator of Greek art at the time, managed to arrange a loan of the work for display at the museum.

The loan was extended several times, starting in 2004. Assad plunged Syria into a nightmare of mass death and jihadist mayhem in 2011, and after 500,000 dead and more than six million refugees, he’s been winning. On Dec. 29 last year, Ramli walked into the museum, presented a letter from the Syrian government, and demanded that the museum surrender the Hama mosaic to him.

“When he first came in to us in December, I think he expected that overnight we could just take it down and hand it to him,” Hilliard Goldfarb, senior collections curator and curator of old masters at the Montreal museum, told me. But there were forms to be filled out, and proper authorizations to be obtained. Still, last April, Ramli was on hand at the museum to observe the mosaic being carefully taken down from its display mounting and placed in a special crate.

On May 13, the Hama mosaic was placed on an Air France flight to Paris. From Paris it was shipped to Beirut, and then transferred to the National Museum of Damascus where it was unveiled on Monday at a posh gathering of regime officials and diplomats from the few countries that haven’t severed relations with Assad’s rogue regime. At Monday’s unveiling ceremony, according to coverage by Syria’s state news agency, Mahmoud Hammou, the country’s director general of antiquities and museums, praised Ramli as a Syrian patriot who’d managed to acquire the Hama mosaic and arrange for its return to Damascus “at his own expense,” despite successive objections from Canadian authorities “under the pretext of the war on Syria.”

That’s not even close to what actually happened. Between Dec. 29 and May 13, Ramli’s efforts to get the Hama mosaic back into the hands of the Assad regime were dutifully stickhandled by a variety of helpful and perfectly friendly Canadian officials. “We were in touch with both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cultural Heritage in this matter, and we were told, yes, this work can be returned,” Goldfarb said. “We had contact by phone and by email with various parties. Canada was well aware of what was going on.”

There was a bit of a rigmarole, but Ramli’s demands were all met within six months.

“I’m not a politician. I’m an art historian. I don’t for a minute want to be seen as defending the Syrian regime, which I find absolutely horrible, but that’s not the issue we were handling,” Goldfarb said. “We were fully in touch with all the authorities. Really, to my mind, we didn’t have much choice.”

And that’s because Global Affairs Canada didn’t give the museum a choice. Nobody said no. Nobody even said, hold on, maybe we should just say no, this belongs to the Syrian people, not to the criminal regime in Damascus. So Goldfarb and his colleagues had little option but to comply with Ramli’s demands and hand over the Hama mosaic.
“Global Affairs Canada had no role in facilitating its return,” Adam Austen, speaking for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, told me.

This is, arguably, not untrue. The Cultural Property Export and Import Act requires that property lent to Canadian institutions be returned as the loan contract stipulates, and export permits to return loaned property are automatically approved. Ordinarily, ministerial discretion doesn’t enter into it.

But Syria is no ordinary country.

The reopening of the National Museum of Damascus last year has afforded the Baathist regime several propaganda opportunities in its push to rehabilitate its global reputation and persuade the international community that Assad has won the scorched-earth war he has been waging on the Syrian people. Last Monday’s unveiling of the Hama mosaic at the National Museum was a propaganda victory for the regime. And quite a few Canadian officials, at the highest level, either signed off on the file or just let the transfer proceed without objection.

That is how Ramli ended up registered by Global Affairs Canada as an officially authorized diplomat, too. A Liberal Party donor and proprietor of the Cocktail Hawaii restaurant on Rue Maisonneuve, Ramli calls the heroic first responders of Syria’s White Helmets organization “terrorists” and al-Qaeda operatives. This was a bit much for Freeland, because last year, she led an international rescue operation that brought about 250 White Helmets and their families to settle as refugees in Canada.

Ramli obtained his honorary-consul credentials from Ottawa in August after travelling to Damascus in June, where he obtained his diplomatic appointment from the Assad regime only days after posing for photographs with Justin Trudeau at a Liberal Party fundraiser. He was all set to open a consular office in Montreal on Oct. 1, and he would have been the most senior Baathist official in North America, if Freeland hadn’t furiously intervened and revoked his credentials.

Ramli would have ended up with consular-services power over tens of thousands of Syrian immigrants and refugees across Eastern Canada and throughout much of the United States. That’s because Syrian diplomats were expelled from North America in 2012 in response to Assad’s crimes against humanity, and since then, honorary consulates have operated only in Vancouver and Montreal, and only intermittently. All requests for birth certificates, diplomas, remittance arrangments and so on would have had to run through Ramli.

