Tag Archives: Foreign

Foreign correspondents in China say harassment, intimidation by authorities ramping up

Unwanted attention of authorities and obstruction on the job is just part of the territory for many foreign correspondents working in China.

Steven Lee Myers, Beijing bureau chief for the New York Times, wrote about one such experience when he was detained for 17 hours in Sichuan province, along with French photographer Gilles Sabrié.

Lee Myers was there in February 2018, to write about Tibetan holiday traditions, when a police officer appeared at a temple they had visited and began questioning him without giving any explanation about what they’d done wrong. As a result, he ended up writing about the hours he spent in custody.

He wrote in his piece, “To be clear, journalists face far worse threats and abuse in China and elsewhere.”

In the past year, journalists have faced far worse. And Lee Myers is one of several caught out by an apparent clampdown on media freedom in China.

A report released on Monday by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) confirms such fears among foreign journalists.

Pandemic led to tit-for-tat expulsions

Its annual survey on media freedom in 2020 found foreign journalists have been singled out in the way they’ve been treated under COVID-19 restrictions, in the name of public health. The report also accused Chinese authorities of dramatically stepping up efforts to frustrate the work of journalists, and to harass and intimidate them, by, for example, conducting both physical and electronic surveillance.

Lee Myers is one of 18 American journalists from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post who were kicked out of the country in March 2020, as tensions flared between Beijing and Washington over the coronavirus pandemic.


Steven Lee Myers, a correspondent for the New York Times, is shown in China in March 2020. He was one of 18 American journalists from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post who were expelled from the country last March after the Trump administration imposed a limit on visas for Chinese state-owned media operating in the U.S. (Andy Wong/The Associated Press)

“In the middle of a pandemic, we were given 10 days to pack up and leave,” he said in an interview over Skype.

He’s now based in Seoul, still covering the China beat. His fellow correspondents at the Times who were in Beijing have dispersed to other regions, including Singapore, Sydney and Taiwan, to continue reporting on the world’s second-biggest superpower.

The expulsions were triggered when the Trump administration decided to limit to 100 the number of Chinese journalists working in the United States for five state-owned media outlets, effectively forcing about 60 of them to leave.

China says its move was a necessary response to the oppression its media organizations experienced in the U.S.

“They couched it as being reciprocal, but obviously they targeted it at news organizations they particularly didn’t like,” Lee Myers said.

An opinion article published in the early days of the pandemic by the Wall Street Journal, entitled “China is the Real Sick Man of Asia,” is known to have enraged Chinese officials and prompted criticism on social media and from some academics. Following its publication in February 2020, China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said the newspaper “must be held responsible for what it has done.”

Figures provided by the FCCC show that there are now just 39 accredited American journalists working in China. Before last March’s expulsions, there were roughly 60, according to an estimate provided by one of the club’s board members.

But the deteriorating environment for reporters in China goes well beyond the diplomatic feud between Washington and Beijing — and the expulsion of journalists.

‘Strict controls’ on journalists: report

In its report — based on 150 responses to a survey conducted via email of correspondents and interviews with bureau chiefs — the FCCC said that for the third year in a row, none of the journalists said that working conditions had improved.

It also said “all arms of state power … were used to harass and intimidate journalists” and that “new surveillance systems and strict controls on movement — implemented for public health reasons — have been used to limit foreign journalists.”

Harassment of journalists in Xinjiang province was especially tense. The report said correspondents were visibly followed by police or state security agents, asked to delete data from their devices and prevented from talking to people.


A police officer stands near what is officially called a vocational education centre in Yining, in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, on Sept. 4, 2018. Journalists have faced harassment in the region, where China is accused of incarcerating as many as a million ethnic Uighurs, who are mostly Muslim. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

The Globe and Mail’s Canadian correspondent in China, Nathan VanderKlippe, was among those who shared their experience of operating in the region, where China is accused of incarcerating as many as a million ethnic Uighurs, who are mostly Muslim:

“Followed from airports on arrival. Shoved and grabbed by people who refused to identify themselves. Placed under such close surveillance that interviews were impossible,” the report quotes him as saying.

It’s in stark contrast to the message China is delivering about allowing outsiders to come and see for themselves what’s happening in the northwest region. On Tuesday, at a session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, China’s delegate, Jiang Duan, said that “the door to Xinjiang is always open.”

