Canada and China haven’t been seeing eye to eye on issues of justice lately. Since Canada’s arrest of a Chinese telecom executive in December, Beijing has detained several Canadians, while in April a second Canadian man was sentenced to death over drug trafficking offences, sparking allegations of political interference by Beijing. Check back here for The Globe and Mail’s latest coverage of the people affected by the Sino-Canadian tensions and the geopolitics surrounding them.
Huawei and how the feud started
On Dec. 1, Canadian authorities arrested the chief financial officer of Huawei, a Chinese telecom company. Meng Wanzhou is accused by U.S. prosecutors of lying to financial institutions as part of a scheme to circumvent U.S. sanctions on Iran and do business there through a subsidiary. The U.S. Justice Department has also indicted Huawei itself and some of its subsidiaries, accusing them of a decade-long scheme of bank fraud, money laundering and obstruction of justice. Ms. Meng, who is now free on bail and ordered to remain in the Vancouver area, denies the allegations against her. Canada’s Justice Department has authorized hearings about whether she should be extradited, though her ultimate fate will be decided by Justice Minister David Lametti.
Western countries have been increasingly wary of Huawei’s technology, which multiple security agencies and experts have warned could be used for espionage. The United States and Australia have barred Huawei’s 5G telecom systems, and while Canada hasn’t followed suit, it hasn’t ruled it out. But if it does, China’s ambassador to Canada has warned of repercussions.
Canadians and the Chinese courts
Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor
- Who they are: Mr. Kovrig is a former Canadian diplomat who was in China working as an analyst and researcher for a think tank called the International Crisis Group. Mr. Spavor is an entrepreneur who has worked to promote business and cultural ties between North Korea and the West.
- What they’re accused of: The two men were separately detained on Dec. 10 and initially accused by Chinese authorities of endangering national security. Days after Ms. Meng’s extradition hearing was authorized, China got more specific about its allegations, reporting that Mr. Kovrig had tried to spy on China and steal state secrets, in part with information provided by Mr. Spavor.
- Current status: For months, the men were held at secret locations in China under what amounted to residential surveillance, but were later moved a detention centre. There, they are allowed 30-minute consular visits once a month. They’ve also been routinely interrogated, kept in rooms that are lit 24 hours a day and denied access to family and lawyers. Authorities at one point confiscated Mr. Kovrig’s glasses, sources told The Globe.
- Who he is: Mr. Fan’s case is tied closely to that of an American, Mark Swidan, whose family has provided what little public information is known about Mr. Fan.
- What he’s accused of: Mr. Fan was a leader in a methamphetamine production and trafficking scheme, the Jiangmen Intermediate People’s Court said in a statement. But according to Amnesty International researcher Doriane Lau, “the secrecy around China’s death penalty system contributes to why people will be questioning the motives behind this death sentence.”
- Current status: Mr. Fan was sentenced to death in May, while 10 others involved in the case were also handed various sentences. In 2017, the Dui Hua Foundation, a U.S. organization that advocates for prisoners in China, wrote about Mr. Fan’s long wait for a judgment, which included more than a dozen court-granted extensions. It is not known when the sentence is expected to be carried out.
- Who he is: A former worker in the Alberta oil patch, Mr. Schellenberg went on a lengthy trip to Asia in 2013, first to Thailand and then to China. In Guangzhou, authorities arrested him in 2014 and accused him of being part of a scheme to smuggle methamphetamine from Australia. He said he was framed.
- What he’s accused of: It took Chinese courts two years to bring him to trial, and two more to sentence him to 15 years in prison as an accessory to drug trafficking. Prosecutors argued in December of 2018 that his sentence was too lenient, and in a one-day retrial – arranged in only two weeks – he was accused of being a “core member” of a drug-trafficking ring, convicted and sentenced to death.
- Current status: Mr. Schellenberg is still in Chinese custody and it’s unclear when the sentence of death will be carried out. The Trudeau government has spoken with China’s ambassador to Canada and requested clemency as it tries to dissuade authorities from executing him.
