Protecting academic freedom in international partnerships

Some valid suggestions to reduce foreign government influence:

We live in an age of academic internationalisation, especially pronounced in the United Kingdom. This has in many ways been a good thing. 

It has become more common for research institutions across the globe to establish collaborative research and joint degree programmes, often hugely benefiting research and teaching. Individual scholars and students travel more easily and frequently today, too, and their ideas and arguments travel with them. 

Moreover, even when physical travel is interrupted, as it is at the moment, academic communities can interact and stay connected remotely. 

But internationalisation has also produced new risks, especially in the context of engagement, exchange and collaboration with non-democratic countries. 

In an age of ‘democratic retrogression’ and deepening authoritarianism affecting many countries, many members of the global academic community face growing challenges – including censorship and travel restrictions, disciplinary measures and dismissals, criminal prosecutions and even physical attacks, as has been well documented by Scholars At Risk and other groups. 

Such repression has become increasingly internationalised, not only because repressive governments can extend threats and censorship across borders, but also because marketised funding structures, the casualisation of academic work and an opportunistic approach to building global ties have made academic actors within liberal democracies more vulnerable – and sometimes less willing to stand up for academic freedom and integrity. 

This is the case, for example, when universities take funding that comes with strings attached or raises concerns about the donor’s political goals or when academic publishers decide to accept censorship instructions from autocratic governments, apparently for commercial reasons. 

Exporting repression

Against this background, we must be concerned about the terms of our engagement with academic institutions abroad, as well as about repressive governments and institutions’ ability to ‘export repression’ in the field of academia.

At a time when the global pandemic has changed academic life beyond recognition for many of us in the UK and globally, and as we are already overburdened with the challenges arising immediately from COVID, we may feel reluctant to engage with further, more long-term challenges. 

Yet, as members of the recently established Academic Freedom and Internationalisation Working Group (AFIWG) in the UK, we feel that the challenges posed by academic internationalisation must be dealt with without delay – and, indeed, that the pandemic has exacerbated some of these challenges, for example, by making us more dependent on online communication.

Universities could respond in several ways. Denial – such as that by the Chair of Million Plus group of universities, Bill Rammell, in his evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) of the House of Commons in 2019 – is no longer tenable. 

An auditing response of generic and top-down reporting requirements, which spread like viruses through UK higher education, are also unlikely to touch conditions on the ground. 

Similarly, the notion that universities must “sensitively balance the need to uphold academic freedom with the importance of internal academic collaboration”– as suggested by then Universities UK president Janet Beer in her letter to the FAC – is equally inadequate and betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the value of academic freedom. 

Faced with such inertia, the UK government, including its security agencies, have pressed British higher education to develop security guidelines and risk management strategies. In guidance just released, Universities UK finally addresses these concerns with academic freedom considered among a range of objects and values to be defended, including intellectual property and “national security”.

A new code of conduct

However, while there may be a need for draconian measures in rare cases, a national security approach is largely inappropriate as it is founded on false premises. 

UK universities are not national institutions under threat, but global institutions so thoroughly internationalised that any attempt to cut them off from foreign influence may make the problem worse. 

It would feed the narrative of some authoritarian states that they are vehicles of British ‘soft power’ against their values and even Trojan horses for spying researchers. 

A far better response is for a bottom-up process led by academic staff, supported by students, civil society and unions. 

The AFIWG has composed a Draft Model Code of Conduct for UK higher education institutions to bestow duties on them to protect their academic communities at home and abroad and be transparent and accountable to their members. 

It is a draft and a model so it can be revised in the coming months of consultation and adapted from the minimum standards enshrined in the model.

These minimum standards include a stipulation that universities must undertake meaningful risk assessment and due diligence when transnational collaboration is being considered before any agreement or arrangement is begun. 

In particular, they must ensure memorandums of understanding (MoUs) on international partnerships, including foreign campuses and the affiliation of foreign education or research institutions to UK higher education institutions within the UK, are subject to consultation across the university.

With regard to protecting their staff and students overseas, universities must evaluate academic freedom and the risks associated with its absence, as when planning fieldwork and field trips abroad, and make available enhanced travel insurance to cover politically motivated or arbitrary detention by state authorities.

On campuses at home, universities should ensure that academic freedom requirements, including personal data protection for these members of the academic community, are incorporated within all MoUs with state scholarship programmes. Vice-chancellors and their gifts committees must make all MoUs and summary information on all foreign donations public.

A system of confidential and public reporting is required to enhance protection and accountability. UK universities should establish a confidential and independent internal reporting mechanism to a designated individual on campus for cases or issues of concern, while serious cases and issues, including all those involving a threat to the welfare of the complainant, should be passed to a new, independent ombudsperson.

An academic freedom model in authoritarian times?

This is a model and draft which may have relevance far beyond the UK. It is designed to be revised via debate on campus among staff and students and adopted according to minimum conditions. The duties it imposes are on universities’ leaders – not on staff and students who may be vulnerable themselves. 

But there is a risk. If vice-chancellors pass down the code of conduct in the form of new and onerous auditing requirements for staff, or if governments make them matters of national security, academic freedom will be weakened, not strengthened. The way to protect academic freedom is for universities to be held to account by their academics and students. 

We must use our freedom before we lose it. 

John Heathershaw is professor of international relations at the University of Exeter, United Kingdom. Eva Pils is a professor of law at King’s College London, UK.


Mason: It’s time to kick the Confucius Institute out of Canada

Hard to disagree:

In its 2019 annual report, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians documented an array of efforts by foreign powers to exert a corrosive influence over other countries, including this one.

To little surprise, the People’s Republic of China was identified as one of the worst offenders.

The report drew particular attention to a PRC law that directs all Chinese entities and individuals to contribute to state security and co-operate with intelligence services. The edict, the document noted, extends to Chinese groups and individuals operating outside the country.

It’s an all-encompassing doctrine fundamental to the country’s approach to statecraft, one rooted in the belief that there are two ways to gain power and influence over others: weapons, and language and culture.

Which brings us to the Confucius Institute.

This week, The Globe and Mail published yet another disturbing story about how Beijing is using these Chinese-backed educational operations for potentially nefarious means. E-mails and other documents obtained by The Globe verify what has long been suspected: There is far more going on at these operations than simply teaching Mandarin.

The records show that Beijing-based Confucius Institute administrators demand reports from those running their operations abroad on “external affairs,” including local political activities. It documented the control that the Communist Party exerts over the curriculum. The Globe watched a video of children at an institute in the Metro Vancouver city of Coquitlam standing in their classroom, pumping their fists and chanting: “I am proud! I am Chinese!” It could have been any classroom in Shenzhen.