Also notable, according to the report, is that authorities in China either delayed the renewal of press cards or refused altogether to issue the credentials, which are required for journalists to work in the country. 


Security personnel stop journalists at the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan, China, during a visit by the WHO team tasked with investigating the origins of the coronavirus disease, on Jan. 31. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

VanderKlippe was one of those particularly hard hit, as relations between Ottawa and Beijing tumbled over the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver in December 2018, and the subsequent detention in China of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor:

“I received seven consecutive one-month visas, followed by a three month-visa,” he says in the report.

Singapore journalist Chun Han Wong of the Wall Street Journal was among those whose press credentials were not renewed, and German photographer Katharina Hesse was one of several who had their visa applications for re-entry denied.

‘They don’t need the foreign media as much’

One major frustration faced by correspondents came when China eased cross-border COVID-19 travel restrictions and began allowing foreign nationals with Chinese residence permits who had been locked out to return. Journalists were not included among those entitled to relaxed visa rules. The same does not apply to either Chinese nationals or the majority of other foreigners who reside in China.

“The overall view is … that they don’t need the foreign media as much,” said Keith Richburg, director of the University of Hong Kong’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre and a former China correspondent for the Washington Post.


Police face journalists outside a police station where media mogul Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, founder of Apple Daily, was held after his arrest by the national security unit in Hong Kong, on Aug. 12, 2020. (Lam Yik/Reuters)

Richburg, who’s also president of the Hong Kong chapter of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, said when he was covering China in the 1990s, authorities in Beijing wanted more foreign journalists in the country because “it made them feel like we were taking them seriously as a big power.”

But he said he now senses that authorities are much more interested in control than ever before. Tightening control over the media has been a feature of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s leadership, and from the start of China’s coronavirus outbreak, it appears the government has become more intolerant of criticism.

The result of these measures is the largest expulsion of foreign journalists from China since the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre more than three decades ago, according to the FCCC board member, who said before last year, only about 12 foreign journalists were expelled since 1989.

Some reports have suggested Beijing is retaliating against negative coverage of the coronavirus outbreak from Wuhan — where the first COVID-19 cases were detected in December 2019 — and other sensitive topics. They include the country’s Uighur Muslim minority in the Xinjiang region, the sovereignty of Tibet and a new national security law in Hong Kong that was imposed by Beijing.

‘Notable incidents’ include harassment, assault

The FCCC report includes roughly a dozen “notable incidents” of foreign journalists facing everything from harassment and intimidation to assault and destruction of property in 2020.

“In April, a correspondent for a U.K. news organization was accosted by more than a dozen plainclothes people outside a cemetery in Wuhan, who dragged her backward several metres as she tried to leave. The men grabbed her devices and checked her passport, refusing to return any of the items,” says one account.

WATCH | China jails citizen-journalist who captured early days of pandemic:

China has sentenced citizen-journalist Zhang Zhan to four and a half years behind bars for her reporting on the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in Wuhan, which painted a different picture than the government wanted. 2:00

The report also outlines an incident in September involving Alice Su of the Los Angeles Times. It says she “was surrounded by plainclothes men outside a school in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, who forced her to a police station,” and she was denied requests to call the U.S. Embassy. “When she tried to reach for her phone, an officer put his hands around her throat and locked her in a soundproof cell for an hour,” where she was interrogated.

On Monday, the spokesperson for China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, Wang Wenbin, said the findings detailed in the FCCC’s report were “baseless.”

“We always welcome media and foreign journalists from all countries to cover news in China according to the law,” he said.

Like Canada and the U.S., Australia is mired in a bitter feud with Beijing, prompted by Canberra’s calls for a probe into the origins of the global pandemic. Australians have been embroiled in some of the most alarming incidents related to journalists in the last year.

In September, Bill Birtles of the Australian Broadcasting Corp. and Michael Smith, a correspondent for the Australian Financial Review, were temporarily barred from leaving the country, allegedly for national security reasons. They were only permitted to go after a diplomatic standoff.


Australian journalist Cheng Lei, who was the anchor for state broadcaster CGTN, is shown in Beijing in this image taken from undated video footage. She was arrested in September and charged with supplying state secrets overseas. (Australia Global Alumni-Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade via Reuters)

Another Australian, Cheng Lei, an anchor for state broadcaster CGTN, was arrested in September and charged with supplying state secrets overseas.

