Trudeau slams 'political' detentions, after China spy charges
In this file photo taken on March 23, 2020 Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a news conference on COVID-19 situation in Canada from his residence in Ottawa, Canada. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on June 18, 2020 stood behind the leader of an opposition party who had been temporarily thrown out of Parliament for accusing another member of racism.
AFP/Dave Chan

Trudeau slams 'political' detentions, after China spy charges

Michel Comte (Agence France-Presse) - June 23, 2020 - 8:07am

OTTAWA, Canada — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday blasted China's detention of two Canadians for "political ends," following charges against them for spying.

His comments came after China's Supreme People's Procuratorate on Friday said it had begun the prosecution of ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor, who were "suspected of foreign espionage" and "providing state secrets."

The move, 18 months after their arrest in a spat between the two countries, came just weeks after a Canadian judge ruled that proceedings to extradite Chinese Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou to the United States will go ahead.

Relations between Canada and China have hit rock bottom over the arrests. 

At his daily briefing on Monday, Trudeau said: "This arbitrary detention of Canadian citizens is unacceptable and deeply concerning, not just to Canadians but to people around the world who see China using arbitrary detentions as a means to political ends." 

Trudeau said "we deplore... a political decision made by the Chinese government" which continues to pressure Canada.

Beijing has also blocked billions of dollars' worth of Canadian agricultural exports.

'Pawns in bigger geopolitical game'

Trudeau last week said he was "disappointed" that the Canadians were formally charged with spying, and his deputy, Chrystia Freeland, said she was "heartbroken and really angry" over Beijing's action.

Former ambassador to China, Guy Saint-Jacques, had urged Ottawa to take a more aggressive stance, "not just soft diplomatic talk anymore."

In an interview with public broadcaster CBC, Kovrig's wife Vina Nadjibulla agreed more pressure on China was needed, as "words are no longer enough."

But she said "I'm interested in us being strong, but not antagonistic. We cannot win a race to the bottom with China, we cannot become aggressive and confrontational because confrontation is not a strategy."

Nadjibulla insisted that both her husband and Spavor are innocent and "pawns in a bigger geopolitical game."

It is "heartbreaking," she said, knowing that Kovrig is languishing in a cell he described in letters to her and other family as a "concrete jungle."

"Basically he has been confined to a single cell this entire time. He has not gone outside. He has not seen a tree or had fresh air to breathe for 560 days," she said.

Allies 'extremely concerned'

Earlier Monday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanded that China free the two Canadians, and said in a statement that his country "rejects the use of these unjustified detentions to coerce Canada."

Australia, Britain, France, Germany, the EU and others have also pressed China over the detention of the Canadians.

Trudeau thanked allies for "speaking up" against Beijing's use of what observers have described as "hostage diplomacy."

"Our allies around the world," he said, "are extremely concerned about the plight of Canadians because they know very well that it may one day be their turn."

Kovrig and Spavor were detained in December 2018, nine days after Meng was arrested in Canada on a US warrant.

The United States wants to try her on fraud charges related to the Chinese telecom giant's alleged violations of US sanctions against Iran.

Meng, the eldest daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, has been out on bail and living in a mansion in Vancouver, while the two Canadians remain in China's opaque penal system.

"It's a real shame that China continues to punish Canadians for a decision by our independent judicial system in Meng's case," Trudeau commented.

Former senior Canadian officials have proposed a prisoner swap of sorts, intervening in the extradition hearing to release Meng in exchange for the repatriation of the two Canadians.

Nadjibulla said she obtained a legal opinion that Canada's justice minister can step in at any time to quash Meng's extradition, but "whether the minister should act is a second question."

Trudeau responded to the idea bluntly: "No. We're not considering that."

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: August 26, 2020 - 3:44pm

Get updates on diplomatic ties between Canada and China here. (Photo: AFP/Greg Baker)

August 26, 2020 - 3:44pm

Canada's foreign minister has called the release of two citizens detained in China a "top priority" for his country during a meeting with his Chinese counterpart in Italy.

Relations between Beijing and Ottawa have been increasingly bitter since an executive for Chinese tech giant Huawei was arrested in Vancouver in December 2018 and China detained two Canadian nationals in apparent retaliation.

Canadian foreign minister Francois-Philippe Champagne on Tuesday said the cases of former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor "remain a top priority for the Government of Canada". — AFP

January 20, 2020 - 5:34pm

A senior Huawei executive whose arrest in Vancouver led to a breakdown in Canada-China relations headed to court on Monday to fight extradition to the United States.

Meng Wanzhou, the company's chief financial officer and eldest daughter of its founder Ren Zhengfei, is wanted by US authorities for alleged fraud.

In order to secure her freedom, the "princess of Huawei" must convince a Canadian judge that the US charges — linked to alleged violations of US sanctions on Iran — would not stand up in Canada and are politically motivated.

The US alleges Meng lied to HSBC about Huawei's relationship with its Iran-based affiliate Skycom, putting the bank at risk of violating US sanctions against Tehran. — AFP

November 30, 2019 - 9:58am

China's ambassador to Canada calls on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government to "correct its mistake" of detaining Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou last year on a US extradition warrant.

Ambassador Cong Peiwu issued the statement after visiting Meng at her mansion in Vancouver, where she is under house arrest pending an extradition trial scheduled to start in January.

Cong says that he stressed to Meng that Beijing is "determined to protect the just and legitimate rights and interests of its citizens and enterprises, and will continue to urge the Canadian side to correct its mistake and take measures to solve the issue as soon as possible."

"We expect (Meng) to go back to China safe and sound at an early date," he says.

Meng's arrest last December during a layover at Vancouver's international airport triggered an escalating diplomatic row between Canada and China. — AFP

September 5, 2019 - 6:18pm

China says it accepted Canada's choice for a new ambassador to Beijing but urged Ottawa to "reflect on its mistakes" amid diplomatic tensions between the countries.

Relations nosedived in December after Canadian police arrested a top executive of Chinese tech giant Huawei in Vancouver on a US warrant over charges related to the violation of Iran sanctions.

Beijing detained two Canadians -- former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor -- days later in apparent retaliation, with both men now facing espionage-related accusations. — AFP

July 5, 2019 - 11:20am

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says US President Donald Trump raised the issue of two Canadians detained in China with President Xi Jinping in a recent meeting,

Trudeau had earlier said he was "confident" that Trump discussed with Xi the detention of ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig and consultant Michael Spavor, who are being held in China on suspicion of espionage.

"I can confirm that Mr. Trump did speak to his Chinese counterpart about the detained Canadians. This is a concern for us in Canada, but it is also a concern for our allies around the world," Trudeau tells a press conference in Montreal. — AFP

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