Administrators in this same school district have come under fire in the past, for taking all-expenses-paid junkets to Beijing and other cities courtesy of the Chinese government. Students have also made these trips, which are intended to allow these folks an opportunity to witness firsthand all of the wonderful and joyous things the Chinese government is doing for its people.

It’s doubtful that any recent tours have included stops at the prisons where Canadian hostages Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig are being kept. Or the detention camps where the Chinese government has rounded up innocent Muslim Uyghurs. But I digress.

But not everyone sees the Confucius Institutes as innocently as school administrators in Coquitlam and elsewhere do. Several school districts, including in Toronto, have long since terminated their relationships with the organization, as have a few Canadian universities; New Brunswick plans to do the same by 2022. This has become a trend in the United States as well, where a number of colleges have said farewell to Confucius operations on their campuses.

The alarms down south have been sounded both by academics and top security officials. FBI director Christopher Wray testified before Congress in July, 2019, that the institutes offer the Chinese government a platform to disseminate “Communist Party propaganda, encourage censorship and to restrict academic freedom.”

This spring, meanwhile, Sweden became the first European country to shut down all CI operations in that country. While the government there had the same concerns about the institutes being mere propaganda arms of the Chinese government, it was also unquestionably influenced by the unjust detention of Swedish bookseller Gui Minhai, who was sentenced to 10 years in a Chinese jail for selling texts that were critical of President Xi Jinping.

It’s appalling that we, in Canada, allow Confucius Institutes to operate under the present circumstances. We have no laws or protections to force organizations acting in the interest of foreign powers to be registered and accountable. The United States, for instance, recently demanded that any Confucius Institutes that remain in the country register as a foreign mission. This means they must submit reports about their funding, personnel, curriculum and other activities. The Chinese government was furious.

In 2018, Australia passed the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act, which forces foreign-controlled entities to be much more accountable about their activities. It’s a law we should be bringing in here to thwart the unfettered access foreign governments seem to have in this country.

I fully support teaching the Chinese language and Chinese history in our schools. But we should fully control that curriculum, at any level. It should not be provided by others, especially by agents of a corrupt, oppressive regime that has kidnapped two of our countrymen in a subversive act of hostage diplomacy.

Under the present circumstances, there is no shame in saying that the Confucius Institute is not welcome here. The shame is that it still is.


Businesses mark 50th anniversary with calls for Canada to end Meng Wanzhou case, broaden trade

Silence is complicity. Shameful:

Members of the Canada-China business establishment in Beijing applauded a senior Chinese official who demanded the release of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou and held Ottawa solely responsible for problems between the two countries.

Loud clapping rang out in a ballroom at the Four Seasons hotel in the Chinese capital on Tuesday when vice-minister of commerce Wang Shouwen called for Ms. Meng to “come back to her homeland as soon as possible.” He was speaking at a dinner for the Canada-China Business Council annual general meeting.

The room remained quiet when the Canadian government asked for equal treatment. Silence followed when Mary Ng, Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade, called for the release of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who are being held in spartan Chinese detention centres, and requested clemency for Robert Schellenberg, a Canadian sentenced to death on drug charges. It was silent, too, when Canadian ambassador Dominic Barton called for the same.

Nearly two years after the arrest of Ms. Meng in the Vancouver airport at the request of U.S. authorities, a gulf is widening between Canadians who want little to do with Beijing and those with financial interests in China who see acquiescence to Beijing’s demands as the simplest way out of the impasse.

“That this issue has been dragging is frustrating,” said Olivier Desmarais, the scion of one of Canada’s most influential corporate families who is senior vice-president of Power Corp. and chairs the business council.

Members of the group “very much want to see these legal cases resolved,” Mr. Desmarais said in a videotaped address to the dinner on Tuesday night, in a reference to Ms. Meng and the two Canadians.

The scallop and strip-loin dinner sponsored by Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and several Canadian firms was the closest the two countries came to a commemorative event on Tuesday for the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations. Leaders in Ottawa and Beijing did not have a phone call to mark the date, which in the past has been feted as a moment Canada helped spark broad Western recognition of Communist-run China. This year, it comes amid an intractable dispute.

Montreal-headquartered Power Corp. has long held a position of unique influence between the two countries, and Mr. Desmarais’s comments express a sentiment that has grown among a business establishment that sees China as a place of long-term growth and an immediate salve to the pain of the pandemic. While Canada’s worldwide exports fell 16.7 per cent in the first seven months of the year, they were up 2.2 per cent to China.

“The Chinese market is incredibly important to Canadian jobs,” with salaries that “depend on a strong continued relationship,” Mr. Desmarais said.

A recent Pew Research Center survey showed that Canadian public opinion toward China has plunged to levels never before recorded, with 73 per cent now holding unfavourable views of the country.

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne, too, has adopted a more skeptical posture to China, saying that much of the agenda between the two countries, including talks toward a free-trade agreement, has been placed on hold or halted.

Canadian businesses, however, continue to press for greater ties – and the Chinese government is renewing its push for a trade deal. A “free-trade agreement is in line with our interests,” Mr. Wang, the vice-minister, said on Tuesday, adding that liberalized trade could expand flows of capital and talent and “bring more dividends to people on both sides.”

“China is opening its door wider and wider,” he said. “Canada could open its door wider and wider to China as well.” He assigned Ottawa full blame for problems between the two countries. “The source of those difficulties and responsibility for them does not lie with the Chinese side,” he said.

Canadian corporations have sought to ignore political frictions.

Canadian-built brands such as Tim Hortons, Lululemon, Canada Goose and Arc’teryx have been expanding their Chinese business. Arc’teryx, now owned by Chinese sporting goods conglomerate Anta Sports, recently opened its largest corporate flagship in Shanghai and more than doubled its National Day holiday sales in China compared with 2019, said Samuel Tsui, general manager of Arc’teryx Greater China.

“Business is incredible,” he said.

Huawei increased its research and development spending in Canada by 30 per cent this year. Huawei has kept “our commitment to the country,” said Yan Lida, a board member of the Chinese technology giant.

“There’s a lot of noise out there, a lot of ripples on the surface, a lot of posturing,” said Bob Kwauk, an emeritus partner with Blake Cassels Graydon LLP, who led the firm’s Beijing office. “But business, trade will get done.”

Mr. Barton noted that China’s retail sales market is now nearly equal in size to that of the United States.

“China is here to stay. It’s going to be and is already a superpower in what they’re doing, and we have to figure out how to work together over the next 50 years,” he said. Ottawa has made a priority of “getting our relationship right,” he said, and wants “to deepen our understanding of China. Deepen our China capabilities, with the ambition of having the best China desk in the G7.”

Mr. Desmarais pointed to ways China and Canada can meet each others’ needs in innovation, health care and environmental technologies.

“Honestly, we could do so much together,” he said.


