Thursday, December 28, 2023

Why is Canada paying compensation to the Two Michaels

Canada is in the very strange situation of planning to pay the "Two Michaels" a substantial sum of money - several million dollars, by all accounts - as compensation for the almost three years they spent languishing in a Chinese prison.

You will remember that Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig spent over 1,000 days in jail in China in a tit-for-tat retaliatory response to Canada's arrest of Huawei CEO Meng Wanzhou on a US extradition warrant. They were arrested on what are widely considered to be trumped up charges of spying, and were only released when Ms. Wangzhou was released. They were held in poor conditions, some of it in solitary confinement, and denied outside communications for months at a time. They were both subjected to lengthy interrogation sessions.

No-one is suggesting that they had a pleasant time of it, but the idea that Canada (and not China, for example) should pay them damages for their experience is a rather strange and problematic one. It's not at all clear to me how the Canadian government - and Canadian taxpayers - are on the hook for the actions of another country. 

Unless, that is, there is more to all this than we know, or is publicly admitted. Is this a tacit admission of the espionage allegations, despite all the outraged denials the government kept up for the three years of their detention? (That's certainly how China is now portraying it.) Are they trying to avoid a public lawsuit by Mr. Spavor which might bring unwelcome attention to the government security reporting program? Who knows?

This also comes after recent revelations that both men WERE actually involved in some level of undercover intelligence work. It also comes after the two Canadians engaged in a rather public mutual blame game. I think that I, and probably many other people, was somewhat taken aback by this news. I'm not saying that China was necessarily justified in their imprisonment, but it does muddy the water a little.

The government has apparently offered the two men $3 million each, but Mr. Spavor at least is seeking over $10 million, alleging gross negligence on how Ottawa handled Canada's Global Security Reporting Program in China. Negotiations are ongoing.

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