In the final days of 2019, just as the United States announced that it would be signing phase one of its trade agreement with China early in the new year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked that no deal be signed until the Canadians held captive in China are released.
For its part, however, Ottawa still hasn’t ruled out Huawei taking part in the nation’s 5G network despite requests by Washington citing security risks, and continues its $250 million commitment to the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
Canada entered 2019 with Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor detained in China following the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on a U.S. extradition request; news later emerged that the lights were kept on day and night in Kovig’s cell which could cause sleep deprivation, a known form of torture. The situation escalated further with Canadian Rob Schellenberg having his sentence increased from 15 years in prison on drug smuggling charges to a death sentence, and another Canadian, Fan Wei, getting a death sentence for drug charges.
China blocked Canadian imports of canola and other agricultural products, with the ban soon extended to meat, though the latter was rescinded as the country struggled with a bout of African swine flu impacting its domestic pork supply.
In January, Canada’s ambassador to China John McCallum was forced by Trudeau to resign after he publicly expressed support for the extradition request against Meng being denied.
With Chinese officials issuing overt warnings to Canada of consequences if Meng is not released, and Chinese diplomats and ambassadors using non-diplomatic language in threatening Ottawa, Canada got a taste of how a more powerful Chinese communist regime would behave on the world stage.
In its inaugural report released in April, the multi-party National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians noted China and Russia are among a “handful of states” conducting espionage and foreign influence activities in Canada. The committee specifically pointed out that Beijing uses a number of organizations to try to influence Chinese communities in Canada, and Canadian politicians to adopt pro-China positions.
The Ottawa-based Macdonald-Laurier Institute selected Chinese leader Xi Jinping as Canada’s “policy-maker of the year” for 2019, with the institute’s managing director Brian Lee Crowley saying “Canada is clearly soft-pedalling its traditional policy in a number of areas in order to avoid annoying Beijing.”
In May, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Austin Cullen was tasked with launching a public inquiry into the province’s struggle with money laundering, which has been linked to China-backed fentanyl operations in North America as well as rising real estate costs in major cities such as Vancouver.
According to Canadian journalist and author Jonathan Manthorpe in an article for Asia Times, senior Chinese Communist Party figures and “their close Red Prince and Princess relatives” wanting to bring assets to Canada are among the most avid users of money laundering schemes involving drug traffickers and illegal lenders.
In December, opposition parties dealt the Liberals their first defeat in Parliament since forming a minority government by pushing a majority vote to create a special committee on Canada-China relations, in defiance of the Liberals’ wishes.
The committee will examine all aspects of Canada-China relations, “including, but not limited to consular, economic, legal, security, and diplomatic relations,” according to Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole.
The committee is set to hold its first meeting in January.