Helping Canadians Incarcerated Overseas

  • By John Weston
  • 24 Aug, 2016
The National Post recently pointed out constraints on a national government – any national government – in assisting its citizens who are incarcerated abroad (“Limits to Ottawa’s ability to help”, August 16, 2016).  It’s too easy to criticize a government when the results are beyond its control.In my experience as a former Member of Parliament and international lawyer, Canadian diplomats and Global Affairs officials are renowned as professional, hardworking, and effective.  Among other things,
The National Post recently pointed out constraints on a national government – any national government – in assisting its citizens who are incarcerated abroad (“Limits to Ottawa’s ability to help”, August 16, 2016).  It’s too easy to criticize a government when the results are beyond its control.
In my experience as a former Member of Parliament and international lawyer, Canadian diplomats and Global Affairs officials are renowned as professional, hardworking, and effective.  Among other things, the Department provides invaluable information about safe travel abroad at https://travel.gc.ca .
However, our officials are limited by our respect for the sovereignty of other countries, the number of Canadians in foreign jails at any given time (typically, between two and three thousand), and the divided loyalties of any government in working on the case (assume our government may have to deal with several persons imprisoned in the same country; may not want that country’s government meddling in Canadian affairs; may want to negotiate a significant trade deal; or have other interests at stake in its dealings with the “host” country).  Like it or not, a winning strategy for assisting a Canadian incarcerated abroad needs to take into account the resources of our government AND other considerations.
Here are some specific suggestions that might assist Canadians incarcerated overseas and those working to release them:
1.    Learn about local rules and processes:  Track down people familiar with the customs, traditions, and applicable laws. Be sure to be flexible. I recall walking into a courtroom in Taiwan to defend a penniless American charged with shoplifting. Non-Taiwan lawyers were prohibited from appearing in the local courts. So I appeared as his “translator” and won the acquittal.
2.  The Media Game is a Sensitive One: Once reporters grab the story, the government and you lose significant control. A potential slight to the government in control of your loved one may worsen that person’s circumstances.   At the same time, it may be important to get the case into the media in order to ensure the host country knows that the world is watching.  When I was helping the late Bill Sampson, the Canadian wrongly accused of planting car bombs in Saudi Arabia, I published an account that pointed out the many reasons why he was unlikely to have committed the alleged offences.
3.  Consider the Interests of the Foreign Government: Using the appropriate approach, try to focus some attention on the foreign country’s ambassador to Canada, leveraging these competing interests to the best of your ability.  While I was an MP, Mexico’s Ambassador to Canada played a significant and sensitive role in assisting the family of a Canadian who was wrongly charged with drug offenses.
4.    Appoint a Spokesperson: To succeed, a team must be managed well, whether on the playing field or in the battle to win release of your loved one. One person should be chiefly responsible for authorizing public announcements on the case. The devoted people who assisted David Waines, imprisoned in Liberia while I was an MP, acted in a disciplined, coordinated way to express themselves reasonably and effectively.  The Liberian President was able to intervene without losing face.
5. Have a Strategy: The strategy for assisting a Canadian incarcerated abroad typically involves the “Five Fingers”, as I call them: Legal; Government Relations; Media Relations; Financial and Fundraising; and Administrative.  All these initiatives require good coordination.
Finally, don’t forget to wear your Maple Leaf wherever you go; it’s still the best emblem you can take anywhere.
John Weston served as M.P. for West Vancouver – Sunshine Coast – Sea to Sky Country from 2008-2015.  He relates his experience in his upcoming book, Seeking Excellence in Leadership.
(Adapted from a section in John Weston’s upcoming book, Seeking Excellence in Leadership)

John Weston Blog

By John Weston 12 Dec, 2017
The story of John Chang hit the news last week, one of many recent cases involving Canadians imprisoned in China, at a time when the Justin Trudeau Government is trying hard to court Beijing for an improved trading relationship. 

CTV reported that Mr. Chang and his wife, owners of a Lulu Island Winery in Richmond, B.C. were arrested in Shanghai in March 2016 while visiting suppliers and agents, accused of under-reporting the value of wine they export to China. http://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/china-s-ambassador-detention-of-b-c-winery-owners-should-not-be-polit... Their daughter Amy has done a masterful job of involving senior Canadian officials and the media to focus attention on her parents’ plight.

The incident reminded me of one of my most popular (and useful) articles, a piece called Getting Out of Foreign Jails. I wrote it to address the recurring pattern that arises when situations like Mr. Chen’s occur. Inevitably, the family has never faced such an array of problems before. Its natural tendency is to rely on our own government for help. This reliance typically generates positive short-term results but, to achieve a positive outcome, the family and friends have go go beyond reliance on the home government. The article Careful Strategies are Needed when Helping Canadians Incarcerated Abroad,   ran last year in The Vancouver Sun. Here it is again: http://vancouversun.com/opinion/columnists/careful-strategies-are-needed-when-helping-canadians-inca...
By John Weston 06 Dec, 2017
What did you think about when you got up this morning? I was putting the finishing touches on a new website. You were doing something else. It’s safe to say that neither of us was thinking about abandoned vessels.