But foreign correspondents aren’t the only ones in the firing line. Chinese staff working for international media faced substantial pressure over their work. For example, Haze Fan, a journalist for Bloomberg News, was detained in December. No details have been provided on where she is or why she’s been detained.

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CBC | World News

Biden to meet virtually with Trudeau on Tuesday in first meeting with a foreign leader

U.S. President Joe Biden’s first official meeting with a foreign head of government will be a virtual encounter on Tuesday with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“The president will highlight the strong and deep partnership between the United States and Canada as neighbours, friends and NATO allies,” the White House said in a statement on Saturday.

The Prime Minister’s Office said meeting agenda items include the COVID-19 pandemic, economic recovery, job creation, maintaining cross-border supply chains, climate change, energy, defence and security, and diversity and inclusion.

In a statement, Trudeau said he looked forward to the meeting and working with Biden to end the pandemic. 

The lengthy video meeting is expected to last more than one hour and will include a one-on-one chat between the leaders, as well as an expanded session between U.S. and Canadian cabinet members and officials. 


The U.S. president’s Keystone XL pipeline cancellation is expected to come up but will not likely be a main focus of the meeting. 

The detention of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in China is also expected to be raised by Trudeau, according to a source who spoke to CBC News confidentially.

Cross-border tensions won’t disappear

Biden has already had a series of phone conversations with a number of leaders, starting with Trudeau, shortly after his Jan. 20 inauguration.

The new administration has signalled its desire to improve relationships with traditional American partners by scheduling his first calls, and now a first meeting, with the country’s democratic allies. 

WATCH | What Biden’s first call with Trudeau means for Canada-U.S. relations:

Despite disagreement over Keystone XL, U.S. President Joe Biden’s phone call with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signals a likely return to normal U.S.-Canada relations. 1:51

But the first weeks of the Biden administration have illustrated how cross-border irritants have not, and will not, disappear with a change in president. 

The new administration has cancelled a major pipeline project from Canada; promised a Buy American policy in its infrastructure purchases — though it’s still unclear how extensive that policy will be; and continued former president Donald Trump’s export restrictions on vaccines produced in the United States.

Conversely, Biden has de-emphasized relationships with non-democratic figures that had been cozier during the Trump era.

The White House has said Biden would not deal directly with Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman because the crown prince is not officially the country’s ruler. It also said Biden planned to speak with allied leaders before figures such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin, though he did eventually talk to Putin in the second week of his presidency.

Biden emphasizes ‘shared democratic values’

The new U.S. president emphasized that point in a speech addressing the Munich security conference on Friday.

Biden promised to enforce NATO’s mutual-defence pact and called this a key moment in the struggle for democracy.

He contrasted his view of democratic alliances to that of his predecessor, without explicitly naming Trump. 

“Our partnerships have endured and grown through the years because they are rooted in the richness of our shared democratic values. They’re not transactional. They’re not extractive,” Biden said.

“In too many places, including in Europe and the United States, democratic progress is under assault…. We are in the midst of a fundamental debate about the future direction of our world. Between those who argue that … autocracy is the best way forward and those who understand that democracy is essential to meeting those challenges. Historians will examine and write about this moment. It’s an inflection point.”

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CBC | World News

White House sends a message about foreign policy in announcing Biden call with Trudeau

In announcing a planned phone call on Friday between U.S. President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the White House’s intended message was clear: Traditional allies are back in favour while despots, dictators and the killers of dissenters are on the outs.

The way press secretary Jen Psaki announced the scheduled call with Trudeau was revealing, as it came in response to a question that had nothing at all to do with Canada’s prime minister.

She was asked about Vladimir Putin. Specifically, she was asked when Biden would speak with the Russian leader. Psaki replied that it wasn’t an immediate priority.

“[Biden’s] first foreign leader call will be on Friday with Prime Minister Trudeau,” she said.

“I would expect his early calls will be with partners and allies. He feels it’s important to rebuild those relationships.”

U.S. plans to investigate Russia

Psaki elaborated on Putin in a separate news conference where she described Russia as “reckless” and “adversarial.” 

She said Biden has tasked the intelligence community with reporting on a variety of alleged Russian transgressions: cyberattacks on U.S. companies, interference in U.S. politics, the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and Russian-paid bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.