Beijing used influence over B.C. schools to push its agenda and keep tabs on Canadian politics, documents show

One really has to wonder what district officials were thinking or, perhaps more correctly, what they weren’t thinking:

The Confucius Institute, a controversial Chinese-backed educational organization, has taken a direct role in supporting Mandarin classes in some British Columbia schools while also asking local officials to report back on political developments, according to documents obtained by The Globe and Mail.

For years, School District No. 43 in Coquitlam, B.C., has dismissed critics of its Confucius Institute programming, which primarily delivers extracurricular Mandarin instruction and cultural programming that is backed and partly funded by the Chinese government.

The school district has argued students pay their own fees and that it maintains autonomy in hiring teachers for the program. Meanwhile, the Confucius Institute has emphasized that it operates after-school programs, leaving regular school-day instruction untouched.

But the institute has taken a more expansive role, providing resources for core courses as well, according to internal documents obtained by The Globe through an access to information request. The documents include e-mails, a board meeting agenda, the full text of agreements signed with Confucius headquarters, detailed event programs and an internal overview of Confucius teaching activities in the district.

Activities listed in the overview document include not only after-school programs but bilingual programs at Walton Elementary School, Scott Creek Middle School and five local high schools. In 2017, more than 3,500 children attended Confucius courses in Coquitlam.

Coquitlam began Mandarin instruction for elementary school students in 2010, two years after the creation of the Confucius Institute. The Confucius Institute helped to fund the bilingual programs, sending $7,000 to Walton for the purchase of supplies and a laptop to each teacher in the school’s Mandarin program, Ken Hoff, a spokesperson for School District No. 43, said in a detailed e-mail response to questions. Scott Creek Middle School received $4,000 for supplies, while the other schools were given $2,000. 

“This Mandarin language immersion program was instituted with the support of the Confucius Institute,” Coquitlam superintendent Patricia Gartland wrote in a 2017 e-mail.

Individual schools “chose how to spend the money provided and supplies were purchased locally,” Mr. Hoff said. The Confucius Institute “does not provide instructors for the bilingual programs,” he said.

Concern about Chinese government influence has prompted other Canadian school districts to abandon Confucius offerings, including the Toronto District School Board in 2014. Last year, New Brunswick said it would boot all Confucius Institutes by 2022.

Confucius Institute defenders say it is interested only in enhancing international mutual understanding and friendship, while equipping students in Canada with communication skills in Mandarin. But critics see it as a source of pro-China messages.

At the 10th anniversary of the Coquitlam Confucius Institutes, according to video posted to YouTube, a group of children pumped fists as they recited in unison “I am proud, I am Chinese,” a poem written by Wang Huairang, a patriotic writer. The poem praises the “five-star red flag” and the “Yan’an spirit,” a reference to the Communist revolution.

Most of the Coquitlam schools use Chinese Made Easy, a textbook written by a Hong Kong educator but distributed by a Chinese state-owned publisher, according to an internal Confucius overview document. Walton, according to the documents, has used Happy Chinese, which is published by China’s People’s Education Press and contains maps that show Taiwan as a province of China, while also depicting Tiananmen Square as a cheery destination in lessons to practice speaking directions. The textbook is commonly used by Confucius Institutes. Walton no longer uses Happy Chinese, Mr. Hoff said. The Confucius Institute has, however, provided language testing to students in public-school Mandarin programs.

“The School District is in charge of the curriculum offered, supervises what is taught and there has never been an attempt from anyone in China to influence curricular decisions,” Mr. Hoff said.

But the Coquitlam documents suggest an interest by the institute beyond linguistic concerns. In a list of required elements for a detailed Confucius Institute assessment, the program’s administrators in China requested reports on the “external environment” — including politics and diplomacy — as well as attitudes toward the Institute among local government and community leaders. They also ask for information on the participation of Chinese-funded companies in building the Confucius Institute. The Coquitlam Institute denied using the self-assessment. The institute “has not used the reporting template you have described,” Mr. Hoff said. In internal e-mails from 2017, however, Ms. Gartland thanks in advance the institute’s China director, May Sun, “for submitting the self-assessment by the deadline.”

The internal assessment document could be seen as “simple good management of the programme being run by the Chinese,” said former CSIS head Ward Elcock. But he has long seen Confucius Institutes as “the thin edge of the wedge of foreign influence activities carried out by the Chinese state.” Increasingly assertive Chinese government actions overseas have made the institutes “very problematic,” he said. The “exhaustive” internal assessment requirements further buttresses that concern, he said.

Others are critical of the overall agreement. “I just believe that this arrangement is actually morally bankrupt,” said Brad West, the mayor of Coquitlam. He noted that the same Chinese government that has funded the local Confucius program is also responsible for the mass detention of Muslim Uyghurs and the incarceration of two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, he said.

Under the Coquitlam school district’s agreement with Confucius Institute Headquarters in Beijing, the Chinese government is obligated to pay airfares and salaries for teachers involved in its own programs, deliver thousands of volumes of books and other materials, provide $150,000 in cash startup funds and provide annual funding – $352,219 for the current school year.

In agreeing to establish the Confucius Institute, the school district signed off on terms that give Beijing wide latitude to evaluate instruction, demand respect for Chinese “cultural custom” – and terminate its outpouring of money if Coquitlam damages the image of the program. The institute’s after-school courses charge fees of $200 to $220 per semester. This year, that is expected to add up to $220,000, less than 40 per cent of the institute’s funding. The remainder comes from Beijing.

As the Coquitlam district has embraced Confucius, it has seen considerable revenue from international students, who pay high tuition fees. In 2019, nearly 10 per cent of its revenue came from tuition payments, roughly double the provincial average. Coquitlam has previously said that more than half of its foreign students come from China.

Meanwhile, the Confucius agreement with Coquitlam gives Beijing control over choosing instructors, as well, although Mr. Hoff said “teachers in the CI in Coquitlam are not sent by CI headquarters and are hired here in Coquitlam.” Confucius headquarters has not sent staff to assess instructors in Coquitlam, he said.

But LinkedIn records show that at least two instructors worked as teachers in mainland China shortly before beginning work for the Coquitlam institute, which says it only uses local staff. And last year, a five-member group from Confucius headquarters came to Port Coquitlam for a meeting to discuss current work and a vision for future development. Two representatives from the Chinese consulate also attended.

The school district says it has not considered re-evaluating the program. “To date,” Mr. Hoff said, “there has been no discussion around the closure of the Confucius Institute in Coquitlam.”


McCuaig-Johnston: Fifty years of Canada-China relations are nothing to celebrate until our citizens are home

Good commentary by McCuaig-Johnston:

Today marks 50 years since the Canadian government formally recognized the government of the People’s Republic of China, but many Canadians feel that there is nothing to celebrate while China is holding innocent Canadians in prison. Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were detained in apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou for possible extradition to the U.S. Beijing made clear that Canada had to “look first to its own mistake” and send Meng home.