Canada and the U.S. are among dozens of countries that have cut diplomatic ties with the Assad regime. Suspended from the Arab League in 2011 and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in 2012, Syria is a pariah state, subjected to United Nations sanctions, European Union sanctions, and U.S. and Canadian sanctions. But in dealing with the Assad regime’s application for diplomatic credentials on Ramli’s behalf, the “vetting” process fell apart. Everybody did their jobs, but nobody noticed the Office of Protocol standards stipulating that honorary consuls should be individuals of standing in the community, and shouldn’t be politically active. Syria was treated as though it were a normal country, like Costa Rica, or South Korea.

And in the matter of Ramli’s determination to retrieve the Hama mosaic on the Assad regime’s behalf, the Cultural Property Export and Import Act was followed as though Syria was France, or India, or Ireland.

Since 2011, when Assad first put the torch to his country, Syria’s cultural patrimony has been looted and traded on the black market by ISIS, pro-democracy rebels, and by the regime itself. The collection of artifacts containing the Hama mosaic had been spirited out of Syria in 1996, apparently by individuals close to the dictatorship of Bashar Assad’s father, Hafez Assad.

After he showed up out of the blue last Dec. 29 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts demanding the mosaic’s return, Ramli was politely received, and advised of the proper documentation he’d need to provide. Despite the Assad regime’s claim that the Canadian authorities had refused to return the mosaic “despite successive official demands,” Ramli was treated with every courtesy.

In January, Ramli returned to the museum with a letter from the Syria’s Ministry of Culture. On Feb. 4, Bashar Jaafari, the permanent representative of the Syrian Arab Republic at the United Nations, passed along Ramli’s power-of-attorney documents to Marc-André Blanchard, the former McCarthy-Tetrault chief executive officer and president of the Quebec Liberal Party that Trudeau had appointed Canada’s head of mission at the UN.

The unveiling of the 1,800-kilogram, late 5th Century Byzantine Christian mosaic at the National Museum on Damascus, as seen on the website of Syria’s state news agency. The mosaic had previously been at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. (SANA)

Blanchard handed it up, and on Feb. 12, Freeland’s office was formally advised of the proceedings. Andrew Leslie, the retired general and Orleans MP who served as Freeland’s parliamentary secretary, was brought into the loop in March. Rory Raudsepp-Hearne, Global Affairs’ team lead for Syria and Lebanon, signed off on it. So did senior cultural affairs officials with the Department of Canadian Heritage.

No sanctions lines were crossed because no money changed hands, and Canada’s custody of the mosaic ended in Lebanon. In Beirut. The Canadian embassy there formally handed custody off to Syrian officials for transport to Damascus.

The Hama mosaic is a thing of great beauty. It was excavated from the floor of a church or a convent that was built in the days before the arrival of the conquerer Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah, when Hama was known in Byzantium as Emathoùs. It is adorned with Christian iconography—the tree of life, a chalice, sheep, fish and birds.

There’s little left of the beauty of Hama. In 1982, Bashar’s father, Hafez, laid siege to the city to quell a rebellion. The Syrian Human Rights Committee reckons 40,000 people died in the slaughter. Since 2011, when Bashar took up his father’s penchant for atrocity, Hama has been bombed, its people massacred over and over and over again.

As for the Hama mosaic: “Everything was done by the book,” a senior official close to Freeland explained to me. “Thank you for bringing this to our attention. This kind of situation repeating itself is highly unlikely.”

Source: How Assad’s man got a priceless antiquity out of Canada and into Syria

Analysis: The Long Arm Of China And Free Speech

More evidence as if we did not know:

Doing business in China comes with major strings attached. This week it became evident that a few provocative words can cause those strings to tighten.

A single tweet by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey in support of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong unleashed massive retaliation from China that put the team and the entire NBA on notice. China’s state TV cut off preseason games and ominously announced it would “immediately investigate all co-operation and exchanges involving the NBA.” Tencent, a major Chinese social media company with a reported $1.5 billion streaming deal with the NBA, said it will no longer stream Rockets games, even though the team is immensely popular in China.

China’s message to foreign companies and their employees is clear: Watch what you say on matters sensitive to our country if you want to do business here. This hardball response to Morey and the NBA fits a pattern of threats and reprisals against foreign organizations wading (even unintentionally) into the country’s sensitive internal politics.

