Social media giant Twitter may have finally found its “backbone” as it begins enforcing its own rules on its most notorious user — President Donald Trump — according to Canada's National Observer columnist Sandy Garossino.
Garossino discussed the presidential feud on Thursday evening in a wide-ranging live video conversation that also touched on another Trump tech battle: his administration's prosecution of Chinese firm Huawei, which has forced Canada into a global power play.
Within hours of Garossino’s remarks about Twitter, anti-police riots had broken out in cities across the United States and Trump’s threat of “shooting” them put Twitter’s resolve to the test.
“Twitter tried to impose some reasonable terms-of-service limitations on his own Twitter account, which violates all of them,” Garossino told attendees of a Zoom conversation with Linda Solomon Wood, editor-in-chief of Canada’s National Observer, on Thursday. “If they’re going to be liable … they are going to step in and actually police their content.”
Former prosecutor @garossino discusses President Trump’s meltdown against Twitter as the U.S. descends into chaos—plus her controversial view on how Canada got stuck between China’s ‘jackboot diplomacy’ versus American ‘escalation'
Garossino, who was once editor-in-chief of Vancouver Observer, was responding to the social media company earlier inciting Trump’s wrath when it added a fact-check warning for his 80 million followers that his tweet about electoral fraud was misleading.
That provoked the president to sign an executive order “preventing online censorship.”
With his “weird and incoherent” order, however, Trump may be hoisting himself by his own petard, argued Garossino, who has long campaigned against social media bullying and blackmail since the 2012 death of Port Coquitlam, B.C,. teen Amanda Todd.
“It’s just a mess,” she said. “This was wholly to do with the fact that Trump got his wrist slapped for lying on the internet.”
In fact, the president’s own effort would “do more to shut down” his own online violations than anything else, by removing legal protections sheltering social media platforms from liability for users’ posts, Garossino said.
She noted Twitter’s move Thursday was unprecedented, in that it had previously refused to remove or warn about Trump’s repeated unsubstantiated allegations that TV host Joe Scarborough murdered his assistant.
But within a day after Garossino’s remarks about the company’s new-found “backbone,” Twitter went even further.
Behind a warning, it hid Trump’s tweet threatening that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” as anti-police-brutality protests escalated across the U.S. in the wake of the latest killing of an unarmed Black man — concealing the president’s comment behind a statement that he had “violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence.”
Garossino contrasted Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, with Facebook chairman Mark Zuckerberg, who has opposed moves to enforce fact checking on prominent social media users, even after Facebook’s own algorithm was known to be encouraging extremists to view extremist content, she said.
“It’s gone much too far,” she said. “It’s really disturbing to see people like Mark Zuckerberg claiming to want no interference … to say nothing of what went on in the 2016 election, which was an absolute catastrophe.
“Jack Dorsey is the one tech guy who’s actually displayed a backbone.”
U.S. ‘escalation’ versus China’s ‘jackboot diplomacy’
Garossino also addressed another tech battle involving Trump at Thursday’s online event.
The former Crown prosecutor and trial lawyer discussed the latest development in the legal case of Chinese tech executive Meng Wanzhou, who lost her bid to avoid a U.S. extradition process on Wednesday in the B.C. Supreme Court.
Garossino revealed she once worked with the top court’s associate chief justice, Heather Holmes, who ruled against the Huawei chief financial officer charged with lying to a bank in order to breach Iran sanctions.
“In my prosecutor days, I used to work with Heather Holmes,” Garossino said, quipping that while she herself had left the profession, Holmes “stuck with it.”
“I have a little bit of insight into her,” she said of the judge, who was appointed to the bench in 2001 and made associate chief justice two years ago. Before that, she spent her four-decade career prosecuting corporate criminals.
Holmes on Wednesday issued a 23-page ruling in the complex case. The Huawei executive argued she could not be handed to the U.S. since Canada didn’t have its own sanctions against Iran, a rule that the offence must be a crime in both countries to allow extradition, known as “double criminality.” But Crown prosecutors had countered that her alleged crime was actually bank fraud, not breaching U.S. sanctions. Meng has insisted she is innocent throughout the case, and has been under house arrest in one of her Vancouver mansions since 2018.
“Canada's law of fraud looks beyond international boundaries,” Holmes ruled on Wednesday, rejecting defence lawyers’ argument without determining whether the accused was guilty, however. “Meng's approach to the double-criminality analysis would seriously limit Canada's ability to fulfil its international obligations.”