But the saga of this problem, its snarling of government processes, the waste it caused, and the environmental damage - called out for change. Here’s what some of us did - and why persistence and good strategy can pay off to change government policy and make things right.

As Member of Parliament, I saw the blight caused by irresponsible people who dumped their boats like parkland litter. They left a trail of pollution, eyesores, harmful waste, and legal liability. Directionless governments floundered to assert or evade responsibility. In one case, a single person acquired and casually abandoned four separate vessels off the coast of Squamish, B.C.

I introduced Private Member’s Bill C-695 in the House of Commons in 2015, reflecting input from a wide variety of people who cared about the health of our seas, tourism, navigational safety, and saving taxpayers’ funds. The issue seemed intractable, cutting across various departments within the Federal and provincial governments, as well as local government jurisdiction. Governments were loath to take responsibility. Abandoned vessels can be costly to remove and give rise to various types of liability. My Bill proposed for the first time that anyone who intentionally abandoned a vessel be subject to a fine or jail term. It attracted support from mariners, local governments, the Transport Minister, the Conservative Party of Canada, and even my Liberal opponent in the last election.

The Bill didn’t pass - it died with the last Federal Government, in June 2015. But the story has a positive outcome. The current Liberal Government contributed formal funding to deal with the problem. It created a program to educate boat owners how responsibly to manage and recycle their vessels, rather than merely abandon them. And in October of this year, it introduced legislation to do exactly what my bill proposed - make persons accountable for their actions. The new Wrecked, Abandoned or Hazardous Vessels Act will for the first time make it explicitly illegal to abandon boats, while empowering the government to go after the owners of the 600 derelict vessels already polluting the country’s waterways.
If the bill becomes law, Individuals who abandon a boat can face fines up to $300,000 and a six-month jail term, while corporations can be fined as much as $6 million.

People and companies who share my concerns about government and public affairs should take heart. With perseverance, good strategy, and the collaboration of like-minded allies, you can change even the most complicated of government policies.

I hope readers enjoy a 2018 filled with health and happiness and, before that, a wonderful Christmas. Us? Our family will gather in both Ottawa and West Vancouver to celebrate this special season.
By John Weston 04 Dec, 2017
It’s out of fashion to refer to locker room conversations, after Donald Trump equated them with ballads of sexual assault. In spite of Trump’s demeaning, the locker room is still a place where tough questions get posed. And so it was last week when someone asked in the West Vancouver Swimming Pool changing room what counsel I’d give to be a Member of Parliament.

The question was timely as I join other Canadians on the lookout for people who demonstrate good leadership , both in their current experience and in their potential. I’m particularly keen to see good candidates run to succeed me as the Conservative Candidate for the riding I represented from 2008 through 2015, West Vancouver - Sunshine Coast - Sea to Sky Country. But more generally I’m committed to encourage good leadership beyond that specific role, whether in politics, business, faith communities, or families.

And in an era when common discourse delights in the disparagement of leaders, why wouldn’t we all join in a commitment to encourage key values that mould good leaders and support good leaders themselves?

What kind of person would I be looking for who aspires to leadership, as M.P. or in any other role? For me, the short answer is that a person going into leadership should know his or her objectives, identify her or his most important values, and take specific steps to fortify those values in anticipation of upcoming storms.

What storms should you anticipate? As a leader in any realm, but particularly in my experience as a West Coast M.P., expect pressure on your marriage and on your role as a parent. Those pressures should be obvious. Your anticipated responsibilities separate you from the ones you love, in space, time, and energy. The problems of juggling these things against a 5000 kilometer commute are clear but those problems may arise in any demanding leadership role.

As Shakespeare wrote, “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” In addition to the pressures on one’s close personal relationships come two other more subtle nemeses. Firstly, persons in leadership encounter challenges to character that come with the territory. Greed, anger, lust, pride, envy, gluttony, and sloth - Augustine’s famous “Seven Sins” can each creep into a leader’s life. Anyone seeking leadership would do well to ensure a level of accountability to reliable role models who can confidentially but firmly keep the leader on a high plane. In my own case, I was fortunate to have three tough-minded men of faith act as my “Three Wise Men” to help ensure that integrity prevailed over politics whenever the two conflicted.

The fourth challenge, most subtle of all, is to ensure the aspiring leader accomplishes more for the people he or she serves by carrying out the position than by doing something else. There’s no point in climbing a ladder if it’s placed against the wrong wall. This question is never easy but may be particularly complicated when non-politicians consider seeking public office.

There are no perfect formulas for answering these questions. In searching for a successor to run for the Conservative Party where I live, I’ll be looking for someone who believes in the Party and the Leader. But I’ll also be looking for someone with values that set apart people who aspire to leadership in any walk of life: values such as those canvassed in my book - On! Achieving Excellence in Public Life: Integrity, Responsibility, Courage, Compassion, Freedom, Equality, Fitness, and Resolve. You may have a different list. But I’m willing to bet you’d agree that we Canadians would all benefit if we took steps to cultivate those values in ourselves and in others. And, don’t forget, though you may not recognize it, you are a leader yourself, as you lead your own life and influence your family, community, and country.

