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Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou’s arrest: What you need to know

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Originally published: Dec. 11. Latest update: Dec. 12

Meng Wanzhou figured it’d be a 12-hour layover at the Vancouver International Airport.

Instead, when the Huawei CFO touched down on Dec. 1, it set off a hugely complicated entanglement of diplomacy, international trade and human rights.

The high-profile Meng was arrested by Canadian authorities—at the request of American authorities for violating sanctions on Iran. Extradition to the U.S. is still pending—Uncle Sam has until Jan. 9 to file the official paperwork. Meanwhile, China has threatened Canada with “grave consequences” in retaliation for the arrest.

On Tuesday, after three days of hearings, the B.C. Supreme Court granted Meng bail, with conditions that include a $10 million surety (including $7 million in cash). Then Donald Trump talked about getting himself involved.

Here’s what we know so far:

The latest: Trump talks about intervening

The court system is meant to be free of political influence. But Trump is a fan of the Art of the Deal.

In an interview with Reuters, Trump expressed a willingness to intervene in the Justice Department’s case against Meng, using her as a bargaining chip in the U.S. government’s efforts to secure a better trade deal with China. “If I think it’s good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made—which is a very important thing—what’s good for national security – I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary,” Trump said. “Whatever’s good for this country, I would do.”

The president’s actions left some observers questioning Canada’s decision to keep Meng in Vancouver under strict bail conditions.

In response to Trump’s comments, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said “Regardless of what goes on in other countries, Canada is—and will always remain—a country of the rule of law.”

What are Meng’s bail conditions?

Meng won’t be going out late at night anytime soon—if she abides by her bail conditions, that is. Among the more than dozen conditions set by the judge, including a $10 million surety, Meng must stay indoors from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Meng must remain within the Vancouver region (but away from the airport in Richmond), surrender her passports, wear an ankle bracelet monitor for GPS tracking, as well as obey security detail that follows her whenever she leaves one of her multi-million dollar Vancouver homes where she must reside in the interim—all at her own expense.

The judge also ruled she must keep the peace.

What is Huawei?

Huawei Technologies Co. is a private Chinese company that makes and sells smartphones and other telecommunications equipment globally. Based in Shenzhen, the company made headlines this year for becoming the second-largest smartphone maker in the world, just behind Samsung and beating Apple, now in third place. The company sold 54.2 million smartphone units in the second quarter of 2017, a 40 per cent year-over-year growth. By comparison, Apple sold 41.3 million phones in that time, growing just 0.7 per cent year over year.

Huawei’s massive growth has come with a few setbacks. Several countries (including the U.S.) are banning the company’s products from rolling out on future 5G networks, citing security concerns. The U.S. government has gone so far as to warn its allies to avoid using Huawei phones and equipment due to a possible security threat. Though Huawei is a private company, many are worried that it could be working with the Chinese government to essentially spy on its users.

Who is Meng Wanzhou?

Meng Wanzhou, 46, is Huawei’s chief financial officer (CFO). She’s also the eldest daughter of the company’s founder, Ren Zhangfei. Meng, (who also goes by the name Sabrina) started at Huawei as a receptionist in 1993 soon after graduating from college. A few years later, she went back to school and received her masters in accounting and came back to Huawei to join the accounting department. She held various positions within the accounting and finance departments at Huawei before becoming the company’s CFO around 2011.

She’s married to a venture capitalist named Xiaozong Liu. Together, they have one daughter and Meng has another three sons from previous marriages. Meng is said to live in Shenzhen, China, where Huawei is based, but records show that she was once a permanent resident in Canada (though she renounced her PR status around 10 years ago). Now, it seems she spends several weeks—and sometimes months— in Canada during the summer. Meng owns two multi-million dollar homes in Vancouver with her husband. Court documents have revealed other personal details about Meng, including health problems she suffers from, like hypertension and sleep apnea. Her lawyers are arguing that she should be released on bail to ensure her conditions don’t worsen, though the Crown is arguing she’s a flight risk; if she goes back to China, she could avoid extradition to the U.S.

How is Meng allegedly in breach of U.S. sanctions on Iran?

