Canada seeks to free China's detainees

Geraldine Edwards
December 25, 2018

Speaking on background, officials said that given that tens of thousands of Canadians travel to China every year for tourism, work and study, there is nothing unusual in the number of detentions.

Ottawa and Washington on Friday stepped up pressure on Beijing and called for the immediate release of Kovrig and Spavor.

"I wish to express Canada's appreciation to those who have spoken recently in support of the rule of law as fundamental to free societies", Freeland's statement concluded.

A top executive of Chinese telecom giant Huawei was arrested in Canada on December 1 at the request of the United States, which wants her extradited to face charges that she and her company misled banks about the company's business dealings in Iran.

Nine days later, the Chinese detained Canadian ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor on allegations of "engaging in activities that endanger the national security" of China.

In an earlier interview on December 19, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Global News that he hadn't yet talked to his Chinese counterpart about the detention of the three Canadians, saying he didn't want to "politicize" or "amplify" the issue because it wouldn't contribute "to the outcome we all want, which is for Canadians to be safe and secure".

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"I think most Canadians that are here are living in fear at some level, a fear of losing what they have here, a fear of getting arrested, fear of retribution", said Ricky Ng-Adam, founder of CoderBunker, a community of worldwide software developers, who regularly travels to Shanghai for work.

But her case seems less serious than those of her compatriots, Chinese officials said, and she is being held by local rather than national security forces.

Freeland said that that Canada was honoring its extradition treaty with the United States and that it was conducting a fair and transparent due process with regard to Meng's case.

"This has not been a political decision by Canada", Freeland said. "That is how Canada operates".

But Beijing-based Western diplomats and former Canadian diplomats have said they believed the detentions were a "tit-for-tat" reprisal by China.

Sources have told Reuters that Kovrig was not allowed to see a lawyer.

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"The prime minister is deeply engaged in the issue", Freeland said.

The show of support from allies is significant for Canada, which has felt relatively isolated in recent months, particularly following US President Donald Trump's criticism of Trudeau and his lack of public support. No country, including the USA, spoke out publicly in support of Canada. Freeland spoke of an "arbitrary" measure.

Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou arrives at a parole office with a security guard in Vancouver, British Columbia, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018.

Meng's bail was set at $10 million, with $7 million of that to be made in cash. The United States is seeking her extradition.

"What has not happened, as far as I understand, is the Canadian government has not galvanized a full, outright expression of outrage", said Shuvaloy Majumdar, senior fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and former policy director to foreign affairs minister John Baird.

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