Canadian who led tours in North Korea detained by Chinese authorities
China says it has detained a second Canadian, entrepreneur Michael Spavor, less than two weeks after a Huawei executive was arrested in Vancouver.
Spavor, who lives in China and has worked as a tour guide in North Korea, was expected to arrive in South Korea’s capital this week but never showed up. A Chinese government news website confirmed late Wednesday night that local authorities had Spavor in custody.
In his work with the Paektu Cultural Exchange, Spavor helped arrange trips to North Korea, including basketball star Denis Rodman’s visit to meet Kim-Jung Un. Spavor himself has met the North Korean leader on multiple occasions.
The detentions of Spavor and former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig follow the Dec. 1 arrest in Vancouver of Huawei's chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, who was detained at the request of the United States for possible extradition.
Meng was released Tuesday on $10-million bail.
Federal officials are cautioning Canadians in or travelling to China to continue to “exercise a high degree of caution,” but have not changed the travel risk level.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said that Canadians should familiarize themselves with the reasons for the risk level.
Although the current risk level is being maintained, the federal government has instructed their personnel in the country to take extra precautions, because of the high degree of public attention on Canada-China relations and the current criticism of Canada within China over the arrest of Meng.
"We have asked our staff to be prudent,” a senior Canadian official told reporters on background Wednesday afternoon.
Canada has registered its concerns with Chinese authorities, and has asked China for additional security around its embassy. As the host country it is their responsibility to protect foreign diplomats.
CTV News first reported Tuesday that the prospect of an updated travel warning was being considered, among other options, with Canadian sources saying that the primary concern is Canadians’ safety.
'Very concerned' by Kovrig detention
On Tuesday, news broke that Kovrig was being detained in China. Canadian officials have been in “direct contact” with Chinese diplomats and representatives about the arrest, and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said there is “no logical, plausible explanation” for the Canadian’s detention.
Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government is “seized with” Kovrig’s case. “We have engaged with consular support to his family. This is obviously an issue we’re taking very seriously and is ongoing,” Trudeau said.
A senior Canadian government official said the Chinese government confirmed via fax Wednesday that it has detained Kovrig, and Canada has asked to see him as soon as possible to check his health and wellbeing.
Kovrig is being detained by Beijing state security, but Canada has no further information on his whereabouts. The official noted that he is still employed by the Canadian government, though is on special leave to work with an international NGO.
Foreign Affairs Minister Freeland has spoken with one of his family members, and said that it is “relevant” that Kovrig is a government employee, but worth noting that China has not characterized his arrest as reprisal for Meng’s arrest.
Canada is requesting Kovrig receive consular access.
“We’re very concerned about him,” Freeland said.
Next steps in Meng extradition
China has warned Canada about consequences for the arrest of Meng, a prominent Chinese telecommunications executive. She was detained in Vancouver on Dec.1 at the request of the United States government.
Meng is facing possible extradition to the U.S. on allegations of fraud.
In a statement Wednesday, Canada’s Justice Minister and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould said that Meng was apprehended pursuant to an arrest warrant issued by a judge of the Supreme Court of British Columbia, and asserted that the decision was made “without political interference.”
“Ms. Meng is currently being afforded due process by the courts – as would any person arrested on Canadian soil. Canada benefits from an independent and impartial judiciary. This ensures that a fair and unbiased process will unfold,” Wilson-Raybould said.
According to the minister, the U.S. has 60 days from the date of Meng’s arrest to make a full extradition request, and from there Canadian justice officials have another 30 days to decide whether they will grant the U.S. authority to proceed with the extradition process.
During her media availability Freeland said that Canada “promptly” granted consular access to Meng upon her arrest, and issued a caution that any extradition should not be politicized.
With files from CTV News’ Ottawa Bureau Chief Joyce Napier, Michel Boyer and Annie Bergeron-Oliver