Yet the goal of rebalancing relationships away from rivals toward like-minded countries has been tested already.

Some Canadians, notably Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, want trade retaliation against the U.S. following the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline on Day 1 of the new administration. The decision undermines Canada’s No. 1 export to the United States: oil.

WATCH | The National’s report on Keystone XL: 

Many officials are hoping for improved relations between Canada and the United States under President Joe Biden, but his executive order cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline dealt some of those hopes an early blow — especially in Alberta. 2:02

Biden’s foreign policy ambitions will keep being tested as international relationships undergo unwieldy twists on any given issue due to practical and political considerations. 

Here is what we already know about the Biden administration’s approach to other countries after its first couple of days in office.

The moves so far

The administration will release a report on suspected Saudi government involvement in the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, an issue the last administration showed little interest in pursuing.

It is also threatening to cancel support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

It is willing to consider new NATO expansion on Russia’s doorstep, into Georgia, and in fact is staunchly supportive of the international military alliance.


U.S. President Donald Trump, right, seen here in 2018 holding a chart of military hardware sales to Saudi Arabia, had a warm relationship with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, left. Biden will release a report on the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was last seen alive on Oct. 2, 2018, entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

And Biden has rejoined previous alliances the U.S. was either scheduled to exit (the World Health Organization) or had already left (the Paris climate accord).

These activities are intended to signal a dramatic change in foreign policy from Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, who frequently bashed the leaders of democracies and international institutions while simultaneously cultivating friendly relationships with non-democratic leaders in the Middle East, Russia and North Korea.

There will be contradictions in Biden’s approach — as there were in Trump’s. 

For example, while Trump often had kind words for dictators, he also sanctioned their countries on occasion, including Russia and China.


Biden, seen here with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2011, has demanded a series of intelligence reports on Putin’s actions against the U.S. (Alexander Natruskin/Reuters)

Also, don’t count on an ambitious foreign policy from Biden. Early on, the new administration will be busy juggling domestic crises, said Edward Alden, an expert on Canada-U.S. relations.

“I think we are going to see an approach to alliances that looks a lot like [Barack] Obama’s — engaged, respectful, but not overly ambitious,” said Alden, a senior fellow at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations.

“The United States has enormous problems at home, and those are going to take priority for some time.” 

Alden said he does expect some new international initiatives, such as more active co-operation on global vaccine distribution.

Biden wants changes on Canada-U.S. pandemic travel 

On COVID-19, Biden also wants to immediately connect with Canada and Mexico to establish new rules within 14 days for pandemic-related travel safety measures.   

Alden also expects an attempt to rework and revive the international nuclear deal with Iran, and establish greater co-ordination with other countries in confronting China.

For example, Biden has proposed a summit of democracies where countries can share ideas for countering autocracies. 

Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, told his confirmation hearing this week that the last administration had a point in reorienting policy toward Beijing.

“President Trump was right in taking a tougher approach to China,” Blinken said. “The basic principle was the right one, and I think that’s actually helpful to our foreign policy.”

He got into a testy exchange at that hearing with Sen. Rand Paul, a libertarian-minded Republican who favours a hands-off approach on foreign affairs. 

When Blinken said he was open to expanding NATO membership to Russia’s neighbour Georgia, Paul called that a recipe for war with Russia.

Blinken argued the opposite is true. After years of Russian incursions in non-NATO Georgia and Ukraine, recent evidence suggests Russia is most belligerent with countries outside NATO’s shield, he said.

Keystone XL: The early irritant

Biden and Trudeau are expected to discuss new travel measures to control the spread of COVID-19, as well as Biden’s decision to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline expansion that would run south from Alberta to Nebraska.

So far, Trudeau has shown little desire to escalate the pipeline issue. 

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, on the other hand, has demanded retaliatory action, and some trade experts say potential legal avenues do exist.

WATCH | Kenny on the fate of Keystone XL: 

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says the federal government ‘folded’ in response to U.S President Joe Biden’s decision to revoke the Keystone XL pipeline. 2:14

But they’re skeptical they will achieve much.

Eric Miller of the Rideau Potomac Strategy Group, a cross-border consulting firm specializing in trade and government affairs, said the best that pipeline-backers can hope for is to sue the U.S. government for financial compensation for the cancelled project.