Facing boycott threats this summer, Western fashion brands apologized for T-shirts that suggested that Taiwan and Hong Kong were independent countries rather than territories that are part of China. It isn’t just top executives who have paid a price for speech that offends China’s sensibilities. Last year, a Marriott employee earning $14 an hour used a company account to like a post on Twitter from a Tibetan separatist group. A Chinese tourism organization demanded an apology and urged Marriott to “seriously deal with the people responsible.” The employee was fired. When China threatens a foreign business, compliance typically prevails over resistance.

China’s efforts to impose speech controls on international companies and their workers have largely succeeded. Morey deleted his tweet. The NBA put out a statement saying the tweet doesn’t represent NBA or the Rockets, which led to an uproar in the U.S. and another statement from the NBA.

The league’s initial response provoked a torrent of criticism in the United States; in a rare show of unity, leading Democrats and Republicans rebuked the NBA for caving to China and failing to stand up for Morey’s free speech rights.

American companies have grudgingly accepted all kinds of Chinese rules for years. They may bristle about how they are forced to transfer technology in exchange for access to China’s market and about Chinese cyber spies who threaten their intellectual property. But the potential rewards — all those consumers, a middle class that’s expected to reach 550 million by 2022 — are just too great to spurn. And that means playing by China’s rules.

One notable recent exception: South Park, the sardonic, boundary busting Comedy Central cartoon. Last week’s episode, “Band in China,” appeared to offend authorities so much that all traces of the show — episodes, clips, discussion groups and social media posts — vanished from major platforms in China.

South Park‘s creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, seized on the moment to issue a fake apology mocking China’s President Xi Jinping and the NBA:


“Like the NBA, we welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts. We too love money more than freedom and democracy. Xi doesn’t look just like Winnie the Pooh at all. Tune into our 300th episode Wednesday at 10! Long live the Great Communist Party of China! May this autumn’s sorghum harvest be bountiful! We good now China?”

In fairness to the NBA, South Park thrives on political agitation. The basketball league has painstakingly built a thriving connection with hundreds of millions of Chinese fans.

The NBA has notably supported players and coaches who express their political views on subjects ranging from police violence to guns and President Trump. But Daryl Morey’s seven-word tweet “Fight For Freedom Stand With Hong Kong” puts the league’s progressive image to its sternest test. On Tuesday, the well-regarded NBA Commissioner Adam Silver sought to clarify the league’s position, saying it would “protect its employees’ freedom of speech,” while at the same time apologizing to the league’s fans in China.

The apology failed to defuse the league’s crisis. China’s state-run television network said it was “strongly dissatisfied” with Silver’s remarks. And it bluntly declared that any speech challenging China’s “social stability” doesn’t fall within the realm of freedom of speech.

The Chinese message is loud and clear: Your free speech ends at the water’s edge.

Source: Analysis: The Long Arm Of China And Free Speech

Hong Kong democracy advocates angry after Ottawa-funded group buys ad backing China’s side

Understandably so:

A Chinese Canadian group that has received more than $130,000 in federal funding published a newspaper advertisement that condemned democracy protesters in Hong Kong and closely mirrored Beijing’s stance on unrest in the city.

Critics of the regime say they’re appalled that Canadian taxpayers are backing an organization that would pay to intervene on China’s side in the Hong Kong turmoil, likely at the behest of Chinese officials.

But it’s not the only recent example of federal funding linked to activities that support Beijing, as the two countries remain locked in a tense diplomatic standoff.

The ad placed by the “non-political” Council of Newcomer Organizations appeared weeks before a festival co-organized by China’s consulate general in Toronto, designed in part to celebrate the 70 th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic.

Our government is using taxpayers’ money to enable CCP influence and infiltration into our society and politics

Heritage Canada gave a multiculturalism grant of $62,000 to last month’s “Dragon Festival” through the event’s other organizer, the Canadian Association of Chinese Performing Arts.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government invited the heads of both the newcomer council — which was founded by Liberal MP Geng Tan — and the performing arts group to attend this week’s anniversary celebrations in Beijing.

Council executive chairman Zhu Jiang was quoted as saying he wept as he witnessed the military parade through Tiananmen Square Tuesday, realizing how much he “loved the motherland.”