Back in 2008, Meng was on the board of directors for a Hong Kong-based company called Skycom, according to a Reuters report. Fast forward to 2010 and Skycom tried to sell about $2 million worth of Hewlett-Packard computer equipment to a company in Iran—which was in breach U.S. sanctions.

Meng’s lawyers said Huawei had divested itself of Skycom by then—and yet, according to the 2013 Reuters report, more than a dozen pages on the Skycom proposal for the Iran sale carried either the Huawei logo or “Huawei confidential” marked on them.

The Americans accuse Huawei of utilizing Skycom as an Iran-based affiliate, and Canadian prosecutors said Meng lied about the links between the two companies, a charge Huawei has previously denied.

What does Canada have to do with all this?

The Americans wanted Meng arrested and their best chance to make that happen was when she landed in Canada, given the extradition treaty both countries have. The U.S. had actually wanted to arrest Meng for months, according to CNN, but couldn’t make that happen on U.S. soil, as she never travelled to America. Instead, on two days’ notice, they spotted their chance during her planned layover in Vancouver—coincidentally the same day Trump met with Chinese President Xi Jinping to call a truce over their trade war.

Will Canada face any blowback from China?

It’s potentially already begun.

No one has stated why, exactly, Canadian ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig was detained in China earlier this week. At least not yet.

“International Crisis Group is aware of reports that its North East Asia Senior Adviser, Michael Kovrig, has been detained in China,” his current employer wrote in a statement on its website. “Since February 2017, Michael has been a full-time expert for Crisis Group. We are doing everything possible to secure additional information on Michael’s whereabouts as well as his prompt and safe release.”

The timing of Kovrig’s disappearance is suspicious to say the least, given a Canadian court is currently weighing whether not to grant bail to Meng. Tit-for-tat? Such tactics certainly wouldn’t be unheard of from China. Not to mention China’s foreign minister told state media Canada could face “grave consequences” for not releasing Meng.

Then there’s the Chinese public trying to bully Canada in the marketplace, specifically targeting the Canadian luxury brand Canada Goose. Since Meng’s arrest, Canada Goose’s stock has tumbled 20 per cent, as locals on the social media platform Weibo have called for a boycott of the luxury Arctic-wear outfitter. Meanwhile, China’s own largest down clothing outfitter, Bosideng, saw its stock spike to a five-year high.

The cold shoulder couldn’t come at a worse time for Canada Goose, who just this spring announced a long-term growth strategy in China that would include opening to retail stores (one in Hong Kong and the other in Beijing), in addition to a regional head office in Shanghai.

What was at stake at the bail hearings?

Lawyers spent three days in a Vancouver courtroom arguing about the risk of the Huawei executive leaving Vancouver if she were to be granted bail. Meng’s legal team produced several potential guarantors who would ensure she remained in B.C.—including, according to a CBC News report, “a realtor, an insurance agent, a part-time yoga instructor and homemaker whose husband once worked with [Meng’s husband, Xiaozong] Liu.”

Meng’s lawyer, David Martin, denied the Crown’s claim that his client posed a legitimate flight risk, and championed the idea of electronic monitoring—including a body-tracking device and a private security team that, at Meng’s expense, would ensure she stayed put.

Does any of this have to do with 5G technology?

It could. Uncle Sam is very skeptical of Huawei’s technology.

The heads of the CIA, FBI and NSA—among other intelligence officials—told the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this year to caution American citizens from using smartphones made by either Huawei or fellow Chinese telecommunications company ZTE for fear of the “capacity to conduct undetected espionage.” Shops on U.S military bases were banned from selling smartphones from those two companies, at the direction of the Pentagon.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper has equally called for a ban on Huawei from 5G networks in Canada—a position already taken up by Australia, New Zealand and the U.S.

In Canada, Huawei has partnered with Telus to test 5G technologies, according to the Logic—and the Chinese telecom is the presenting sponsor of Hockey Night in Canada, the rights to which are owned by Rogers (the parent company of Maclean’s).

What’s Ottawa saying?

Ian McLeod, a spokesman for Canada’s Department of Justice, told the Globe and Mail Meng was “sought for extradition by the United States.” On Dec. 10, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters the decision to arrest Meng was free of political influence. “The appropriate authorities took the decisions in this case … We were advised by them with a few days notice that this was in the works, but of course, there was no engagement or involvement at the political level in this decision because we respect the independence of our judicial processes.”