From professional experience, Garossino remembered Holmes as careful and meticulous in her analysis, adding the judge is not one to be at all swayed by the “momentous impact” her rulings will likely make on international relations between Canada, China and the U.S.
“She is such a straight arrow,” Garossino said. “I don’t see her buckling on anything.
“I think that was the right ruling. I’ve talked to a couple people who disagree, but it’s not like there isn’t a foundation for it. But it is a real straight-arrow move that is typical of this judge.”
Garossino’s commentary on the Huawei legal case and its geopolitical ramifications has garnered controversy — particularly for her view that Meng’s arrest by the RCMP was simply part of a political tactic by Trump.
Another company accused of similar offences, for example, is no longer facing U.S. prosecution. But Huawei’s prosecution proceeds, and Canada is trapped in between the will of two global superpowers.
“This was a huge escalation by the Americans,” Garossino said.
At top of mind, however, should be the two Canadians who remain in Chinese government detention in what is widely seen as retaliation for Meng’s arrest, Garossino told her audience Thursday. The fates of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — dubbed “the two Michaels” — rest upon the B.C. case’s outcome.
“China continues to play a very bad hand here, baring its teeth to the world,” she argued, by “effectively kidnapping” the Canadian citizens. She called it “jackboot diplomacy.”
For her former lawyer colleague, Holmes, the stakes couldn’t be higher, with “quite momentous impact on diplomatic relations” and the global power balance. But she must simply consider the facts of case law, Garossino said, and not the politics — a responsibility she knows Holmes would never shrink from.
What Canada’s attorney general does about the extradition if Holmes rules in U.S. favour, however, is another matter entirely. And that is where Garossino admits she’s been most controversial on the issue.
“My own personal opinion, and I’ve been roundly criticized for it, is I’m so unhappy with how the Americans handled the Meng arrest,” Garossino said. “Eventually, this matter is going to get to (the) attorney general, and there have been enough violations of her Charter rights, the attorney Gegeral can hang his hat on that and refuse the extradition on that basis.
“She goes back to China, we get the two Michaels back — that would be the deal for releasing Meng.”
Garossino's views have proven controversial among some of her fellow national pundits, including others demanding the release of Kovrig and Spavor — particularly among those who want Ottawa to take a much more aggressive stance against China generally.
In his Ottawa Citizen column earlier this year, Terry Glavin dismissed the argument that the attorney general should intervene to release Meng in what he said was akin to a hostage swap.
“The prisoner-exchange remedy they’ve proposed relies on some heretofore undisclosed assurance from Beijing that indeed the two Mikes would be surrendered,” Glavin wrote on Jan. 22, “if only Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would hornswoggle from Justice Minister David Lametti an unseemly intervention on Meng’s behalf … The gambit also relies on Canadians believing Beijing’s propaganda contrivance to the effect that U.S. President Donald Trump got us into this mess.”
Garossino said such arguments ignore Trump's own 2018 pronouncements that he “would certainly intervene” in Meng's prosecution if it would help him sign “the largest trade deal ever made.” And in an April 6 Twitter exchange, Garossino said she'd “have some time” for Glavin's argument “if Trump had not completely soiled this process by openly bartering Meng’s captivity for trade concessions.”
She countered that sabre-rattling with China overestimates Canada's power and influence in the world, and would regardless likely not be effective in freeing the detained Canadians, who have been held in “pretty horrific circumstances” for more than 500 days, accused of spying by the Chinese dictatorship.
“These are Canadians who are really suffering — they’re in severe jeopardy. If this process goes forward and this extradition happens, it’s entirely possible that China could hold one of their summary trials, a two-hour affair, and they could be facing death,” Garossino said Thursday. “The Chinese government is a clear bad actor that doesn’t deserve rewarding.
“I see in a lot of commentary the idea we’re going to stand up to China. What are they thinking? We have this imaginary view of Canada — we’re a little entity here, we have no leverage.”
Garossino frequently appears on national television, and her commentary has earned Canada’s National Observer several national and provincial awards, including the national award for best column from the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.
This live interview is part of Canada's National Observer’s Conversation series featuring topics around COVID-19, the economy, politics and climate change. To watch the full conversation, head to our YouTube channel. To stay up to date on upcoming interviews, subscribe here.