He said the Alberta government and the project’s developer, TC Energy, can try suing under the investor-state dispute chapter in the old NAFTA, which will remain in effect for two more years for existing investments.

“[But] nothing is going to force the Biden administration to deliver the permit,” Miller said.

“One has to be clear that there is no world in which Joe Biden [retreats on this].”

Canada-U.S. trade lawyer Dan Ujczo said he doubts complaints from Canada will make a difference. He said the most politically effective argument for the pipeline would come from Americans — from the companies and unions that would have serviced the project.

The Ohio-based lawyer said challenges under U.S. laws, such as the Administrative Procedures Act, could potentially work, but he cautioned: “They’re high hurdles.”

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Foreign Minister Champagne meets Belarus’s exiled opposition leader in Lithuania

As he continues a European tour, Canada’s top diplomat has met in Lithuania with the exiled opposition leader of Belarus.

Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne met today with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who fled her home country after an August election that Champagne has called “fraudulent.”

The U.S. and the European Union have denounced the election as neither free nor fair, and introduced sanctions against the officials they say are responsible for vote-rigging and a subsequent crackdown on protests.

Top European leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have also met with Tsikhanouskaya.

This was the first visit to Lithuania by a Canadian foreign minister in 24 years.

Following the meeting in the capital, Vilnius, Champagne told the exiled opposition leader that “Canada will always be on your side.”

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Queen Elizabeth sees new portrait unveiled at Britain’s Foreign Office

Britain’s Foreign Office has unveiled a new portrait of Queen Elizabeth by the artist Miriam Escofet, which the Queen viewed online on Friday during a virtual meeting to thank staff for their work helping travellers affected by coronavirus restrictions.

The portrait depicts Elizabeth wearing a blue knee-length dress, pearls and low-heeled black shoes, seated on a chair covered in gold leaf in an ornately furnished room, with a tea cup and a vase of mauve roses on the table beside her.

On the wall behind the Queen is the bottom of a much older portrait, of which only a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and the lower part of a lady’s white frilly dress is visible.


The painting was commissioned by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as a ‘lasting tribute’ to the Queen’s service to diplomacy. (Foreign and Commonwealth Office via The Associated Press)

“I’m glad I’ve had the chance to see it. I hope I’ll see it in real life one day,” Queen Elizabeth said after watching the portrait be unveiled via video conference.

The Queen saw the painting on her computer screen and observed that a tea cup in the portrait lacked a key ingredient: tea. Escofet told the monarch that she had included the insignia of the FCO on the cup.

“She seemed to react very positively to it,” Escofet said. “She was smiling, asking how long it took and if I had any more projects on the go after this.”

The 94-year-old monarch also thanked foreign ministry staff for their efforts to repatriate British nationals who struggled to return home due to coronavirus restrictions, and also heard about international efforts to develop a vaccine.

“Her Majesty the Queen is our best diplomat,” said Simon McDonald, head of Britain’s diplomatic service.


During the call, the Queen heard about the FCO’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak and support provided to travellers trying to get back to Britain. (Foreign and Commonwealth Office via The Associated Press)

The Queen sat twice for the portrait by Escofet, who was born in Barcelona but has spent most of her life in the United Kingdom, and won Britain’s most prestigious prize for portraiture in 2018.

During the visit, the monarch was told about how the Foreign Office handled the shock wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and brought thousands of British tourists home from far-flung travels.

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Canada extending ban on most foreign travellers to at least July 31

Ottawa plans to extend the sweeping travel ban that bars entry to all travellers who are not Canadian citizens, permanent residents or Americans for at least another month.

The order, which was set to expire tonight, “has been extended until July 31 for public health reasons,” Rebecca Purdy, spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency, said in a statement to CBC News.

The order — one of a set of extraordinary new measures introduced on March 16 to stop the spread of COVID-19 — bans most foreign nationals from entering Canada if they arrive from a foreign country other than the U.S. (There are limited exceptions for air crew, diplomats and immediate family members of citizens. Some seasonal workers, caregivers and international students are also exempt.)

The current Order in Council — a cabinet decision made without having to go to Parliament — was set to expire at 11:59 p.m. ET Tuesday.

The government intends to continue with the blanket ban of foreign nationals from entering Canada at this time, officials confirm, rather than modifying the order to reopen the border to certain countries — for example, those with low infection rates or those allowing Canadian tourists to visit.