When Meng lost her double criminality challenge in B.C. court, the Michaels were formally charged with unspecified national security allegations. In addition, four Canadians have now been given sentences of execution for drug offences. Robert Schellenberg and Fan Wei were sentenced after Meng’s arrest.  Xu Weihong and Ye Jianhui were sentenced two days apart, less than two weeks before one of Meng’s court hearings. Asked if the cases were connected, a Chinese official said “the Canadian side knows the root cause” of difficulties in Canada-China relations.

During the more than 670 days of Kovrig and Spavor’s incarceration, the Canadian government has worked closely with other liberal democracies that have experienced China’s medieval hostage-taking as retaliation for perceived offences. They, too, have spoken against the detention of our Canadians, both publicly and privately in meetings with Chinese ministers and officials. We know that Beijing does not like this because they have instructed us to stop.

But as recently as Oct. 10, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thanked President Donald Trump for the ongoing support of the United States in seeking the immediate release of the Canadians. The U.S. is the one nation Beijing refrains from criticizing, knowing the risks it might incur. Instead it targets small and middle powers like Canada.

On the same day as the Trudeau-Trump discussion, Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne announced Canada’s intention to join the Support Group of the International Commission against the Death Penalty, led by Spain. This group of 23 countries is working to persuade other nations, including China, to refrain from sentencing people to death.  No doubt the minister had the fate of our four Canadians at the forefront in mind.

During the more than 670 days of Kovrig and Spavor’s incarceration, the Canadian government has worked closely with other liberal democracies that have experienced China’s medieval hostage-taking as retaliation for perceived offences. They, too, have spoken against the detention of our Canadians, both publicly and privately in meetings with Chinese ministers and officials. We know that Beijing does not like this because they have instructed us to stop.

But as recently as Oct. 10, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thanked President Donald Trump for the ongoing support of the United States in seeking the immediate release of the Canadians. The U.S. is the one nation Beijing refrains from criticizing, knowing the risks it might incur. Instead it targets small and middle powers like Canada.

On the same day as the Trudeau-Trump discussion, Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne announced Canada’s intention to join the Support Group of the International Commission against the Death Penalty, led by Spain. This group of 23 countries is working to persuade other nations, including China, to refrain from sentencing people to death.  No doubt the minister had the fate of our four Canadians at the forefront in mind.

Champagne has also noted that he is working with like-minded countries on collectively developing an approach to deal with China’s arbitrary detention of foreign citizens. Canada is also discussing with other nations the possibility of “Magnitsky” sanctions against China for restricting the rights of Hong Kongers as well as the besieged Uyghurs in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China. That would be an excellent initiative – but in the first instance, Canada should impose Magnitsky sanctions on those responsible for incarcerating our citizens.

In addition, the government’s new China Framework being developed under Champagne’s direction should take into account the more aggressive China that Canada and other nations are now seeing. It should diversify away from China to other nations in the Indo-Pacific in trade, investment, population health, cultural exchange, education and security.  We should pass foreign interference laws, revisit our Foreign Investment Protection Agreement with China, review Chinese collaborations in our universities, and ban Chinese companies from our telecommunications infrastructure. The softly-softly strategy clearly has not worked.

According to recent polls, Canadians have lost patience with China. A May 2020 Angus Reid pollshowed that only 14 per cent of Canadians have a positive view of China, and according to a Pew Research Centre survey this month, 73 per cent have an unfavourable view of China, up from 45 per cent in 2018, before our Canadians were detained. This view is shared by the citizens of many other countries, with Australians having an 81 per cent negative view, and negative views increasing by double digits in the past year in the U.K., Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the U.S., South Korea and Spain.

It is time for Canada to take stronger action. We should work with other democracies to confront China’s detention of innocent citizens to use as pawns in its geopolitical agenda. Without stronger action, democratic governments themselves are complicit in China’s behaviour.

In the meantime, no Canadian politician, official or business executive should attend a celebration of the 50th, even virtually. There is nothing to celebrate until our citizens come home.

Margaret McCuaig-Johnston is a retired federal Assistant Deputy Minister and is now a Distinguished Fellow at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada and Senior Fellow at the China Institute, University of Alberta. She is also Senior Fellow of the Institute for Science, Society and Policy, University of Ottawa.


Alan Freeman: Boycotting the 2022 Winter Games should be one way Canada sticks it to China

Extremely hard on the athletes but valid approach if done in concert with other countries:

The Pew Research Center this week came out with some shocking, yet unsurprising, numbers. China’s reputation is in free fall around the world.

According to Pew, a majority of respondents in every one of 14 nations surveyed had a negative view of China. In nine of the countries, including Canada, negative views are at the highest point since the respected research institute began polling on the question more than a decade ago.

In Canada, 73 per cent of respondents had a negative view of China in 2020, compared with only 27 per cent back in 2007.

China’s human-rights abuses against the Uyghurs and other minorities, its attack on democracy in Hong Kong, and its assertive territorial claims in the South China Sea have had an impact.

For Canadians, these bully tactics have a particular edge after the kidnapping and imprisonment on trumped-up charges of our fellow citizens, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

What to do? We all know there’s a crowd of well-connected China-appeasers here who want to start hostage talks with Beijing, and are willing to trade away not just Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, but our self-respect, in the naive hope that the two Michaels will be freed. Thankfully, the Trudeau government has kiboshed that idea.

Furthermore, we’re now seeing more signs that our government realizes Canadians are paying attention and don’t want to roll over in the face of China’s aggressiveness. According to the Globe and Mail, Canada has quietly begun accepting pro-democracy activists from Hong Kong as “Convention refugees,” individuals with a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion or political opinion.

Beijing won’t be happy.

That follows Canada’s earlier suspension of its extradition treaty with Hong Kong, a ban on exports of sensitive goods to Hong Kong, and a suggestion it could soon boost immigration from the beleaguered former British colony. It’s clearly not enough.

What else can we do? Well, look at the calendar. In just 16 months’ time, Beijing is due to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, another opportunity for China to strut itself as a superpower, the way it used the 2008 Summer Games to make a big splash.

How can we even contemplate sending the cream of our athletes, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looking on, and watching them gleefully enter Beijing’s Olympic Stadium for glitzy opening ceremonies while Canadians remain behind bars in a Chinese prison?

There is an alternative. This week, the British foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, suggested that if evidence continues to mount that the rights of Uyghur Muslims are being trampled, the U.K. will consider boycotting the Games. “Generally speaking, my instinct is to separate sport from diplomacy and politics, but there comes a point when this is not possible,” Raab told a parliamentary committee.