- Who she is: Ms. Wang is the Canadian daughter of Wang Bingzhang, a pro-democracy dissident sentenced to life in prison in 2003 on terrorism and espionage charges. On Jan. 9, officials at the Hangzhou airport denied her entry to China, where she had hoped to see her father for the first time in a decade. It wasn’t clear why she was denied access; officials did not provide a reason. Her brother Times Wang has had access to their father dozens of times.
- What she was accused of: On Jan. 16, Ms. Wang was travelling through Beijing’s airport from Seoul to Toronto when police officers boarded her plane and detained her, along with her infant daughter. “It was a shocking, terrifying and senseless ordeal with no purpose but to bully, punish and intimidate me and my family,” she told The Globe, adding that the officers wouldn’t give her information about why she was detained other than to say “they were investigating my case.”
- Current status: Ms. Wang was sent back to Seoul after her detention.
Canadian allies in peril
Canadians in China have not been alone in facing the apparent crackdown: There are fears that citizens of Canada’s intelligence allies have been paying the price too.
- Who he is: An Australian spy novelist and ex-diplomat who has been an outspoken critic of China’s political system. He disappeared briefly in a 2011 trip to China, but quickly reappeared and said he had been sick and unable to contact his family because his phone battery died.
- What he’s accused of: Mr. Yang, his wife Yuan Rui Juan and his stepdaughter were stopped and interrogated by security agents when they travelled to Guangzhou on Jan. 19. They released his family, but accused him of espionage, according to Mr. Yang’s friend Feng Chongyi, a professor at University of Technology Sydney.
- Current status: Mr. Yang was formally charged with espionage in August. He had been detained for months in the southern city of Guangzhou while waiting for a transfer to Shanghai, but was later moved to Beijing.
The diplomatic drama
Canada in China: When he was Canada’s envoy to Beijing, John McCallum was at the fore of efforts to free the Canadians, and he paid consular visits to both men. But then he got in hot water at home: Days after suggesting in January of 2019 that Ms. Meng, the Huawei executive, had a strong case to avoid extradition to the United States, the Prime Minister fired him. The remarks, made to Chinese-language media in Markham, Ont., initially attracted support from Chinese officials who saw it as an endorsement of their position on the Meng case. Mr. McCallum’s job was left vacant for until September, when The Globe learned that consultant Dominic Barton had been chosen for the post.
China in Canada: For months, ambassador Lu Shaye was loudly critical of Ms. Meng’s arrest, at one point blaming “Western egotism and white supremacy” for Canada’s treatment of her. He has also accused Ottawa of double standards for its demand to free Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor. Mr. Lu left his post after being nominated as China’s ambassador to France. The post is still vacant.
The political context
Ms. Meng’s arrest put Canada in a tight spot between the Trump administration and China, which have been in an on-again, off-again trade war. At one point, President Donald Trump suggested he could look into Ms. Meng’s case himself if he thought doing so would secure trade peace between the countries, which only inflamed suggestions that the whole case was political to begin with. More than half of Canadians think Canada handled Ms. Meng’s arrest properly, according to a Nanos poll conducted for The Globe and Mail in January, and most have negative impressions of China’s authoritarian rulers. But on the international stage, Canada – which has said it wants a Chinese trade deal of its own – has been walking a tightrope as it speaks up for the Canadians who’ve been detained in apparent retaliation for the case.
China’s arrests have had a chilling effect on business, travel and other exchanges between the two countries. After the death sentence against Mr. Schellenberg – which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called “arbitrary” in remarks sharply criticized by Beijing – Canada and China’s foreign ministries exchanged warnings against travel to each others' countries. Universities are worried further tensions with China, the biggest source of international students in Canada, could cost billions of dollars. As for Canadians already living in China, some are feeling less safe advertising their nationality and fear they might be next to be detained.
Commentary and analysis
Compiled by Globe staff
Based on reporting by Nathan VanderKlippe, Robert Fife, Steven Chase and Les Perreaux, with a report from Reuters.