In the midst of the foreign relations crisis, Infrastructure Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne weighed in on Huawei’s future role in developing a 5G network in Canada. In an interview with the Canadian Press, Champagne reportedly said national security “comes first” in those deliberations. “I think prudence is the right approach when it comes to complex national security issues like that, when it comes to networks … Canada is a welcoming place for investors, but clearly our national security always comes first.”

(In October, Republican Senator Marco Rubio and his Democratic counterpart, Mark Warner, sent a joint letter to Trudeau expressing “grave concerns” about Huawei being included in Canada’s 5G infrastructure.)

What is Washington D.C. saying?

In the New York Times, Republican Senator Ben Sasse, who sits on the armed services committee, accused Huawei of “working to creatively undermine” American national security. He added: “Americans are grateful that our Canadian partners have arrested the chief financial officer of a giant Chinese telecom company for breaking U.S. sanctions against Iran.”

Reuters reported U.S. Donald Trump was unaware the U.S. Department of Justice had requested Meng’s exradition. On Dec. 6, National Security Advisor John Bolton told NPR he knew about the request in advance of Meng’s arrest. But he added on “these kinds of things,” the staff around Trump “certainly don’t inform the president on every one of them.”

What’s Beijing saying?

On Dec. 6, the Chinese embassy in Ottawa released a statement demanding Meng’s release. The embassy said China “firmly opposes and strongly protests” actions that it claimed “seriously harmed” Meng’s rights. China further threatened to “take all measures to resolutely protect the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens.”

On Dec. 8, a statement from the Chinese foreign ministry announced vice-foreign minister Le Yucheng had “urgently summoned” John McCallum, Canada’s ambassador to China, to lodge “strong protests” of Meng’s detention. Le called Meng’s arrest “unreasonable, unconscionable, and extremely vile in nature,” and threatened “grave consequences,” for which the Canadian side “will have to bear the full responsibility.”

The state-owned Xinhua News Agency joined the united Chinese front on Dec. 9, penning an editorial that called for Meng’s release—and claimed Canada “chose to ignore the international rules and obey the United States, paying the bill for America’s bullying actions.” It went on: “Canada’s misdeeds, which are lawless, unreasonable and callous, have caused serious damage to its relations with China…and hurt the Chinese people’s feelings.”

On Dec. 10, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry said any retaliation “totally depends on the Canadian side itself.”

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Canadian Tech Calling: Moon and Mars and Mobile Phones

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Canadian technological know-how is helping develop reliable mobile communications for next-generation space missions, including manned missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

With many eyes here on Earth now focused on Mars, following the successful journey of ‘Percy’, the roving space exploration vehicle more formally known as Perseverance that is now cruising the Martian landscape, the continued role of Canadian researchers and technologists in space exploration has also drawn more attention.

A team of researchers at Simon Fraser University is working to make LTE/4G and Wi-Fi communications systems on the Moon a reality, along with others in the U.S. and Canada, under the umbrella of the Artemis Program at NASA.

That project will see the return of human beings to the Moon by 2024, and then to the surface of Mars after that.

As part of those efforts, NASA selected Nokia Bell Labs to build a test network and communications infrastructure to build interoperability standards among future cellular and Wi-Fi networks, so that all types of devices can be connected and support Artemis.

The network must provide critical communication capabilities for many different data transmission applications, including command and control functions; real-time navigation and remote control of surface rovers; as well as the streaming of high definition video, applications that are all vital to long-term human presence on a lunar or planetary surface.

“It sounds like far-out stuff, building networks on the Moon, Mars and even further out in our solar system,” says Stephen Braham, the director of the PolyLAB for Advanced Collaborative Networking at SFU. “But we’re actually testing Nokia’s technology right now.”

SFU’s PolyLAB for Advanced Collaborative Networking is doing some of that work at its Exploration Wireless Communications testbed at Vancouver’s Harbour Centre, in collaboration with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

“(This is) what will allow us to build the ladder of technology standards needed to get cellular networks off Earth and into the solar system,” Braham said in a statement.

NASA and the CSA handed that critical testing to Braham and the scientists at PolyLAB, the Canadian component of what’s called the Exploration Wireless Communications (ExWC).