In Australia, where anti-China sentiments are even more ingrained than in Canada, Parliament will soon be asked to support a boycott of the Games. “The time has come for the freedom-loving countries to say to Beijing: ‘Enough is enough,’ ” according to an Australian Liberal senator, Eric Abetz. He also wondered why individual Australian athletes would want to lend their credibility to such a regime.

Easy for the U.K. and Australia to say no to Beijing 2022, you might say. They’re hardly a presence at the Winter Games, winning only a few medals apiece in a good year. Canada, on the other hand, is a Winter Olympics powerhouse, earning the No. 3 spot in the medal take in 2018 in South Korea.

All the more reason for us to boycott. The Winter Olympics is one place where we can make a difference. If Canada could convince Norway, Germany, the U.S., Netherlands and South Korea to pull out of the Games (the top six performers in Korea), China would be stuck with a shell of an Olympic Games. It means we have a chance to make a real difference.

I reached out to Guy St-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, and asked him for his views. “It is now impossible to remain ambivalent on China, knowing what they are doing in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, the South China Sea, etc., and the way they have punished Canada for the arrest of Meng Wanzhou,” he told me.

St-Jacques said Canada should adopt a concerted approach with our allies, and threaten an Olympic boycott “if they don’t allow a UN delegation to go to Xinjiang to investigate the situation of the Uyghurs, repeal the National Security Law (in Hong Kong), or suspend its application and free the two Michaels.”

China needs to be reminded that if it wants to play a larger role on the world stage, it has to abide by international laws and treaties and stop acting the bully, including by engaging in hostage diplomacy, he said.

For those who argue that the Games are above politics, that’s clearly hogwash. The Olympics have been subject to political machinations since the beginning, and authoritarian regimes going back to Hitler’s Germany in 1936 have used them to legitimize their unsavoury policies.

Boycotts have been done before. In 1980, Canada joined a stream of Western countries and boycotted the Games in Moscow. And the 1976 Montreal Games was hit by a walkout of African nations in protest of apartheid in South Africa.

Standing up to a bully exacts a price. Not watching Team Canada play for gold in hockey or curling at Beijing in February 2022 should be a price Canadians are willing to pay.

Source: Boycotting the 2022 Winter Games should be one way Canada sticks it to China

Blood money from Saudi Arabia arms deals casts Canada as an international sellout

Good commentary by Rita Trichur:

What’s the price of human dignity?

That’s the question that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau must ask himself as his government maintains a twisted economic relationship with Saudi Arabia, which boasts one of the world’s worst human-rights records.

As the Trudeau government pledges a feminist economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis and vows to fight systemic discrimination, Canadian arms sales to Saudi Arabia are inflaming the war in Yemen, according to a recent report published by the UN Human Rights Council. That five-year conflict, which is effectively a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, is systematically brutalizing women and children.

Marked by widespread child starvation and endemic sexual violence, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen has become so gruesome that the independent experts who penned that UN report are urging the UN Security Council to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court for possible war crimes prosecutions.

Yet, for unfathomable reasons, Canada continues to do billions of dollars worth of military business with Saudi Arabia’s repressive regime. That blood money is casting Canada as an international sellout on human rights and emboldening Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), the kingdom’s de facto ruler.

MBS’s repressive behaviour inside and outside the kingdom has plumbed new depths since the assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul two years ago. So, why is Ottawa maintaining such tainted financial ties?

Although Canada imposed a temporary ban on new military export permits after Mr. Khashoggi’s murder, that moratorium was lifted this past April.

“That sends absolutely the wrong message,” said Stephen McInerney, executive director of the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), a Washington-based non-partisan, non-profit organization that supports democratic reform in the Middle East.

“There has been no progress on any human rights issues in Saudi Arabia since the killing of Jamal Khashoggi … Unfortunately, the human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia have only proceeded to get worse.”

Much of the controversy over Canada’s military exports to Saudi Arabia have centred on Ottawa’s decision to honour a $14-billion contract to sell light armoured vehicles (LAVs) built in London, Ont., by a subsidiary of U.S. defence contractor General Dynamics Corp.

When lifting the permit moratorium in April, Canadian officials claimed their military export review had produced no evidence the Saudis were using Canadian-made machinery to commit human-rights violations.

Perhaps they weren’t looking hard enough.

Even before the recent UN Human Rights Council report named and shamed Canada for fuelling the war in Yemen with arms exports to Saudi Arabia, there were already videos of Canadian-made military vehicles being used in that conflict.

Separately, the Crown corporation that brokered the LAV deal was slammed by the Auditor-General’s office in July for failing to scrutinize export contracts for human-rights risks.

Human-rights groups are putting pressure on Canada to cancel the LAV deal, but Ottawa is reticent. Government officials have previously warned of hefty financial penalties and the loss of Canadian jobs.

In an effort to assuage Canadians last April, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said the terms of the LAV contract had been amended. Ottawa’s financial risk would be eliminated in cases “where future export permits are delayed or denied” should it be proved the kingdom is using the LAVs for non-defensive purposes.

Clearly, our federal officials need remedial lessons on mastering the art of the deal.

Make no mistake, Canada is already paying a steep price for being willfully blind to Saudi Arabia’s transgressions. As Ottawa bends over backward to fulfill the ill-conceived LAV contract, MBS is making a mockery of Canadian sovereignty.

Not only did he allegedly send a hit squad to Canada in a foiled attempt to assassinate former Saudi intelligence officer Saad Aljabri about two years ago, Mr. Aljabri is facing a new murder threat by MBS’s agents, The Globe and Mail reported in August. The very idea a Khashoggi-type killing could potentially transpire on Canadian soil is horrific.

To make matters worse, Canada is shoring up the kingdom’s flagging financial fortunes by importing billions of dollars in Saudi oil – more than $3-billion worth last year alone – even though the kingdom’s crude oil price war with Russia earlier this year made collateral damage of our energy industry.

In order to preserve what’s left of Canada’s credibility, Ottawa needs to slap a tariff on Saudi oil imports and ban military exports to the kingdom until it substantially improves its human-rights record.

Canada should also boycott next month’s virtual Group of 20 leaders summit, which will be chaired by MBS’s father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. Under no circumstances should Canada give Saudi Arabia cover at that international gathering.

Doing business with a repressive regime is no doubt profitable for Canada, but that quid pro quo comes at a cost: the loss of human life. The world expects better of us.

“Up until now Canada has had a reputation of being a country that does adhere to its principles and values and does respect human rights,” Mr. McInerney said. “These kinds of moves do legitimately threaten and erode that positive reputation.”


China sharply expands mass labour program in Tibet

Yet again:

China is pushing growing numbers of Tibetan rural labourers off the land and into recently built military-style training centres where they are turned into factory workers, mirroring a program in the western Xinjiang region that rights groups have branded coercive labour.