Tuesday’s decision by Ottawa to continue the ban on foreign nationals from entering Canada comes as the European Union agrees to allow some tourists to enter the EU beginning tomorrow. Canada is among the 15 countries on the EU’s so-called “safe” list. 

The EU said Tuesday it expects countries on that list to lift any bans they might have in place on European travellers. 

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pushed back against pressure to relax the ban on international travellers, arguing that moving too quickly could spark a second wave of the coronavirus.

“We are going to be very, very careful about when and how we start reopening international borders,” Trudeau said at a briefing on June 22.

“I understand how difficult this is and how frustrating this is for some people, but we know that reopening too quickly or carelessly would lead us to a resurgence that might well force us to go back into lockdown, to shut down the economy once again, and nobody wants that.”

A separate order prohibiting non-essential travel between Canada and the U.S. is in effect until July 21.


A cabinet order requiring all travellers entering Canada to isolate for 14-days was set to expire Tuesday, but will be extended, a government official told CBC News on Monday. (Jennifer Gauthier/Bloomberg)

Quarantine order also to be extended: official

Tuesday marks six months since the World Health Organization was first informed of a cluster of unusual pneumonia cases in China – the first public indications of the coronavirus’s emergence.

WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned this week that the coronavirus pandemic is “not even close to being over” and that the outbreak is accelerating globally. To date, the WHO has recorded more than 10 million cases and 500,00 deaths globally. 

CBC News reported on Monday that the federal government also intends to extend strict quarantine rules requiring travellers to isolate for 14 days upon their arrival in Canada. That separate order is also set to expire at 11:59 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

Under the Quarantine Act, travellers also need to confirm that they have a suitable place to isolate where they will have access to basic necessities, including food and medicine.

No one would be permitted to quarantine anywhere they could come into contact with vulnerable people. Those who, for example, normally live with an elderly person or someone with a compromised immune system would have to quarantine elsewhere.

If the Canada Border Services Agency suspects that a returning traveller is not going to comply with the rules, it can alert the Public Health Agency of Canada, which can then flag the RCMP’s national operations centre. The RCMP has been playing a co-ordinating role with local police during the pandemic.

Maximum penalties for failing to comply with the Quarantine Act include a fine of up to $ 750,000 and/or imprisonment for six months. If someone jeopardizes another’s life while wilfully or recklessly contravening the act, the penalties are even greater: $ 1 million or three years in prison, or both.

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German foreign minister warns of humanitarian crisis in Syria’s Idlib province

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has warned of a “humanitarian catastrophe” in Idlib if fighting in Syria doesn’t stop, speaking Saturday after a meeting with his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavusoglu during the Munich Security Conference.

Maas urged Russia to place pressure, “on the Assad regime so that these attacks and fighting are stopped.” The military campaign in Idlib province and the nearby Aleppo countryside has killed hundreds of civilians, and caused hundreds of thousands of people to flee.

Many of those who have fled have been forced to sleep outside during the bitterly cold winter, with the weather contributing to at least 10 deaths.

“I hope that the upcoming talks between Russia and Turkey next week will result in progress in these areas so that we are spared another humanitarian catastrophe there,” Maas said. 

Turkey said on Saturday it had fulfilled its responsibilities in Idlib region in line with de-escalation agreements with Russia and Iran, warning it would take military action in the area if diplomatic efforts with Moscow fail.

Turkey and Russia, which back opposing sides in Syria’s war, agreed in 2018 to set up a de-escalation zone in the northwestern region. But their fragile co-operation has been disrupted by a Syrian government offensive in Idlib, in which 13 Turkish soldiers have been killed in the past two weeks.


Members of a family fleeing with their belongings pass through the town of Hazano in the northern countryside of Syria’s Idlib province on Feb.5, on their way northward toward the Turkish border amid an ongoing regime offensive. (Aaref Watad/AFP via Getty Images)

Ankara has said it will use military power to drive back the Syrian forces unless they withdraw by the end of February, and President Tayyip Erdogan threatened to strike Syrian government forces anywhere in Syria if another Turkish soldier was hurt.

Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, says Turkey has flouted deals it made with Moscow and aggravated the situation in Idlib. The Kremlin also said Ankara had failed to neutralize militants there.