“Before space agencies can adopt these technologies, we need to prove we can operate between multiple vendors and different agencies, which is why NASA and CSA supports the ExWC testbed,” he continued.

The ExWC testbed launched back in 2018, testing high-speed wireless communications systems for space use, including 5G-forward LTE solutions and advanced Wi-Fi.

The SFU radio transmission systems, in the lab and on masts in the mountains in B.C. and the Yukon, are tested with various vendors and leading telecom providers, such including Vancouver-based Star Solutions and Sierra Wireless, another local company, as well as international telecommunications firms like Nokia.

Braham and associate professor Peter Anderson, who directs the SFU Telematics Research Laboratory that includes PolyLAB, both have extensive track records working on communication systems for NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

It includes extensive research on very early cellular and Wi-Fi networks in the Canadian High Arctic, where advanced field communications systems were set up to support the SETI Institute and Mars Institute-lead NASA Haughton-Mars Project (HMP) up on Devon Island. 

That’s where Braham and his team tested the technology (developed in Canada) that became a big part of modern Wi-Fi, LTE, and now 5G technology, in order to meet up-front needs on human lunar missions if not all manned space flights.

From those early beginnings, the SFU team has now worked with other collaborators for the ongoing design and development of Canada’s prototype lunar/Mars surface communication networking systems, specifically the ExoMars rover, including Canadian space technology company MDA and the Canadian Communications Research Centre.

Braham is also an Associate Member on the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS), supporting CSA during discussions and development of international standards for computing, networking, and communications in space. He also worked for many years as a member of the CSA’s nine-member Space Exploration Advisory Committee (SEAC), providing community leadership and representation in aspects of human space exploration in Canada.

But, when space agency officials announced recently that a Canadian will be aboard when NASA returns to the Moon in 2023, well, Braham was not named as that astronaut.

Nevertheless, with his and his team’s help, that astronaut will make Canada the second country in history to have someone travel into deep space and fly around the Moon.

And maybe use a mobile phone to call us and tell us all about it.

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Canadian Consumer Coalition Calls for Affordable Internet on National Day of Action

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Tomorrow, Tuesday, March 16, a national day of action will be staged by Canadian consumer advocates, social justice groups, telecom policy experts, digital activists, and independent ISPs, or Internet Service Providers.

In a series of scheduled virtual events, there will be calls for the federal government and telecom regulators to take action and ensure affordable Internet and wireless services are available to all Canadians.

The free online event is open to the public, and planners and scheduled participants in the Day of Action for Affordable Internet hope consumers themselves will them in urging a range of actions be taken by the federal government, the CRTC and the country’s Competition Bureau.

Advocating for a more affordable Internet will be: ACORN Canada; Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship; activist and author Cory Doctorow; Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law Michael Geist; The Internet Society Canada Chapter; OpenMedia; Public Interest Advocacy Centre; Ryerson Leadership Lab; Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic; and TekSavvy Solutions.

And while a lack of competition has long been cited as a reason for high prices in Canada, the fact that a majority of subscribers stick with the ‘Big Three’ is also a stumbling block to leveling the playing field, at  least price-wise.

Canada’s Competitive Network Operators, a trade organization made up of Internet and telecommunications service providers that own/operate telecommunications networks across the country, is also fighting for a fair Internet pricing and accessibility structure.

Pandemic Pressures

Affordable Internet activists point out that, throughout the current COVID-19 crisis, reliable and affordable connectivity became even more essential. So did many things, in fact: many we had never deemed as so important, relevant or even as noteworthy as high speed Internet.

“The affordability and accessibility of the [I]nternet has never been more critical,” says Franca Palazzo, one of the event participants and the executive director of the Internet Society, Canada Chapter. “More than ever, we are being asked to work, learn and connect online.”

While it is true that many of our fellow Canadians are struggling to make ends meet during this pandemic, and they struggle, the coalition says, to pay some of the highest telecom bills in the world (while others can’t even get high-quality reliable connections), it is also true that many of us are using our high-speed connections more than ever with no increase in cost or decrease in service as a result of our pandemic-related stay-at-home, work-at-home or school-at-home activities.