Beijing has set quotas for the mass transfer of rural labourers within Tibet and to other parts of China, according to over a hundred state media reports, policy documents from government bureaus in Tibet and procurement requests released between 2016-2020 and reviewed by Reuters. The quota effort marks a rapid expansion of an initiative designed to provide loyal workers for Chinese industry.

A notice posted to the website of Tibet’s regional government website last month said over half a million people were trained as part of the project in the first seven months of 2020 – around 15 per cent of the region’s population. Of this total, almost 50,000 have been transferred into jobs within Tibet, and several thousand have been sent to other parts of China. Many end up in low paid work, including textile manufacturing, construction and agriculture.

“This is now, in my opinion, the strongest, most clear and targeted attack on traditional Tibetan livelihoods that we have seen almost since the Cultural Revolution” of 1966 to 1976, said Adrian Zenz, an independent Tibet and Xinjiang researcher, who compiled the core findings about the program. These are detailed in a report released this week by the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based institute that focuses on policy issues of strategic importance to the U.S. “It’s a coercive lifestyle change from nomadism and farming to wage labour.”

Reuters corroborated Zenz’s findings and found additional policy documents, company reports, procurement filings and state media reports that describe the program.

In a statement to Reuters, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs strongly denied the involvement of forced labour, and said China is a country with rule of law and that workers are voluntary and properly compensated.

“What these people with ulterior motives are calling ‘forced labour’ simply does not exist. We hope the international community will distinguish right from wrong, respect facts, and not be fooled by lies,” it said.

Moving surplus rural labour into industry is a key part of China’s drive to boost the economy and reduce poverty. But in areas like Xinjiang and Tibet, with large ethnic populations and a history of unrest, rights groups say the programs include an outsized emphasis on ideological training. And the government quotas and military-style management, they say, suggest the transfers have coercive elements.

China seized control of Tibet after Chinese troops entered the region in 1950, in what Beijing calls a “peaceful liberation.” Tibet has since become one of the most restricted and sensitive areas in the country.

The Tibetan program is expanding as international pressure is growing over similar projects in Xinjiang, some of which have been linked to mass detention centres. A United Nations report has estimated that around one million people in Xinjiang, mostly ethnic Uyghurs, were detained in camps and subjected to ideological education. China initially denied the existence of the camps, but has since said they are vocational and education centres, and that all the people have “graduated.”

Reuters was unable to ascertain the conditions of the transferred Tibetan workers. Foreign journalists are not permitted to enter the region, and other foreign citizens are only permitted on government-approved tours.

In recent years, Xinjiang and Tibet have been the target of harsh policies in pursuit of what Chinese authorities call “stability maintenance.” These policies are broadly aimed at quelling dissent, unrest or separatism and include restricting the travel of ethnic citizens to other parts of China and abroad, and tightening control over religious activities.

In August, President Xi Jinping said China will again step up efforts against separatism in Tibet, where ethnic Tibetans make up around 90 per cent of the population, according to census data. Critics, spearheaded by Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, accuse the Chinese authorities of carrying out “cultural genocide” in the region. The 85-year-old Nobel Laureate has been based in Dharamsala, India, since he fled China in 1959 following a failed uprising against Chinese authorities.


While there has been some evidence of military-style training and labour transfers in Tibet in the past, this new, enlarged program represents the first on a mass scale and the first to openly set quotas for transfers outside the region.

A key element, described in multiple regional policy documents, involves sending officials into villages and townships to gather data on rural labourers and conduct education activities, aimed at building loyalty.

State media described one such operation in villages near the Tibetan capital, Lhasa. Officials carried out over a thousand anti-separatism education sessions, according to the state media report, “allowing the people of all ethnic groups to feel the care and concern of the Party Central Committee,” referring to China’s ruling Communist Party.

The report said the sessions included songs, dances and sketches in “easy to understand language.” Such “education” work took place prior to the rollout of the wider transfers this year.

The model is similar to Xinjiang, and researchers say a key link between the two is the former Tibet Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, who took over the same post in Xinjiang in 2016 and spearheaded the development of Xinjiang’s camp system. The Xinjiang government, where Chen remains Party boss, did not respond to a request for comment.

“In Tibet, he was doing a slightly lower level, under the radar, version of what was implemented in Xinjiang,” said Allen Carlson, Associate Professor in Cornell University’s Government Department.

Around 70 per cent of Tibet’s population is classified as rural, according to 2018 figures from China’s National Bureau of Statistics. This includes a large proportion of subsistence farmers, posing a challenge for China’s poverty alleviation program, which measures its success on levels of basic income. China has pledged to eradicate rural poverty in the country by the end of 2020.

“In order to cope with the increasing downward economic pressure on the employment income of rural workers, we will now increase the intensity of precision skills training … and carry out organized and large-scale transfer of employment across provinces, regions and cities,” said a working plan released by Tibet’s Human Resources and Social Security Department in July. The plan included 2020 quotas for the program in different areas.

Some of the policy documents and state media reports reviewed by Reuters make reference to unspecified punishments for officials who fail to meet their quotas. One prefecture level implementation plan called for “strict reward and punishment measures” for officials.

As in Xinjiang, private intermediaries, such as agents and companies, that organize transfers can receive subsidies set at 500 yuan ($74) for each labourer moved out of the region and 300 yuan ($44) for those placed within Tibet, according to regional and prefecture level notices.

Officials have previously said that labour transfer programs in other parts of China are voluntary, and many of the Tibetan government documents also mention mechanisms to ensure labourers’ rights, but they don’t provide details. Advocates, rights groups and researchers say it’s unlikely labourers are able to decline work placements, though they acknowledge that some may be voluntary.

“These recent announcements dramatically and dangerously expand these programs, including ‘thought training’ with the government’s co-ordination, and represent a dangerous escalation,” said Matteo Mecacci, president of U.S. based advocacy group, the International Campaign for Tibet.

The government documents reviewed by Reuters put a strong emphasis on ideological education to correct the “thinking concepts” of labourers. “There is the assertion that minorities are low in discipline, that their minds must be changed, that they must be convinced to participate,” said Zenz, the Tibet-Xinjiang researcher based in Minnesota.

One policy document, posted on the website of the Nagqu City government in Tibet’s east in December 2018, reveals early goals for the plan and sheds light on the approach. It describes how officials visited villages to collect data on 57,800 labourers. Their aim was to tackle “can’t do, don’t want to do and don’t dare to do” attitudes toward work, the document says. It calls for unspecified measures to “effectively eliminate ‘lazy people.’”

A report released in January by the Tibetan arm of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a high-profile advisory body to the government, describes internal discussions on strategies to tackle the “mental poverty” of rural labourers, including sending teams of officials into villages to carry out education and “guide the masses to create a happy life with their hard-working hands.”