“Our taxpayers’ money should have never been used to fund such organizations and activities,” said Ivy Li, a spokeswoman for the group Canadian Friends of Hong Kong. “By doing so, our government is using taxpayers’ money to enable CCP (Chinese Communist Party) influence and infiltration into our society and politics. This is a total betrayal of Canadian voters.”

It is “very troubling” that Ottawa helped pay for an event — the Dragon Festival — that marked a totalitarian state’s anniversary, added Cheuk Kwan of the Toronto Association for Democracy in China. The consulate “should be funding the whole thing, and then they can make whatever speech they want,” he said.

Heritage Canada, the main funder of the newcomer council, was unable to comment by deadline.

Neither the newcomer council nor Dragon Festival organizers could be reached for comment.

Critics say the incidents are just the latest examples of China’s long soft-power reach into Canadian society, with the added wrinkle of financial support from Ottawa.

Beijing has reportedly poured increasing resources into such efforts in recent years, the influence campaigns spearheaded by a party branch called the United Front Work Department (which reportedly invited Zhu to the anniversary gala). Its actions have come under newfound scrutiny in Canada as the feud with China unfolds.

The arrest in January of Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou under an extradition treaty with the U.S. touched off an angry response from Beijing. China imprisoned two Canadians on ill-defined espionage charges, abruptly increased a Canadian’s drug-trafficking sentence to death from 15 years in jail, and imposed trade barriers on billions in Canadian agricultural imports.

The Council of Newcomer Organizations placed its ad in the Chinese Canadian Times — a free, Chinese-language newspaper that claims a “vast distribution network across Ontario” — in early August.

At that point, the Hong Kong demonstrations had been mostly peaceful, bringing a million or more people to the streets some days to oppose a now-defunct extradition law, decry alleged police brutality and call for more democracy.

The council’s ad dismissed the protests as a foreign-incited assault on the city’s stability, much as the strife has been characterized by China itself.

“Recently, certain self-serving political actors who do not hesitate to collude with foreign anti-Chinese powers, luring young extremist activists to be their cannon fodder, have continuously violated the peace of Hong Kong,” it said in part.

Heritage Canada said it has funded the council to the tune of $99,760 over the past several years. Employment and Social Development Canada granted it $38,000 in 2016.

The council’s own website — which describes the group as non-political — suggests an orientation toward China.

Much of the site is devoted to sports events, essay contests and other activities for local young people. But one of five sections in the English version – headed “legislation” – lists summaries of several Chinese laws, including one outlining restrictions on religious activities by foreigners. And there are several articles about “roots-seeking” trips for youth to China, organized by Beijing’s Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, part of the United Front.

Last month’s Dragon Festival outside Toronto’s City Hall involved booths and performances highlighting Chinese arts, food and culture.

But at its launch, one master of ceremonies said in Mandarin it was also an early celebration of “the 70th birthday of our motherland.” In his speech, Consul General Han Tao said the festival should help increase understanding and friendship between peoples, and then referenced the 70 th anniversary on Oct. 1 and China’s rise from a “poor and weak” nation to the world’s second-largest economy.

A consulate press release on the festival said in Chinese it would include events to “celebrate the (ancestral) homeland” on the occasion of the anniversary.

Source: Hong Kong democracy advocates angry after Ottawa-funded group buys ad backing China’s side

Terry Glavin: Apparently blind spots extend to supporters of Syrian mass murderers

Full credit to Terry for having provided Syrian Canadians with a voice that forced government to reverse its decision:

Well, that’s done then.

That creepy fella who’s been driving around the streets of Montreal in a gigantic bright red Humvee with a 1Syria custom licence plate and a portrait of Syrian mass murderer Bashar al-Assad on a side window has finally fallen out of favour with the Liberal Party of Canada.

Waseem Ramli is now expunged from the party’s digital fundraising rolodexes. Banned from further photo opportunities with the dashing Justin Trudeau, and struck from the first-class invitation lists maintained by the embarrassed staffers who toil for Marc Miller, Liberal MP for Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Sœurs.

And thanks to the exasperated last-minute interventions of Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland — who is ordinarily smart enough not to get caught up in this kind of thing — the Baathist fanboy proprietor of the Cocktail Hawaii restaurant over on Rue Maisonneuve will not be entrusted, after all, with the delicate and confidential consular affairs of tens of thousands of Syrian immigrants and refugees who have fled Assad’s bloody nightmare state and ended up refugees, something like 60,000 of them, in Canada.