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay told broadcaster NTV that Turkey was determined to stop Syrian advances in Idlib, and that Ankara had conveyed its position to Moscow during ongoing talks.

“We cannot overlook the cruelty happening in our neighbor,” Oktay said. “Turkey has fulfilled its responsibilities in Idlib. Some of our observation posts have fallen into areas controlled by the (Syrian) regime,” he said, referring to Turkish military observation posts established in Idlib under the 2018 deal.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said later on Saturday that Turkey wants to resolve matters with Russia over Idlib through diplomacy, but will take other steps if necessary.


Syrians fleeing with their belongings pass through the town of Batabo in Aleppo province on Feb.5. They were making their way toward the Turkish border. (Aaref Watad/AFP via Getty Images)

“If it won’t work through diplomatic channels, we will take the necessary steps,” Cavusoglu told reporters at the Munich Security Conference.

He added that a Turkish delegation would go to Moscow on Monday to hold talks over Idlib and that he would meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov later in the day.

Iran, which also supports Assad, said last week it was ready to help Ankara and Damascus resolve their disputes.

Turkey-Russia talks

The escalation of violence in Idlib has also caused hundreds of thousands of people to abandon their homes and head north to the Turkish-Syrian border, many trudging by foot through snow in freezing temperatures, to escape air strikes and artillery fires by the Russian-supported government forces.

Turkey, which currently hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, has said it cannot handle a new influx from Idlib. It has poured more than 5,000 troops, several convoys of military vehicles and equipment to the region, including tanks, armoured personnel carriers and radar equipment to bolster its positions.

As the Syrian government continued its offensive, Turkish and Russian officials held talks in Ankara to tackle the dispute. Erdogan has also spoken on the phone twice with Russian President Vladimir Putin since the Turkish troops were killed.

However, there was no sign of an agreement, with both sides accusing the other of failing to meet their responsibilities.

Turkey, a NATO ally with the alliance’s second-biggest army, has supported rebels looking to oust Assad. Erdogan said earlier this week that the Turkey-backed rebels launched an offensive to retake some areas they had lost to Syrian forces.

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63 Canadians among dead after plane crash in Iran: Ukraine foreign minister

Ukraine’s foreign minister says 63 Canadians are among the dead after a Ukrainian International Airlines flight crashed near Iran’s capital, killing everyone aboard the airliner.

The passenger jet carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday, just minutes after taking off from Tehran’s main airport, turning farmland into fields of flaming debris.

Foreign Affairs Minister Vadym Prystaiko said Iranian, Ukrainian, Swedish, Afghan, British and German nationals were also aboard the plane. CBC News has reached out to Global Affairs Canada but has not heard back.

The crash of the Ukraine International Airlines flight came hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on Iraqi bases housing U.S. soldiers, but both Ukrainian and Iranian officials said they suspected a mechanical issue brought down the Boeing 737-800 aircraft. However, the Ukrainian embassy in Iran later said any previous comments about the cause of the crash were not official.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky extended his condolences to the families of the victims. His office said he had cut his visit to Oman short and was returning to Kyiv because of the crash. The country’s Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk confirmed the casualty toll.

Cause of crash not yet clear

“Our task is to establish the cause of the crash of the Boeing and provide all necessary help to the families of the victims,” said parliament speaker, Dmytro Razumkov, in a Facebook statement.

Ukraine International Airlines said it had indefinitely suspended flights to Tehran after the crash.

Hassan Razaeifar, the head of air crash investigation committee, said it appeared the pilot couldn’t communicate with air-traffic controllers in Tehran in the last moments of the flight. He did not elaborate.


A relative of a victim of the Ukraine International Airlines plane that crashed after taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport reacts at Boryspil International Airport, outside Kyiv. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)

Ukrainian authorities have offered to help with the investigation of the plane crash. “We’re preparing a group of specialists in order to help with the search operation and the investigation of the cause of the crash,” Honcharuk said.

Boeing Co. was “aware of the media reports out of Iran and we are gathering more information,” spokesperson Michael Friedman told the AP. 

Din Mohammad Qassemi, who lives near the crash site, said he had been watching the news about the Iranian ballistic missile attack on U.S. forces in Iraq in revenge for the killing of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani when he heard the crash.

