Canadian officials meet with detainee Michael Spavor in China for second time
In this image made from video taken on March 2, 2017, Michael Spavor, director of Paektu Cultural Exchange, talks during a Skype interview in Yangi, China. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP Photo)
Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, January 8, 2019 10:58AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 8, 2019 2:51PM EST
OTTAWA -- Canadian diplomats visited detained entrepreneur Michael Spavor on Tuesday, their second meeting since he was arrested in China last month for allegedly endangering national security.
They are providing services to Spavor and his family and will seek further access to him, Global Affairs Canada said in a statement.
The department is also trying to arrange another meeting with Michael Kovrig, himself a diplomat on leave from Global Affairs, who was similarly arrested by the Chinese on national-security grounds in December and has met just once with Canadian representatives.
The Opposition Conservatives lamented the lack of regular consular access to the detained men and urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to personally call Chinese President Xi Jinping to express concern.
Kovrig served as a diplomat in China until 2016 and had been working for the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental agency. Spavor is director of the Paektu Cultural Exchange, an organization that facilitates sporting, cultural, tourism and business exchanges with North Korea.
Citing federal privacy law, Global Affairs said no further information about Spavor's detention could be disclosed. In general, the department noted, consular visits from diplomats help assess the well-being of a Canadian citizen, clarify the nature of their detention and provide a communication link between the incarcerated person and their loved ones.
A source familiar with the conditions of Kovrig's detention told The Canadian Press last month he was being questioned three times a day and kept in a room with the lights on continuously. The source was not authorized to speak publicly about the situation due to the sensitivity of the matter.
The detentions of Spavor and Kovrig came shortly after Canadian authorities in Vancouver arrested Meng Wanzhou, a senior executive with Chinese firm Huawei Technologies, who is wanted by the U.S. on fraud charges.
Meng's arrest angered Beijing and many western analysts see China's detention of Spavor and Kovrig as retaliation.
Canada says it is merely following standard legal protocol in the Meng case, given its long-standing extradition treaty with the U.S.
Global Affairs said Tuesday it remains deeply concerned by the arbitrary detention of the two Canadians and reiterated a call for their immediate release.
Canada appreciates international support for the pair and for the rule of law from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the European Union, the United States and Australia, the department added.
The Prime Minister's Office also released a summary of a Monday call between Trudeau and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that said they discussed the detentions and "both reiterated the importance of respecting and adhering to justice and the rule of law."
Trudeau's refusal to call the Chinese president to "de-escalate the situation" has many Canadians worried, Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O'Toole told a news conference Tuesday. "They are questioning travel to China, and they're concerned about the well-being of their family members working there now."
Conservative MP Stephanie Kusie, a former foreign-service officer, said she has been contacted by active and retired colleagues who want the Liberal government to take a stronger political stand on the detentions. "This is not just a consular matter, this is a political matter and it requires a political response," she said.
A Canadian parliamentary delegation visiting China this week is pressing for release of the two men, raising the issue during a meeting in Shanghai with local Communist party officials.
"They listened, they heard our position," Conservative MP Michael Cooper, a delegation member, said in an interview from Shanghai.
The Chinese voiced concerns about Meng's arrest and delegation members explained Canada's extradition process, Cooper said.
"We spent some time to emphasize to officials that this is not a political issue, that this is not something that we as parliamentarians or, for that matter, the executive branch can resolve or intervene in," he said.
Cooper also stressed the Canadian visit is not a "go-along and get-along" tour.
"This was initially scheduled to be pretty well a routine parliamentary delegation. But in light of the detentions of two Canadians, it's not business as usual and we haven't been acting as though it is business as usual because it's simply not," he said.
"It's hypocritical to talk about bilateral ties, about how do we strengthen the relationship between Canada and China, so long as we have these two Canadians detained."