Ex-minister denounces racism against senator he called mouthpiece for China

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OTTAWA — A former diplomat and cabinet minister is denouncing the anti-Asian racism directed at a Canadian senator he's called a mouthpiece for China, while still condemning his views.

Chris Alexander told The Canadian Press he has serious concerns that Sen. Yuen Pau Woo retweeted a Toronto Star column that suggested Canada assisted the United States in taking Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou "hostage" as part of the American trade and technology war with China.

That parrots the line propagated by the Chinese Communist regime that Meng's arrest was politically motivated, he said.

In Alexander's view, Canada, acting on an extradition request from the U.S., acted strictly in accordance with the rule of law — which is what the Canadian government has always maintained.

However, he said Woo does not deserve the torrent of abuse he received on social media after Alexander last week tweeted his disapproval of the senator posting a link to the Star column.

In that tweet, Alexander called on Woo to resign because "mouthpieces for foreign propaganda … should have no place in Canada's Parliament."

That triggered responses that, among other things, said Woo should be sent back to China.

"I stand in solidarity with Sen. Woo and anyone else who's in public life in saying that there should be more robust protections from this kind of abuse," Alexander, who served as immigration minister under Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, said in an interview Monday.

"He, of all people, does not deserve to endure even a syllable of that kind of commentary."

Asked if he regrets using the word "mouthpiece" to describe Woo, Alexander said: "I'm comfortable with most of what I've said in the past. I think there are other ways of saying it, yeah, I don't think it needs to be repeated and branded that way."

That said, he added: "I still want to hear from Sen. Woo a commitment to … the view that the rule of law had a primary role to play in what happened to Meng Wanzhou in Canada."

Meng was released and returned to China on Sept. 24, hours after agreeing to a deferred prosecution deal with the U.S. Two Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who had been detained by China in retaliation for Meng's arrest, were simultaneously released and returned to Canada.

"My concern is that our parliamentarians know the difference between judicial and police action under the rule of law, on the one hand, and politically inspired arbitrary actions that take place in countries that don't have the rule of law," Alexander said.

In an email later, he added: "It would be wrong to imply that any Canadian parliamentarian is willingly making him- or herself a spokesperson for another country. I for one have no evidence of this.

" … We can all agree it is possible to be an ‘unwitting mouthpiece’ for disinformation and propaganda depending on the bubble of news and opinion in which we choose to seclude ourselves."

For his part, Woo said Monday: “I appreciate Alexander’s reflection on his (Twitter) post but continue to worry about the stigmatization of immigrants (and) visible minorities who hold views on foreign policy that do not conform to the beliefs of a privileged individual such as the former minister of immigration.”

Woo, who was born in Malaysia and raised in Singapore before coming to Canada as a teenager, told The Canadian Press last week he's worried that he and other Canadians of Chinese descent are being stigmatized as stooges or agents of China.

He noted that the same accusation is not levelled against other prominent Canadians, including former foreign affairs minister John Manley, who have echoed the view that Meng was used by former U.S. president Donald Trump as a bargaining chip in trade talks with China.

Nor have other senators endured the same kind of "go home" abuse that Woo did after they voted down a motion last June labelling China's treatment of Uyghur Muslims a "genocide."

Alexander said he thinks Woo is caught up in "a bubble of thinking about China" that is shared by many in Justin Trudeau's Liberal government, one that is "generally defensive of China's rhetoric and of Chinese actions at a time when reality is marching in a very different direction."

But he said he felt Woo needed to be "called out" on it because, as the facilitator for the Independent Senators Group, the largest caucus in the Senate, he is "the highest ranking, serving member of Parliament or government that I can find who's come as close to repeating the arguments of the Chinese government in his current role."

Alexander also stood by his call for Woo to resign.

"In my view, any Canadian parliamentarian should resign if they consider a lawful action made by independent Canadian institutions of justice and law enforcement (operating) under the rule of law to be a ‘hostage-taking,'" he said.

"The oath we take as parliamentarians requires us to uphold a democratic system of government under the crown that includes the rule of law."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 4, 2021.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

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