365 days detained: Opposition parties agree to special study as two Canadians remain held in China
Michael Kovrig (left) and Michael Spavor (right) are seen in this composite image.
OTTAWA -- On the one-year anniversary of the detention of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in China, the opposition parties in the House of Commons have teamed up to use their majority for the first time ever in agreement to create a special all-party committee to study the state of the Canada-China relationship.
Proposed by the Conservatives in their first opposition day of the 43rd Liberal-led minority parliament, the committee will be struck and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to be summoned to testify on the topic, because the other parties had the numbers to see it pass despite the government voting against the idea. It was a narrow victory, passing by a vote of 171 to 148.
The Tories framed their proposal as a chance for the Liberals to show that they are serious about their throne speech pledge to seek cross-party collaboration. Applause broke out through the chamber as the votes were counted.
A year ago this week Canadians first learned that the men had been detained under similar circumstances in what has largely been seen as a retaliatory response to Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver, following an extradition request from the United States on Dec. 1, 2018.
In May, the two Canadians — businessman Spavor, and former diplomat Kovrig — were formally arrested on the suspicion of stealing state secrets for a foreign power. Throughout their detention they have been granted approximately one consular visit with Canadian diplomats per month.
Now, as The Associated Press is reporting, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson is alluding to there being trials and likely convictions coming.
In speaking about the motion in the House of Commons foyer before debate began on Tuesday, Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole said that the Liberals should “welcome this committee as it will allow critical elements of the Canada-China relationship to be explored in a serious fashion, while minimizing political complexities.”
Specifically, the Conservatives proposed the formation of a special House of Commons committee with a mandate to hold hearings on the whole of the Canada-China relationship, “including, but not limited to consular, economic, legal, security and diplomatic relations.”
Because the House passed the motion, the committee will be set up. It’s set to include 12 members, six Liberals and six opposition MPs, who would hold their first meeting by Jan. 20, 2020.
One of the six Liberals will be named the chair, the opposition will hold the majority and largely be in the drivers’ seat. The committee will have all the powers of a normal House committee, including the ability to travel outside of Canada.
In addition to Trudeau, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, and Canada’s ambassador to China Dominic Barton will likely all be ordered to appear as witnesses “from time to time as the committee sees fit.”
O’Toole said before the vote that if the Liberals didn’t support their proposal, it will indicate that they want to avoid scrutiny on the subject.
After the vote, asked by CTV News why the Liberal caucus voted against the motion, MP Mark Gerretsen said that in their view there was already a standing committee that could take on this work, rather than forming a new one.
“We respect the fact that the outcome in this case, the will of the House was to see this committee be established and I’m sure that we’ll be extremely interested in working with the opposition to make sure that it’s a successful committee,” Gerretsen said.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told CTV News that this vote “shows the difference in Parliament in a minority government, the Liberals no longer control the House.”