The big three providers in Canada – Bell, Rogers and Telus – are among those companies that lifted data caps on cable and fibre-based residential Internet services; it’s a corporate goodwill gesture made as a result of pandemic and public pressures. The caps have been lifted until the end of June, where and when possible. (The Liberal government has directed the country’s largest telecom providers to cut specific cellphone prices in general.)

Not everyone is eligible for the pandemic discounts, however: some folks still using cellular (where, for example, high speed networking is not available) for their Internet connections are unable to get discounts because, the telecoms say, bandwidth and capacity would be threatened if caps were removed from cellular service.

“The digital divide in Canada is sometimes portrayed as exclusively a rural-urban divide,” says Sam Andrey, the director of policy and research at Ryerson Leadership Lab, where research and analysis into Internet usage is conducted. “But even in Canada’s largest cities, there are persistent gaps in access to digital services, devices and affordable [I]nternet at sufficient speeds that map onto other socioeconomic inequities, including income, age, race and ability,” he adds.

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Brim Financial Raises $25M Series B to transform the way people bank and shop

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TORONTO, March 16, 2021 /PRNewswire/ – Brim Financial (Brim), a Canadian next-generation Fintech company and certified credit card issuer, today announced the close of a $25M Series B, co-led by Desjardins Group and US-based EPIC Ventures with strong participation from Canadian and US based investors including goeasy Ltd., White Owl and Impression Ventures.

Brim’s state-of-the-art technology stack and credit cards infrastructure leverages the company’s ability to directly access the payment rails as an issuer, enabling Brim to deliver a fundamentally transformative ecosystem of financial products for consumers and businesses.

The Series B financing will bolster Brim’s Platform as a Service (PaaS). Brim’s B2B2C strategy enables any bank, credit union, fintech or large commercial partner to seamlessly roll out Brim’s financial products platform, credit cards and integrated buy-now pay-later solutions, mobile and digital banking, and behavior-driven customer engagement, all embedded with a best-in-class globally open loyalty and rewards ecosystem available in real-time at all merchants worldwide. With Brim’s Platform as a Service, partners have the ability to customize every element of the platform and leverage Brim’s end-to-end services, on a modular and turnkey basis.

Our technology stack powers banking, loyalty and integrated e-commerce on a single platform, with the customer experience at the center of it all” said Rasha Katabi, CEO and Founder of Brim Financial. “Today’s digital environment has brought a new sense of urgency for institutions to assess how they will interact with their customers. We are well positioned to be at the forefront of this transformation that’s shaping the way we live, connect and engage for decades to come, and we’re excited to be working with investors who share the same vision.”

Brim has expanded beyond the direct-to-consumer space enabling large partners to leverage their digital first platform, suite of credit cards and financial products, and a globally open rewards and e-commerce ecosystem. Brim seamlessly integrates buy-now pay-later capabilities in all of its revolving consumer and business credit card products, providing ultimate flexibility for customers with a uniquely and strongly differentiated ecosystem.

“We’re thrilled to be part of Brim’s next chapter. There is tremendous potential in the industry, both in Canada and in the US, and Brim is uniquely positioned to deliver a significant and much needed transformation.” said Ryan Hemingway, Managing Director at EPIC Ventures. “Brim is combining banking and commerce like we haven’t seen in North America.”

Merged with its scalable technology platform, Brim has the largest open loyalty and rewards ecosystem as Brim’s technology stack directly leverages the global payment network. Brim’s Loyalty and Rewards are live at all points of sale globally, both in physical stores and online.  Any merchant can be live and part of the ecosystem in less than 3 minutes.

“Brim’s platform delivers industry-leading payments technology to their customers at an astonishing pace,” Martin Brunelle, Vice-President, Growth, Acquisitions and Development at Desjardins Group.  “Desjardins has earmarked $100 M to invest in technology companies and investment funds who can support our different business units in their digital transformation needs.  We’re very excited to be partnering with Brim.”

With its platform built entirely from the ground up and directly on the global payment network, Brim is positioned to transform the future of the credit card industry and digital banking products with the world’s largest open loyalty and rewards ecosystem. Brim has notably on-boarded hundreds of merchants to its rewards ecosystem since its launch, and rapid expansion will continue to be a key focus for the company going forward.

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