John Weston serves on a committee that is actively seeking people with leadership qualities to run for Member of Parliament in 2019. The photo, by the author, is of the statue to world class sprinter, the later Harry Jerome, in Vancouver’s Stanley Park.

By John Weston 01 Nov, 2017
I am delighted that Powell River and the Tla’amin Nation have received public recognition of their healthy relationship (“BC Treaty Commission praises Tla’amin Nation relations”, Chris Bolster, Sept 27, 2017; http://www.prpeak.com/news/bc-treaty-commission-praises-tla-amin-nation-relations-1.23025932) . The story rightly reflects the hard work and goodwill of specific individuals, such as Chief Clint Williams, Mayor Dave Formosa, and former Mayor Stewart Alsgard. As former MP for Powell River, I observed firsthand the healthy relationship between Chief, Mayor, and Regional District and worked closely with them. Among other things, we together precipitated unprecedented amounts of Federal government cooperation and investment in Powell River.

However, it’s a pity that in Indigenous Affairs, things tend to be painted in black-and-white tones. Nuances and middle ground become the victim of polarized thinking. Leaders and media find themselves speaking half-truths that undermine good, long-term results.

So it was in Chief Williams’ stating that, as former MP, I “was blocking the First Nation’s attempts at communicating with the Federal Government”. That is just wrong. In fact, Chief Williams initially brought me into the discussion when a fisheries issue was impeding progress on the Treaty negotiation. As a member of the Fisheries Committee and a consistent supporter of treaty-making in general, I sought and got a resolution to that issue that allowed progress on the Tla’amin Treaty.

In its March 31, 2014 issue, the Powell River Peak covered the townhall discussion in Powell River, when residents and I discussed my concern, that the Treaty states Tla’amin Law will in some situations prevail over Canadian law (“Weston speaks against the treaty,” Dean Unger, http://www.prpeak.com/news/weston-speaks-against-treaty-1.2209724) . Throughout my career as a lawyer in Indigenous Affairs and as a politician, I have consistently stood up for equality and human rights. We should never allow the law of any community, religious group, or Aboriginal group to prevail over Canadian law. The unity of our country, its peace, order, and good government, and the equal rights of Canadians depend on our being governed by one law, equal for all, regardless of race, colour, or creed. While our Constitution, the Indian Act, and court decisions have led us in other directions, we as Canadians need vigorously to pursue equality whenever we get the chance.

As MP and as Member of the Minister’s Caucus Advisory Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, I supported the Treaty, but not the “inequality” provision. I did express these views to the Prime Minister and the Minister. As elaborated in my recent book (On! Achieving Excellence in Leadership; johnweston.ca) Equality is at the centre of real, long-term reconciliation between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people. For the long-term peace, order, and good government of our country, and for the benefit of Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people, we Canadians ought at every turn to promote Equality in treaties, words, and deeds.

The piece ran as a letter to the editor in the Powell River Peak's Oct 4, 2017 edition.
By John Weston 01 Jun, 2017
Thank you for coming.  I’m honored to be your Master of Ceremonies for Bike Day on Parliament Hill today.Ottawa’s renowned hotel, the Chateau Laurier, was built in 1908.  The architects from the Montreal Firm Ross & McFarlane designed it to reflect the grandeur of our Parliament Buildings.  Their work continues to inspire our nation, just as it inspired the design of many other buildings in the city.In this 150th anniversary of Canada’s founding, we’re reminded that we’re building a nation. 
By John Weston 15 Feb, 2017
When an impatient bus driver dumped my daughter in Guelph, he refused to let her get her bag.  She was 16, in a town she didn’t know.  She was supposed to attend a weekend track camp.  She needed her luggage for her short stay but the driver had loaded it in the wrong compartment.  It wasn’t convenient for him to let her retrieve it.  Besides, she was just a little girl and, working for a big company, he thought he could get away with it.  When I complained to the company, no one listened or
By 11 Dec, 2016
Whistler this Christmas - why I call the area I live "The Most Beautiful Place on Earth"!Great Christmas carol selection - for those hosting a party this season - or those just wanting to expand your shower time repertoire:  http://www.printasong.com
By 06 Dec, 2016
                                                   Thanks to Robert-Falcon Ouellette, MP for the photo.A Win-Win Tax BillBill S-4, Canada-Taiwan Avoidance of Double Taxation Arrangement (“ADTA”)Remarks for House of Commons Finance CommitteeJohn Weston, Dec 5, 2016IntroductionMr. Chair - It’s a great honor to be here.  I wear three hats in speaking today. Between 2008 and 2015, I served as the MP for West Vancouver - Sunshine Coast - Sea to Sky Country.  Secondly, I was based in Taiwan for 10
By 15 Nov, 2016
I was not happy about the decision of the Law Society Credentials Committee.The Committee had assessed my application to move from Non-Practice to Practice Status.   Having been elected as  Member of Parliament for West Vancouver - Sunshine Coast - Sea-to-Sky Country, I’d transferred from Practice Status, to save money - around $3500 annually, for membership fees and basic insurance.   With no time to practise law, I was earning no income from the practice.  Why pay several thousand dollars
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