Waseem Ramli is now expunged from the party’s digital fundraising rolodexes

Blindsided badly by the Office of Protocol in her own Global Affairs bureaucracy, Freeland was furious with the revelation (yes that was me, I confess) in Maclean’s magazine on Monday that the colourful Mr. Ramli, Montreal’s notorious advocate of the world’s most thoroughly blood-soaked pariah state, had been greenlighted, duly authorized and credentialed by her own department to serve as honorary consul of the Syrian Arab Republic in Montreal.

Might it have been the poster-style photograph of Ramli and Trudeau that had been making the rounds after first appearing on Ramli’s Facebook page a few weeks ago? Was it the photograph of Ramli with Marc Miller from that same June 17 Liberal party “armchair conversation” fundraising event in Montreal? Is it not just possible that the Global Affairs’ authorization of Ramli was the result of a certain poor schmuck in the Office of Protocol who thought, “hey, he must be a good guy, a made guy, right?” Or maybe, “hey, I better just stamp this guy’s papers, because if I don’t, I’ll have the Prime Minister’s Office breathing down my neck, right?”

Everybody makes mistakes. I make mistakes. Sometimes I file so late past my deadline I wonder why my editors still put up with me. I’ve never put on a woolly black wig and painted my face and hands and arms and legs black and jumped around with my tongue wagging out of my head, mind you. But to be fair to Trudeau, there is one explanation he’s offered for the serial blackface and brownface spectacle he’s made of himself over the years, which we are only now learning about, that makes some sense, in this particular context.

It’s this one: “I have always acknowledged that I come from a place of privilege, but I now need to acknowledge that comes with a massive blind spot,” he said.

Maybe he’s got some sort of blind spot, which similarly afflicts his old friend and fellow Montrealer Marc Miller, when it comes to people whose faces are vaguely brown. Maybe that would explain why Miller has had several friendly encounters with the generous Waseem Ramli over the years and yet somehow remained blissfully unaware of the eccentric restaurateur’s unseemly affiliations and the dread he instilled in Montreal’s Syrian refugee community.

Ramli tells me he’s not a Liberal party member. He was content to shell out several hundred dollars to attend that June 17 fundraiser and photo session with Trudeau, and he declined to tell me how much he’s contributed to the Liberal party, or to Miller’s war chest, over the years. As is his perfect right. And maybe it doesn’t have a damn thing to do with money. Marc Miller is not a bad man. He’s a genuinely decent guy. Maybe it’s just about votes, and the blind spot here is the thing some politicians imagine about votes coming in distinct colours. There certainly is a pattern, anyway. Sometimes it’s like déjà vu.

In the lead-up to the past federal election, some strange sort of blind spot afflicting the soft-palmed and the posh, or people with “privilege” as they now classify themselves, may well have been at work in the way nobody in the Liberal party noticed anything untoward about the affiliations of the party’s own national director of outreach, who went on to become a greenlighted contender for the Liberal candidacy in Nepean.

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland… has overturned the approval of Montreal businessman Waseem Ramli, a supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as Syria’s honorary consul in Montreal. Sebastien St.-Jean/AFP/Getty Images

Nour El Kadri, it turned out, was so intimately associated with the Syrian Social Nationalist Party that the SSNP’s cadre and literature had consistently and invariably described Kadri as one of the SSNP’s central leaders in Canada. And the SSNP, it fell to me to point out back then, was at the time a component of Bashar Assad’s ruling coalition, and its death squads were terrorizing the city of Homs and the suburbs of Damascus. You’d think a party with its own stylized swastika and an anthem sung to the tune of Deutschland, Deutschland Uber Alles might have been a giveaway.

But there’s that blind spot again.

And so those poor, banished children of Eve, the Syrians trudging the roads of the world in their millions, among whom some paltry few thousand have been permitted to settle in Canada, and it is their place to tell us how lovely we are for allowing them in, and this is the sort of thing they see. A Humvee, of exactly the kind that the Shabiha drive around Damascus, at night, and the horror stories of kids who never made it through their checkpoints, and now here in Canada a bright red one, with a portrait of Bashar on the side, in the streets of Montreal. And it becomes unbearable, and they make a telephone call to some journalist they know. And they ask whether something might be done about their dread, and they fear they would be seen as insufficiently appreciative of the handsome and dashing prime minister who built his reputation on being so kind to them, the man who so generously allowed them to come, if they complained too loudly. And they ask, please, don’t use my name, because they are afraid of the man in the Humvee.