“I heard a massive explosion and all the houses started to shake. There was fire everywhere,” he told The Associated Press. “At first I thought (the Americans) have hit here with missiles and went in the basement as a shelter. After a while, I went out and saw a plane has crashed over there. Body parts were lying around everywhere.”

Transport Canada had previously said that it was “monitoring the situation closely in the Middle East and are in close contact with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.”  It said that Air Canada, the only Canadian carrier to operate in the affected area, “has altered its routes to ensure the security of its flights into and over the Middle East.”

More to come.

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Iran’s foreign minister says U.S. targeting of cultural sites would be ‘a war crime’

Iranian senior ministers responded Sunday to Donald Trump’s threat to bomb 52 sites in Iran, saying the attacks would be a “war crime” and comparing the U.S. president to Hitler and Genghis Khan.

Trump on Saturday threatened to bomb 52 Iranian sites, including cultural sites, if Iran retaliates by attacking Americans.

The comments came after Iran promised “harsh revenge” for the U.S. drone strike that killed Quds Force commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Iraq on Friday.

Trump wrote on Twitter that the U.S. had already “targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture.”

He did not identify the targets but added that they would be “hit very fast and very hard.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that any target the U.S. military may strike in Iran, in the event Iran retaliates, would be legal under the laws of armed conflict.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted Sunday morning that the Trump administration had already “committed grave breaches of (international) law” and that “targeting cultural sites is a war crime.”


His colleague, Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, replied to Trump’s tweets shortly after, saying that “like ISIS, like Hitler, like Genghis (Khan),” the U.S. president hated culture.

“Trump is a ‘terrorist’ in a suit’,” he added.


Iranians across all political lines were shocked by the death of Soleimani, a commander widely seen as a pillar of the Islamic Republic.

Retaliation could potentially come through the proxy forces Soleimani oversaw as the head of an elite unit within the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

Soleimani’s longtime deputy Esmail Ghaani already has taken over as the Quds Force’s commander.

Late Saturday, a series of rockets launched in Baghdad fell inside or near the Green Zone, which houses government offices and foreign embassies, including the U.S. Embassy.

The 1954 Hague Convention, of which the US is a party, bars any military from “direct hostilities against cultural property.”

However, such sites can be targeted if they have been re-purposed and turned into a legitimate “military objective,” according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Iran, home to 24 UNESCO World Heritage sites, has in the past reportedly guarded the sprawling tomb complex of the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, with surface-to-air missiles.

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U.S. slaps sanctions on Iran’s foreign minister amid rising tensions

The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, targeting the country’s top spokesperson and potentially hurting chances of diplomatic talks amid rising tensions between the two countries.

The highly unusual action of penalizing the top diplomat of another nation comes a month after U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order placing sanctions on Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Zarif was an important figure in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal agreed to under the administration of former president Barack Obama with Tehran and other world powers. Trump pulled the United States out of the deal last year.

The relationship between Washington and Tehran has become even more strained in recent months after attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, for which the United States blames Iran. Iran’s downing of a U.S. drone also prompted preparations for a U.S. retaliatory air strike that Trump called off at the last minute.

“Javad Zarif implements the reckless agenda of Iran’s Supreme Leader, and is the regime’s primary spokesperson around the world,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “The United States is sending a clear message to the Iranian regime that its recent behavior is completely unacceptable.”

The sanctions against Zarif would block any property or interests he has in the United States, but the Iranian foreign minister said he had none.

Thank you for considering me such a huge threat to your agenda.– Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

“The US’ reason for designating me is that I am Iran’s ‘primary spokesperson around the world’,” Zarif said on Twitter. “Is the truth really that painful? It has no effect on me or my family, as I have no property or interests outside of Iran. Thank you for considering me such a huge threat to your agenda.”

The Trump administration said it would make decisions on whether to grant Zarif a travel visa, including for trips to the United Nations, on a case-by-case basis, holding open the possibility that he might attend the annual UN General Assembly in September.

If Zarif received such a visa, that would leave the door open to possible direct or indirect U.S. contacts with Zarif during the gathering, which brings most of the world’s leaders to New York and has been the venue for previous U.S.-Iranian contacts.

A senior U.S. official reiterated that Trump was open to talks with Iran, but said the administration did not consider Zarif to be a key decision-maker.

Mnuchin said Zarif used social media to spread Iranian “propaganda and disinformation” while the government did not allow its citizens to use such mediums themselves.

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