Rural workers who are moved into vocational training centres receive ideological education – what China calls “military-style” training – according to multiple Tibetan regional and district-level policy documents describing the program in late 2019 and 2020. The training emphasizes strict discipline, and participants are required to perform military drills and dress in uniforms.

It is not clear what proportion of participants in the labour transfer program undergo such military-style training. But policy documents from Ngari, Xigatze and Shannan, three districts which account for around a third of Tibet’s population, call for the “vigorous promotion of military-style training.” Regionwide policy notices also make reference to this training method.

Small-scale versions of similar military-style training initiatives have existed in the region for over a decade, but construction of new facilities increased sharply in 2016, and recent policy documents call for more investment in such sites. A review of satellite imagery and documents relating to over a dozen facilities in different districts in Tibet shows that some are built near to or within existing vocational centres.

The policy documents describe a teaching program that combines skills education, legal education and “gratitude education,” designed to boost loyalty to the Party.

James Leibold, professor at Australia’s La Trobe University who specializes in Tibet and Xinjiang, says there are different levels of military-style training, with some less restrictive than others, but that there is a focus on conformity.

“Tibetans are seen as lazy, backward, slow or dirty, and so what they want to do is to get them marching to the same beat … That’s a big part of this type of military-style education.”

In eastern Tibet’s Chamdo district, where some of the earliest military-style training programs emerged, state media images from 2016 show labourers lining up in drill formation in military fatigues. In images published by state media in July this year, waitresses in military clothing are seen training at a vocational facility in the same district. Pictures posted online from the “Chamdo Golden Sunshine Vocational Training School” show rows of basic white shed-like accommodation with blue roofs. In one image, banners hanging on the wall behind a row of graduates say the labour transfer project is overseen by the local Human Resources and Social Security Department.

The vocational skills learned by trainees include textiles, construction, agriculture and ethnic handicrafts. One vocational centre describes elements of training including “Mandarin language, legal training and political education.” A separate regional policy document says the goal is to “gradually realize the transition from ‘I must work’ to ‘I want to work.’”

Regional and prefecture level policy documents place an emphasis on training batches of workers for specific companies or projects. Rights groups say this on-demand approach increases the likelihood that the programs are coercive.


Workers transferred under the programs can be difficult to trace, particularly those sent to other parts of China. In similar mass transfers of Uyghur people from Xinjiang, workers were discovered in the supply chains of 83 global brands, according to a report released by the The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI).

Researchers and rights groups say transfers from these regions pose a challenge because without access they can’t assess whether the practice constitutes forced labour, and transferred workers often work alongside non-transferred counterparts.

Tibetan state media reports in July say that in 2020 some of the workers transferred outside of Tibet were sent to construction projects in Qinghai and Sichuan. Others transferred within Tibet were trained in textiles, security and agricultural production work.

Regional Tibetan government policy notices and prefecture implementation plans provide local government offices with quotas for 2020, including for Tibetan workers sent to other parts of China. Larger districts are expected to supply more workers to other areas of the country – 1,000 from the Tibetan capital Lhasa, 1,400 from Xigaze, and 800 from Shannan.

Reuters reviewed policy notices put out by Tibet and a dozen other provinces that have accepted Tibetan labourers. These documents reveal that workers are often moved in groups and stay in collective accommodation.

Local government documents inside Tibet and in three other provinces say workers remain in centralized accommodation after they are transferred, separated from other workers and under supervision. One state media document, describing a transfer within the region, referred to it as a “point to point ‘nanny’ service.”

The Tibetan Human Resources and Social Security Department noted in July that people are grouped into teams of 10 to 30. They travel with team leaders and are managed by “employment liaison services.” The department said the groups are tightly managed, especially when moving outside Tibet, where the liaison officers are responsible for carrying out “further education activities and reducing homesickness complexes.” It said the government is responsible for caring for “left-behind women, children and the elderly.”

It’s time Canada stood up to more bullies besides Trump. China, for instance.

Alan Freeman’s piece, written before foreign minister Champagne’s announcement that Canada abandons free-trade talks with China in shift for Trudeau government raises valid comparisons with Australia’s approach:

Sometimes it pays to stand up to a bully. It’s time Canada made a habit of it.

This week, hours before Canada was about to impose tariffs on a range of U.S. products in retaliation for the Trump administration’s imposition of a 10 per cent tariff on Canadian exports of aluminum, the U.S. caved.

The U.S. tariff was cancelled, and though U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer insisted Washington hadn’t backed down, and the tariffs could be reimposed if Canada didn’t behave itself and restrict exports of the metal in future, it was clear that Canada had won this battle.

The imposition of the aluminum tariff was an absurdity from the start, one that seemed to benefit only a few well-connected aluminum producers and to anger everyone else in the U.S. industry. Yet credit still has to go to the Trudeau government and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland for standing tough all the way through.

A similar no-nonsense approach was essential to the renegotiation of NAFTA, an unnecessary exercise prompted by U.S. President Donald Trump, which only had downsides for Canada at the outset. The fact that the new Canada-U.S.-Mexico trade pact doesn’t seem much different from the old one has to be seen as a victory. It could have been a lot worse.

Although Trump has shown his dislike of Trudeau on several occasions — there’s hardly a democratically elected world leader Trump hasn’t tussled with — it hasn’t meant Canada has been so worried about Trump’s volatility that it’s been willing to back down on trade and other issues, which is a good thing. The basic message is that we value our relationship with the U.S., but we won’t be pushed around.

If only Canada could show more of this backbone when dealing with China. Although the Trudeau government has been firm in its reaction to the suspension of freedoms in Hong Kong, and continues to insist on the liberation of the two kidnapped Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, it still seems reluctant to respond outspokenly to Chinese excesses.

When it comes to standing up to China, Canada should look at Australia. It’s much more dependent on China than Canada is, with China accounting for one-third of Australia’s exports, including huge quantities of coal, iron ore and agricultural products. And Australia depends on big influxes of Chinese university students and tourists to bolster its economy.

Yet relations are tense, because the Australian government is wary of Chinese efforts to influence — some say infiltrate — Australian universities and political life. In June, Australia’s intelligence services are reported to have raided the homes of four Chinese journalists resident in Australia, as well as of a state legislator whose office was suspected of being used to influence Australian politics.

The four journalists have since returned to China, and the visas of two Chinese academics have been cancelled, but not before China had struck back. Chinese police recently conducted midnight interrogations of two prominent Australian journalists in China, who were forced to seek refuge at Australian diplomatic facilities before fleeing the country.

And in what looks like a repeat of the abduction of the two Michaels, TV news anchor Cheng Lei, a star of CGTN, a Chinese government-owned English TV network in Beijing, was detained last month and is being held for suspected “criminal activity endangering China’s national security.” The Chinese-born journalist is an Australian citizen.