Hell of a blind spot to fail to see the shame and the disgrace in that.

Source: Terry Glavin: Apparently blind spots extend to supporters of Syrian mass murderers

Former Canadian ambassador suggests registry to help identify foreign agents

Hard to disagree:

A veteran of Canada’s diplomatic corps is urging the creation of a federal registry, modelled on one in Australia, to shed light on the work Canadians, including former senior public officials, are doing on behalf of foreign governments.

David Mulroney, who worked for 32 years in the Canadian foreign service, including as Canada’s ambassador to China, said there’s an increasing risk today that foreign governments are using Canadians to mould public opinion and lawmaking here.

“It is not being alarmist to suggest that foreign countries continue to seek influence in Canada and that some are even willing to interfere covertly in Canadian affairs. If anything, the threat is growing,” Mr. Mulroney said in an interview.

What he’s proposing is that Canadians paid to lobby or communicate political messages on behalf of foreign states or enterprises owned by a foreign government would be required to disclose their activities in a federal registry. He said his proposal goes far beyond the scope of the existing federal lobbyists registry, which he says has loopholes that do not capture all activity he believes should be brought to light.

Mr. Mulroney said the rise of China as an economic and geopolitical power has added urgency to the question of foreign interference and influence. “China’s Communist Party has well-developed mechanisms for influencing political opinion in foreign countries,” he said.

He said he was unwilling to comment on individual cases, but stated that, under his proposal, virtually any work undertaken by former Canadian officials for China’s state-owned corporations would need to be disclosed in a registry.

New foreign-influence transparency laws took effect recently in Australia. The rules came in response to concerns about Chinese government influence in Australian politics.

Under Mr. Mulroney’s proposal, former cabinet ministers would be required to register almost all work – not just lobbying – that they are doing for foreign governments or related entities. Mr. Mulroney argues that international work promoting Canadian values and interests – such as humanitarian work – would remain exempt, but all other employment in which a foreign state is seeking to benefit from the knowledge, experience or contacts a former minister gained while serving Canada would need to be reported. The obligation would last their lifetime.

Former senior public servants, including deputy ministers, assistant deputy ministers and ambassadors, would face the same high bar for registration, but only for 15 years.

Mr. Mulroney is publishing his proposal in a paper through the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an Ottawa-based think tank.

Ward Elcock, a former director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and former deputy minister of National Defence, said he supports Mr. Mulroney’s proposed registry.

“There are foreign governments who did have an interest in influencing Canadian public policy in one way or another and, yes, I think transparency is required,” he said.

However, Mr. Elcock said a registry won’t help if former politicians or senior bureaucrats attempt to hide their affiliation with foreign governments or state-owned enterprises.

Richard Fadden, another former director of CSIS, said he broadly supports Mr. Mulroney’s proposal.

Mr. Fadden, who was also national security adviser to prime ministers Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau, said he thinks however that China is “far from the only country for us to worry about” and would like to see the registration requirements also apply to Canadian military ranks down to the Canadian Armed Forces equivalent of an assistant deputy minister.

Mr. Mulroney is proposing two extra measures on top of what Australia has done.

Any Canadians serving on federal government boards, agencies, foundations or councils in Canada would be prohibited from working for foreign governments or related entities for the duration of their appointment. It would also require Canadians to relinquish membership in what is called the Queen’s Privy Council, which is a lifetime designation granted to prime ministers, cabinet ministers and chief justices of Canada.

Mr. Fadden doesn’t support requiring Canadians in the Queen’s Privy Council to relinquish membership if they work for a foreign government.

He said if a former senior public official is, for instance, working for Britain to help promote a bilateral trade deal with Canada they shouldn’t be forced to give up the P.C. designation.

Stockwell Day, a former Conservative cabinet minister and vice-chair of the Canada China Business Council, a lobby group, said the proposed registry is not needed given existing rules against lobbying that remain in place for half a decade after leaving office.

Mr. Day said he could see the registry becoming a “nightmarish bureaucratic overburden trying to report working arrangements of individuals 15 years after they have been in office” and predicted the law would almost certainly also be challenged in court “as an unconstitutional restriction on the right to work.”

