Archive for the Uncategorized Category


Canada has found itself, reluctantly, in the midst of a major diplomatic row with China.  Acting in accordance with its extradition treaty obligations, Canada arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou as she was connecting to another flight at Vancouver Airport.  After 11 days in detention, she has received bail, but not before, in a remarkable coincidence, Michael Kovrig, a Canadian citizen and former diplomat and current Senior Advisor to an international NGO, has disappeared in Beijing.  Chinese officials have not confirmed his arrest but have cryptically observed that the NGO for which he works is not registered in China and therefore any activity on its behalf would be illegal.

So what is this all about?  It seems that the US Justice Department has determined that HSBC cleared transactions through the US banking system that included proceeds from sales of cell phones to Iranian interests in contravention of the recently re-imposed US trade sanctions.  That the US takes this sort of breach seriously is evidenced (sort of) by the severe economic sanctions placed upon another Chinese technology company, ZTE, in the context of similar activity a year ago.  I say sort of because in the end ZTE was rescued from extinction by President Trump in the context of a softening of Chinese positions in the still-ongoing trade war with the US.

So what do HSBC’s breaches have to do with Meng Wanzhou?  It sounds like the transactions that gave rise to the breach by HSBC were conducted by Skycom, a Hong Kong-based entity doing business with Iranian interests.  Meng Wanzhou was at one time on the board of Skycom, but not at the time of the impugned sales transactions.  However, it is alleged that Meng Wanzhou made representations to HSBC and other banks operating in the US that Huawei was not related to Skycom, and it is these fraudulent representations that give rise to the extradition request from the US.  As a strictly factual matter, things look bad for Meng Wanzhou; journalists have already discovered that Skycom’s registered office shares an address with Huawei’s Hong Kong office and that Skycom’s e-mail addresses are on Huawei’s internet domain.

Now the fact that these two damning facts were so quickly discoverable by mere journalists suggest that whatever deception Meng Wanzhou may have subjected HSBC to, they might in fact be guilty of a certain laxity in their own independent due diligence.  Furthermore, it is hard to understand how the reality of Huawei’s effective ownership of Skycom could have excused any alleged breach by HSBC in clearing transactions effected in breach of the US sanctions on Iran.  One could even speculate that the far more practically relevant fact underlying Meng Wanzhou’s arrest is not these alleged misrepresentations or her role as CFO of Huawei, but rather the fact that she is the daughter of Ren Zhengfei, the founder of Huawei with a history as replete with achievements within the Communist Party and Chinese military as it is with business triumphs.

But never mind that for now.  The US has until January 9th to clear up these gaps in support of their extradition demand.  In the meantime, Meng Wanzhou will suffer in one or both of her Vancouver mansions with the indignity of an electronic ankle bracelet while President Trump presses whatever leverage he can out of this affront in the context of his increasingly fraught trade negotiations with Chinese President Xi Jinping.  Smart money says the resolution of the trade dispute will be happily concluded by January 9th, Meng Wanzhou will have a pleasant holiday in her one-time home city of Vancouver and will in the New Year return to China and to Huawei with nothing more than a little ankle chafing.

Let’s hope the whole experience is as transparent, pleasant and quickly resolved for Mr Kovrig.  Somehow I doubt it will be.

Merry Christmas!


Both Canadians and Americans are once again debating the responsible use of Twitter as an instrument of political discourse.  The circumstances giving rise to that debate, however, could not be more different, and demonstrate a fundamental divergence in the expectations of the electorate in the two countries.

On August 2nd, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland expressed alarm at the imprisonment of Saudi women’s and civil rights activist Samar Badawi, and confirmed that Canadians “continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi” (Raif Badawi is Samar’s brother, whose wife and children fled from Saudi Arabia to Canada as refugees following his arrest).  This was followed the next day a comparable Tweet on the Foreign Policy Canada account noting the same concern and “urging” Saudi Authorities to “immediately release them”.  In response to this affront, the Saudi government has expelled the Canadian ambassador, put a halt to any new trade or investment deals with Canada, cancelled all Saudi airline flights in and out of Canada and recalled all Saudi students currently studying in Canada.

Many have decried this imprudent use of Twitter as tool of diplomacy, and much scolding has been directed toward the Trudeau government, which might be fair if this were the first and only way that the Saudi government had been made aware of Canada’s views on these issues.  However, the government has made clear that these views had been made known to the Saudis through all normal diplomatic channels, and this assertion has not been challenged by any critic, including the Saudis themselves.  Fair enough, continue the critics, but then what was the value of this exercise in virtue signalling other than to embarrass the Saudis publicly and encourage if not foment domestic Saudi opposition to their policy?