Relations between China and Australia have been deteriorating for years, but what appears to have really upset Beijing was the call in April by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison for an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. Not only has China cracked down on journalists in retaliation, but it has launched a series of trade actions targeting Australian exports of barley and beef. China has also started an anti-dumping probe against Australian wine — shades of China’s moves against Canadian canola and pork.

When it comes to Huawei, the Australians have already acted, banning the Chinese technology giant from its 5G networks, while Canada continues to prevaricate. It seems at times that the Trudeau government is wishing it would all go away, including the U.S. extradition request for Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei executive arrested in Vancouver in December 2018.

While trade tensions haven’t eased, Australia has at least made clear that it won’t be intimidated. Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Peter Duncan has said about the latest row over journalists that “Australia will defend its core values and principles, such as adherence to the rule of law, press freedom and democracy.”

And the Australian government has armed itself with a series of laws that defend against foreign interference in its political institutions. Just last month, the government proposed federal legislation that would require any foreign agreements signed by states, local governments and universities to be first approved by the central government. The bill seemed aimed specifically at agreements with China.

It follows adoption of federal legislation in 2018 that criminalizes foreign interference in Australian government, including covert, deceptive actions or threats aimed at democratic institutions or providing intelligence to overseas governments.

Because the Chinese economic and political presence is so much more important to Australia than it is to Canada, there is none of the naiveté that still seems to influence Canadian attitudes toward China. As the Globe and Mail has reported this week, Huawei is keen to cash in on those gullible China-sympathetic “influencers,” including one-time politicians and academics who’ve been pressing Ottawa for a prisoner swap to free the two Michaels, so far without success.

Let’s hope that Freeland, with her influence in the Trudeau cabinet at an all-time high, will succeed in convincing her colleagues that Canada needs to stand up to an even bigger bully than Donald Trump. It will take a lot of backbone.

Source: It’s time Canada stood up to more bullies besides Trump. China, for instance.

Search for new director of U of T law faculty’s International Human Rights Program leads to resignations, allegations of interference

Resignation sends a message:

The faculty advisory board of the International Human Rights Program (IHRP) at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law has resigned following a controversy over the hiring of a new director for the program.

Edward Iacobucci, dean of the prestigious law school, has come under fire, accused of rescinding an offer of directorship to prominent international academic Valentina Azarova.

Several national and international scholars wrote to the university to express their consternation that the reversal came after reports of pressure from a sitting judge — a major donor to the faculty. He reportedly expressed concerns in private over Azarova’s past work on the issue of Israel’s human rights abuses in Palestine. All the letters mentioned here have been seen by the Star.

“The recent search for an executive director has generated substantial controversy, including allegations of outside interference in the hiring process,” Vincent Chiao, Trudo Lemmens and Anna Su, three members of the faculty advisory committee, wrote to Iacobucci on Wednesday. “We are disappointed by this outcome, the lack of fair process, including the failure to provide reasons for the decision taken.”

Audrey Macklin, who chaired that committee, and was part of the selection panel that unanimously found Azarova the best candidate for the job, resigned from the board last week.

In a statement to the Star, the university cited confidentiality in personnel matters, but said, “We can confirm that no offer of employment was made to any candidate, and therefore, no offer was revoked. The Faculty of Law has cancelled the search. No offers were made because of technical and legal constraints pertaining to cross-border hiring at this time,” said Kelly Hannah-Moffat, vice-president of human resources and equity. Azarova, who is based in Germany, declined to speak to the Star.

But a letter to Iacobucci from two past directors of the IHRP on Sept. 12 contradicts the university’s assertion that no offer of employment was made.

“Azarova — the hiring committee’s top candidate — accepted the faculty’s offer in mid-August,” wrote Carmen Cheung and the most recent director, Samer Muscati. “The Faculty of Law put Dr. Azarova in touch with immigration counsel to advise her on her options for securing a permit to work in Canada, and Dr. Azarova began planning to move with her partner from Germany to Toronto, where her stepchildren reside.”

Azarova has taught law and international law and has worked to establish human rights enforcement mechanisms in Europe and beyond and has consulted for United Nations fact-finding missions, among other accomplishments.

The dean cited confidentiality, and offered one statement to faculty at a meeting on Monday and to individual letter writers. “The uninformed and speculative rumours have reached such a level that, no offer of employment having been made, the University has decided to cancel the search for a candidate at this time.”

Letters to the university from international scholars, members of an alumni steering committee and other faculty strongly condemned what they saw as “improper external pressure” and “impropriety of such interference by alumni.”

“The mere perception of interference has the potential to undermine the integrity of the Faculty of Law’s hiring process and the reputation and future work of the IHRP,” says a letter from two co-chairs of the IHRP Alumni Steering Committee.

Cancelling the search effectively maintains the status quo that the IHRP remains without a permanent director.

Trudo Lemmens of the faculty advisory committee said he was hoping for a firm statement either confirming an attempt to interfere — and detailing the university’s response — or refuting the allegations.

“As a faculty member of an academic institution which values academic freedom and human rights issues, I have no clear understanding of why the appointment didn’t take place. That’s why I joined colleagues in resigning because I’m not in a position to firmly defend the process and the decision. This is particularly important because I so strongly believe in the value of the program and the integrity of the program.”

A professor at U of T Law said: “He (the dean) alludes to the rumours but he does not deny them. Of course, we can only speculate — we don’t know what the person told him and what he did. If there’s no basis for this rumour, we’re misinformed. So please inform us.

“That carefully crafted lawyerly response is non-responsive.”

The IHRP has been without a permanent director for more than a year. Academics and legal experts who are familiar with Azarova’s work told the Star she was a perfect candidate.

“She’s a human rights practitioner in a wide variety of areas,” said Itamar Mann, associate professor, the University of Haifa Faculty of Law, who worked closely with Azarova at the non-profit Global Legal Action Network on migration and refugee issues in Europe.

She is a fellow at the Manchester International Law Centre, University of Manchester, speaks multiple languages and has lived in the Middle East and Africa.

The university program itself is known to offer learning opportunities for students, exposing them to national and international human rights concerns.

Professors told the Star that while even controversial views cannot be censored, those espoused by Azarova are not radical and adhere to mainstream legal consensus on Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories.

“Her criticism of Israel is extremely legitimate within Israel,” Mann said. “It’s a criticism that I share. It’s a criticism of long-standing human rights violations of international law, primarily through the project of settlements which is unquestionably illegal and that’s the kind of majority position around the world. It’s not an exotic position to take at all.

“Even from the perspective of people who imagine themselves as helping defend or support Israel, I think this would be a grave mistake.

“Being able to debate is an essential part of democracy.”