Robert Fowler is a retired Canadian diplomat who served as the foreign policy advisor to three prime ministers between 1980 and 1986, as the deputy minister of National Defence from 1989 to 1995, as Canada’s longest-serving ambassador to the United Nations from 1995 to 2000 and ambassador to Italy (2000 to 2006). For 130 days between 2008 and 2009, he and Louis Guay were kidnapped by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
As of this weekend, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have spent 1,000 days in harsh captivity in China, while the proximate cause of their incarceration, Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, shuttles between multimillion-dollar homes in Vancouver. Canada has pleaded with our allies to encourage China to relent, while desperately hoping the Americans will do what our government is unwilling to do to free these innocents, even as Chinese state-owned shipyards continue to fulfill huge contracts for Canadian federal agencies.
Our Michaels have been eight times longer in captivity than Louis Guay and I spent as prisoners of al-Qaeda in the middle of the Sahara Desert, while I was serving as the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy to Niger. And unlike our colleagues in China, we had each other; Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor are being held in solitary confinement.
For most of my captivity I found it difficult to believe that we had not been abandoned by Canada; then-prime minister Stephen Harper, with whom I disagreed on just about everything, would surely be loath to see his government “negotiate with terrorists,” I imagined, and as a result, we would die, alone and forsaken. I was wrong; Louis and I have enjoyed 12 marvellous years with our growing families and cherished friends. Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor, however, have clearly been deserted by Justin Trudeau’s crocodile-tearing government. How could they, in their misery and isolation, come to any other conclusion: They have been deserted by their government, and, yes, also by their fellow Canadians – good people who have stood by as their government did nothing useful to save them?
A government has no greater duty than the protection of the health and safety of its citizens. Mr. Trudeau already failed on that score five years ago, when he abandoned Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall to be beheaded by the Islamic State-affiliated Abu Sayyaf terrorist group in the Philippines. The Norwegian and Philippine governments, however, intervened to save their nationals held by the same terrorist cell. Our Prime Minister’s simplistic mantra – “we will not make significant concessions to hostage-takers and terrorists” – is disingenuous. To my certain knowledge, everybody does, including those governments which pompously profess otherwise. So just whom are we trying to impress with such posturing, at the cost of the lives, suffering and sanity of Canadian citizens?
Finally, let’s be very clear: This is not somebody else’s problem. Ottawa’s beseeching Washington to fix this for us is unseemly and distasteful.
For 1,000 days, Mr. Trudeau has unctuously parroted vacuous slogans, claiming his hands are tied as he must abide by the “rule of law” – despite the fact that the issues in this case are so very clearly political rather than legal. It is not enough to simply mouth “rule of law.” In a civilized society, the rule of law is premised upon fairness and decency – hence, the doctrine of innocent until proven guilty, which Ms. Meng seems to be enjoying in Canada. Preaching about the rule of law or the norms of international behaviour to China, Russia and far too many others is not simply naïve; it is unforgivably – and, in the case of the two Michaels, cruelly – stupid. In this regard let’s remember that those sanctimonious posturers who so steadfastly and vainly insist that Canada must teach China lessons in international diplomacy, who hold that by declaring the Chinese detention of our two Michaels to be unacceptable, will cause it to end – all at the cost of the safety and sanity of Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig - are largely the same crew who so steadfastly proclaimed that we were ever succeeding in turning Afghanistan into a bastion of freedom, feminism and democracy.
In recent days, our government has been crowing about its success in extracting 3,700 people – including the family of friends of mine - from Kabul by brave Canadian soldiers. Our government clearly wants us to forget that there remain more than 2,000 Afghans who provided vital assistance to Canada and who, in addition to more than 1,200 Canadian citizens and permanent residents, have been left to the tender mercies of “our brothers, the Taliban” and IS-K in Afghanistan.
If only the government had heeded the call of the Afghan Canadian Interpreters Initiative in 2017 to bring their brothers-in-arms to Canada. More recently, how many of those we have left behind could have been saved if the government had acted expeditiously in answer to the letter sent to key ministers in early July by three Canadian Afghan Task Force commanders who demanded an extraordinary effort to “ensure the safety and well-being of those Afghan nationals who served alongside Canadian soldiers, development officers and diplomats?”
The fates of Michael Kovrig, Michael Spavor – and also those of Robert Hall, John Ridsdel, and all those loyal Afghans who have been abandoned by Canada in Kabul – will leave an indelible stain on the legacy of the Trudeau government.
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