Let’s deal with the meddling in domestic politics angle first.  Look at the wording of the tweets.  Chrystia Freeland is “strongly calling” for the prisoners’ release.  The FP tweet merely “urges” the government to immediately release them.  While the “immediately” part of the second tweet might sound a little shrill, they only upgraded the “strong call” to an “urge”; still well short of even a “demand” for which one could arguably anticipate consequences to refusal to comply.  It really sounds like they were carefully moderating the response to that which was the minimum required of a progressive government of the country in which the wife and children of one of the imprisoned activists has sought refuge to demonstrate to it s own domestic audience that is was fairly representing the values and interests of Canadians.  Yes, it was virtue signalling, but not gratuitous virtue signalling.  Given all that, the extreme Saudi response seems by far the more unreasonable action.

On August 14th, prolific Twitter star and sometime Head of State of the most powerful nation on the planet Donald Trump fired off the following tweet in response to the revelation that former Trump aide Omorosa Manigault Newman had secretly recorded conversations in and from the White House regarding her recent dismissal:

“When you give a crazed, crying low life a break, and give her a job at the White House, I guess it just didn’t work out.  Good work by General Kelly for quickly firing that dog!”.

To voice and perhaps vent his disappointment in Omorosa, the President could have sent her an e-mail to that effect (but perhaps more coherently expressed), so there had to have been a shaming and our virtue signalling strategy at play here.  To that end, some have pointed out that the recording of conversations in the White House generally and in the Situation Room in particular, is certainly against White House policy and might be illegal.  Once again, fair enough.  So let’s look at the content of the tweet; no reference to breaches of policy or law or its consequences, just mocking references to mental health issues and emotional instability and a dehumanizing insult.  This was pure virtue signalling, where the virtue on display is a vague but unmistakable hostility toward the trifecta of people with mental health challenges, women and minorities.

Even when it comes to Twitter abuse, Canadians are laughably but commendably polite.


We all have a lamp.  Sooner or later, all of us learn that if you rub the lamp, you will summon forth a genie.  In a perfect world, we would all make this discovery organically, at no one else’s prompting, at a time in our life at which we have been appropriately armed, by our parents or someone else with our best interests in mind, with a sophisticated understanding of the consequences, both good and bad, of summoning that genie.

But that is not how life works.  It never has.  Because others know that they have a lamp, they also know that everyone else has a lamp.  Some will show people their lamp when they shouldn’t; others will ask to see our lamp.  Even more will talk a lot about lamps and genies, and will inevitably make the genies sound even more mystical than they are.   And once freed, it is impossible to get the genie back in the bottle, and that genie, once freed, can cause havoc for individuals, families and society.

So we have to arm our children with an understanding of genies as soon as they are capable of understanding them.  We can’t wait until we think they might have otherwise been inclined to rub the lamp, because there are sadly others who might be looking to rub their lamp themselves.  And we have to keep that dialogue going, with increasing sophistication, always arming them with information about the genie that is appropriate to their capacity to understand.

It is not an easy task, and parents have the central role in this process.  Whether they know it or not, how they model healthy lamp management by their deeds will probably impact their children even more than their words, but their words matter as well.  But we cannot leave this task to parents alone, because not every parent can or will model or teach good lamp management, and the societal impact of unmanaged genies is simply too high.

The school system offers an appropriate place to reinforce or, if necessary, introduce lessons about managing lamps and genies.  Creating curriculum to do this is difficult; not every child and adolescent of the same age is at the corresponding same stage in terms of their lamp-awareness.  But again, their vulnerability to predatory lamp-rubbers is unfortunately often inversely correlated to their own level of lamp-awareness.  Genie lessons will inevitably be revelatory and unsettling for some, but necessary.  Parents need to make themselves aware of what their children are learning about genies, and provide context, both culturally and morally, for what they are learning.

Parents might well be challenged by their children when the context into which they cast that learning conflicts with a more inclusive view of genies that they might have received at school.  Parents might find themselves having to concede that others in society take a broader view of what you can do with your genie than they do, and might be required to make the case for that more restrictive view of what their child may wish for from their genie.  This may cause some conflict in the home, but far less strife and conflict than that which can arise when lamps are rubbed without any understanding of the power of the genie that is being summoned.

Doug Ford became the Premier of Ontario promising that parents will be left with the power to decide when the genie is released from the bottle.  Sadly, history has shown that no amount of lamp rubbing will ever give anyone that power.