Michael Kovrig (left) and Michael Spavor, the two Canadians detained in China, are shown in these 2018 images taken from video. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP

New foreign minister presses for Canadian detainees with China counterpart

Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig have been in Chinese prisons for almost a year

Canada’s new foreign affairs minister hit the ground running this weekend, spending an hour in face-to-face talks with his Chinese counterpart over the fate of two Canadian men that the Trudeau government maintains are being arbitrarily detained.

Francois-Philippe Champagne, who was shuffled into the new portfolio on Wednesday, spoke with China’s Wang Yi on Saturday at the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting in Nagoya, Japan.

Champagne was discussing the fate of businessman Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig, who have been in Chinese prisons for almost a year on allegations of undermining China’s national security.

Champagne said securing the release of Spavor and Kovrig was his “absolute priority” as he takes over the post as Canada’s top diplomat at a time when relations with China have hit a new low.

Sino-Canadian relations have plummeted since Dec. 1 when the RCMP arrested Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou at Vancouver airport, at the request of the United States, which is seeking her extradition for allegations of violating sanctions on Iran.

Spavor and Kovrig were arrested nine days after Meng’s arrest in what is widely seen as retaliation.

“I took the opportunity to express Canada’s deep concern over the case of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who have been arbitrarily detained in China for almost a year. These cases are my absolutely priority as foreign minister of Canada,” Champagne told reporters in a conference call on Saturday night.

“In particular, I expressed my concern and the concern of all Canadians regarding the conditions of their detention. Minister Wang and I committed to our continuing conversation and to continue to be discussing this issue.”

Champagne declined to elaborate, citing the need to protect the welfare of the two detainees.

“But I can assure you this is my absolute priority as minister of foreign affairs,” he said.

READ MORE: Trump’s national security adviser says Canada should reject Huawei telecom bid

Champagne replaced Chrystia Freeland at foreign affairs, and he has had close first-hand experience dealing with Chinese politicians in a previous cabinet post as international trade minister.

In a dramatic twist during Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s December 2017 trip to China, Champagne’s staff were pulled off the prime minister’s jetliner as its engines were warming up for a flight out of Beijing to southern China’s industrial heartland. Champagne was one of several cabinet ministers that accompanied Trudeau on the trip, which included a sit-down with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Champagne stayed behind in the Chinese capital for two days, trying to kickstart the opening of formal free trade talks between the two countries.

Progress towards formal trade talks had proved elusive during the Canadian delegation’s first two days in China. And while Champagne was unable to break the impasse, he worked closely and for long hours with his Chinese counterparts — something to which the new minister made a veiled reference.

“As you know, I met him last I think when I was at the President Xi dinner, when there was a visit of the prime minister, so obviously he recognized who I am,” said Champagne.

“I would qualify our discussion as being good, frank and it has been quite a long meeting, so there was receptivity of the concern of Canada. I expressed, like I said, my deep concern with respect to the detention conditions of the two Canadians, stressed with him that they will have been in jail now close to a year and that certainly, we wanted … to see progress on that.”

On Friday, China’s newly arrived ambassador to Canada, Cong Peiwu, reiterated his government’s long-standing hardline position on the matter: he said Meng’s arrest and pending extradition to the U.S. amount to arbitrary detention, leading to the problems Canada and China are experiencing.

Cong said releasing Meng would pave the way for bilateral relations to return to normal.

Meng is free on bail, living in a comfortable Vancouver house. Canadian officials have met with Kovrig and Spavor several times since their arrests, but they have been denied access to lawyers or family.

The U.S. State Department has called for the release of the two Canadians. Germany, France, Britain, the European Union and Australia are among the countries that have also issued supportive statements, much to the consternation of the Chinese government.

Cong said Friday the Canadians’ “lawful rights have been fully guaranteed.”

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Liz Thorne is president of the Snow Valley Ski Club, and has been involved with the club and cross country skiing for over 30 years. (Clare Rayment)
In Our Valley: Liz Thorne

Thorne has been involved with the Snow Valley Ski Club for over 30 years

The car was trapped, with its driver inside, in a ditch off Hirsch Creek Main near Onion Lake overnight Monday (Oct. 19). Oct. 20, 2020. Kitimat RCMP photo.
Man found after spending overnight stuck in car in a ditch near Onion Lake

Kitimat RCMP said the man was stuck there overnight for about 10 hours

A cup of tea can be a great hand-warmer on a cold day. (submitted)
Tea: it picks you up, it does not let you down

A good cup of tea never fails to brighten up the day

A map created by Clear Seas Centre for Responsible Marine Shipping, which assesses the sensitivity of Canada’s Pacific Coast to oil spills. This map highlights the Douglas Channel and other inlets and waterways around Kitimat and out to the coast. (Clear Seas map)
Douglas Channel scores ‘medium’ to high’ on oil spill sensitivity study

The study was done by a not-for-profit group specializing in sustainable marine shipping

FILE – People wait in line at a COVID-19 testing facility in Burnaby, B.C., on Thursday, August 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
167 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death recorded as B.C. enters 2nd wave

Three new healthcare outbreaks also announced

Brody Peterson said he intends to dispute tickets issued by Grand Forks RCMP at his backyard “house warming” Saturday, Oct. 10. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Brody Peterson told The Gazette he intends to dispute tickets issued by Grand Forks RCMP at his backyard “house warming” Saturday, Oct. 10. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Grand Forks RCMP recommend criminal charges after weekend party

Homeowner Brody Peterson said he’ll dispute tickets for refusing police instructions, alleged COVID violations

A glimpse of some of the 480 (approx) cars written off as a result of the acid spills along the Trail highway in 2018. Photo: Trail Times
Kootenay Ford dealer’s frustration grows with ICBC

Trail AM Ford owner Dan Ashman says he just wants fair compensation from ICBC

Mail-in ballot from Elections BC (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
At least 26% of eligible voters have already cast a ballot, Elections BC says

Voters can cast a ballot until 8 p.m PST on Election Day

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A 2018 decision to fly a rainbow flag ended up costing the City of Langley $62,000 in legal fees (Langley Advance Times file)
Human rights win in rainbow flag fight cost B.C. city $62,000

“Lengthy and involved” process provoked by complaint

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a news conference Tuesday October 20, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau and his family decide against trick-or-treating this year due to COVID

Adhering to local health authorities, Trudeau urges Canadians to do their part in following those guidelines

Surrey RCMP cruisers outside a Newton townhouse Tuesday night. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
Toddler in hospital, woman dead following stabbings at Surrey townhouse

Police say two-year-old was among victims found at townhouse complex in the 12700-block of 66 Avenue

A Tim Hortons employee hands out coffee from a drive-through window to a customer in Mississauga, Ont., on March 17, 2020. Tim Hortons is ending the practice of double cupping hot drinks, a move the fast food restaurant says will eliminate hundreds of millions of cups from landfills each year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
The end of double cupping: Tim Hortons ditches two cups in favour of one with sleeve

Most recycling facilities in Canada don’t recycle single use paper coffee cups because of a plastic lining

Most Read