Mr. Mulroney said however that existing lobbying registry rules do not cover the sort of disclosure he’s proposing. “Think about the possibility of a former, or even a current politician taking talking points from a foreign government. … If you are speaking or disseminating information on behalf of a foreign entity, you need to be clear about your sources. Otherwise you mislead Canadians.”

Source:   Politics Former Canadian ambassador suggests registry to help identify foreign agents Subscriber content Steven Chase September 23    

Canadian officials honour Nazi collaborators in Ukraine, angering Jewish groups

Not quite as simple as portrayed: see tweet from former Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine, Andrew Robinson:

The Canadian Forces and Global Affairs Canada are facing criticism after honouring members of Ukrainian organizations that helped the Nazis in the Second World War.

Canada’s Ambassador to Ukraine Roman Waschuk spoke at an Aug. 21 ceremony that unveiled a monument in Sambir to honour members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), two groups that are linked to the killing of tens of thousands of Jews and Poles.

The event has been condemned by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre and the Ukrainian Jewish Committee who warn the memorial whitewashes the role of Ukrainian collaborators in the Holocaust.

“All Jews of Sambir were murdered by Nazis and their collaborators from OUN and UPA,” Eduard Dolinsky, director-general of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee based in Kiev, told Postmedia.

The monument, which is at the edge of a cemetery holding the remains of more than 1,200 Jews murdered by the Nazis and Ukrainian collaborators, is a desecration and “double murder of the Jewish victims,” Dolinsky said. “It’s like putting a monument to killers on the top of the graves of their victims.”

Global Affairs Canada said the Sambir event was intended to assist efforts by the Jewish community in Canada and Ukraine to build public support to create an eventual memorial for the Jewish cemetery in the town. That was the reason for Waschuk’s attendance and to suggest otherwise would be false, the department said.

The memorial is to 17 members of the OUN who the Ukrainians say were killed by the Nazis. Waschuk, in his speech at the ceremony, paid tribute to the murdered Jews, Ukrainians who tried to help them and “those Ukrainians who fought against the Nazi regime as members of OUN-UPA.”

Members of the OUN-UPA supported the Nazis and helped round up and execute Jews after the Germans invaded Ukraine, according to Holocaust historians. At one point, they broke away from their support of the Nazis, but later joined forces again with Germany. In 1943 the UPA started massacring Polish civilians, killing an estimated 100,000 men, women and children, according to historians.

The Canadian Forces said in a statement that military personnel were requested by the Canadian embassy in Ukraine to attend. The attendance was “part of a whole government effort to champion tolerance in a democratic Ukraine and reiterate that totalitarian regimes (in both past and contemporary times, and under all guises) have done injustices to Ukrainians,” the statement said.

Jewish organizations have been trying for years to erect a memorial at the Jewish cemetery. But Sambir locals have resisted that, removing the Star of David at the site and instead erecting three large Christian crosses on the Jewish cemetery. A compromise was eventually reached; in exchange for removing the crosses, a memorial to the dead OUN-UPA would be erected.

Waschuk called the memorial “a monument of love to one’s motherland. And a motherland must know how to defend itself so that it does not suffer again from waves of inhuman totalitarian terror as happened during World War 2.”

It’s not the first time that Canadian actions in Ukraine have raised concerns.

In June 2018 the Canadian government and military officials in Ukraine met with members of the ultranationalist Azov Battalion, which earlier that year had been banned by the U.S. Congress from receiving American arms because of its links to Neo-Nazis

The Canadians were photographed with Azov battalion members, images which were shared on the battalion’s social media site.

In a statement to Postmedia the Canadian Forces noted the meeting was planned by Ukrainian authorities and Canadian representatives had no prior knowledge of those who would be invited. The Azov battalion has been connected to war crimes by the United Nations.

Various Jewish groups have warned about efforts to whitewash Nazi collaborators in eastern European countries, portraying them as heroes instead of those who aided in the Holocaust. Earlier this year, the Canadian government added its voice to those condemning an annual parade in Latvia’s capital honouring members of the Nazi SS, saying it opposes any such event glorifying Adolf Hitler’s regime.

Around 1,000 people marched in the parade in Riga on March 16 in honour of the Latvian SS divisions which fought for the Nazis in the Second World War. Some in the parade wore swastikas and other Nazi insignias.

Source: Canadian officials honour Nazi collaborators in Ukraine, angering Jewish groups