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Releasing Michael Kovrig – OpEd


Much has been said and written about the ongoing case for the extradition Meng Wanzhou, a chief Huawei executive, to the United States. You will recall that she was arrested at the Vancouver airport en route to Mexico in December 2018 at the request of the United States on the pretext that she had violated US sanctions against Iran.


Those sanctions were never approved by any coalition of the willing in the United Nations and Canada has not endorsed them. Canada’s interests abroad are better served by the P-5 agreement with Iran in an attempt to limit the former’s nuclear arsenal. Why arrest Meng then when the very basis of the accusation does not fit into any interpretation of the furtherance of any Canadian foreign objectives?

In Canada, those who talk about rule of law (ROL) are simply looking for excuses not to anger China. They should take a look at the First Testament story of David and Goliath. It pains me greatly that my fellow citizens have yet to muster enough bravery to insist on Michael Kovrig’s release from a Beijing prison where he is now rotting. Recent surveys including a poll by Nasno Research show that Canadians want their government to be more aggressive in seeking the release Michael Kovrig.

One could assume the writing was on the wall when Canada recently negotiated a new free trade pact with Mexico and the USA based on a well-founded fear of economic sanctions emanating from the Trump administration. Fear of US economic reprisals dominated the Canadian negotiating strategy, a strategy hoping that Canada would fall off the US radar in favor of Mexico in view of its public wrangling over immigration. It was a strategy based on fear, something former PM Jean Chrétien had no problem with when he informed President George Bush in 2001 that Canada would not be part of the coalition to invade Iraq under the pretext of the presence of arms of mass destruction.

It has taken months even years for China experts in this country to understand that appeasement is the worst strategy Canada can take. The Canadian public is ahead of the international literati of domestic ex Ambassadors, high officials, media analysts and acolyte soothsayers. The Canadian people deserve better leaders.

One pernicious idea circulating, which emanates directly from the minority Liberal Party government of Justin Trudeau, is that the arrest of Meng Wanzhou is based on our unwavering respect for ROL. Is it ROL to kneel under political and economic pressure from the Donald Trump administration? Is it Meng or sanctions? Does the Canadian leadership fear the USA that much? Is it ROL to allow the Canadian Minister of Justice to overrule any court in the land arbitrarily on a judicial matter including extradition? Is it ROL to hide behind the British parliamentary system and deny the legitimacy of the doctrine of separation of powers?


For these pundits, ROL seems to encompass a fair amount of escrocery and smoke and mirrors. In this regard, the SNC scandal is not dissimilar from the present one except that the Kovrig case involves human lives and plays into the entire bilateral relationship between two countries.

The SNC scandal, which came on the heels of the Meng affair in early 2019 exhibited the same confusion between the political and legal institutions in Canada. It bears the mark of the weakest link in the British parliamentary system. PM Trudeau, in virtue of his political role and representing the constituents of a Montreal riding, exerted pressure on the Minister of Justice to accord a judicial arrangement to SNC Lavalin having been found guilty of misconduct in a contract in Libya.

Once again, the colonial practice of suspending the separation of powers was exercised by the Prime Minister’s Office and through the Office of the new Minister of Justice once the former recalcitrant Minister had been removed from her Cabinet post. Canada has no effective constitutional protection from political interference in the courts and that is why ROL is nothing but a sycophant’s illusion. The SNC and Meng capers exhibit the same root cause with ominous results.

Would Meng have been arrested in the USA?

This question is haunting. Although the USA levied the sanctions against Iran thereby avoiding any third-party obstruction in this case, an arrest warrant would have had to pass through State Department and the Department of Justice before being tabled before a district court judge.

Unlike the Canadian example where the Ministry of Justice can order the arrest of Meng, the American separation of powers doctrine would mean such an action would have to pass numerous hurdles including most likely the test of public opinion and the media. In this case, the separation of powers would have worked better than any offset of the colonial constitution of powers. Habeus corpus is also most effectively protected by the US constitution.

There is a higher concept involved in the demands for the release of Michael Kovrig. Is it legitimate to invoke a principle (let us imagine it makes sense), knowing that it will have a human cost?

Michael Kovrig is an intelligent and dynamic individual whose life has been destroyed by a cruel and vindictive regime in Beijing. No one in Canada disputes the dastardly nature of the Chinese Communist Party and how many lives they have ruined and continue to ruin in Hong Kong, Tibet and the Uyghurs.

This is not the question. To declare as one former Canadian Ambassador has that China has effectively closed the door on all negotiation is an example of desperation and defeatism. It is true they bear responsibility for the arrest and treatment of Michael Kovrig but Canada can and must do more to ensure the end of this crisis. Contrary to PM Trudeau’s fear mongering, Meng’s release would not precipitate some sort of Armagedon in which Canada would have its citizens picked up for loitering on the streets of China.

The question is whether our political literati are going to sacrifice Michael Kovrig in the name of a principle called ROL that they are supremely incapable of proving it in the Canadian context. Such is the present unhappy state of affairs.

Let us try to obtain the release Michael Kovrig now and leave our political squabbling for later. The Meng and SNC affairs have illustrated once again unbeknownst to our political elites that:

Diplomacy is the essential art of the possible, not the science of the desperate.

Bruce Mabley

Dr. Bruce Mabley is a former Canadian diplomat having served in the Middle East, and is the director of the Mackenzie-Papineau think tank in Montreal.

One thought on “Releasing Michael Kovrig – OpEd

  • July 28, 2020 at 11:11 am

    Bruce, Very good piece. Cheers.


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