TORONTO—A Canadian parliamentary delegation currently visiting Shanghai has asked for the release of detained Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, despite previous comments that the cases were not on the official agenda.
“The gist of the message is that the executive branch of Canada has asked for their immediate release,” Canadian Sen. Joseph Day, the head of the delegation, said after meeting with Chinese officials on Jan. 7, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat and an adviser with the International Crisis Group, and Spavor, an entrepreneur, were detained in China on what is widely believed to be trumped-up charges in retaliation for the arrest of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on Dec. 1.
The CBC report said the discussion turned to the issue of Kovrig and Spavor after Chinese officials at the meeting asked about Meng’s arrest by Canada on an extradition request from the United States.
Before the delegation left for China, Day had said the release of the two men was not the purpose of the trip and his group wanted to tread carefully when meeting with Chinese lawmakers so not to interfere with diplomatic efforts.
Other members of the delegation, which is hosted by the Canada-China Legislative Association, include Sen. Victor Oh and members of Parliament Chandra Arya, Michael Cooper, Majid Jowhari, and Geng Tan. They say the trip had been planned for months and the itinerary set before the detention of Kovrig and Spavor.
However, the delegation drew criticism for not putting the detentions on the official agenda.
Former Canadian ambassador to China David Mulroney said Beijing wants Ottawa to believe it’s best not to bring up the issue in order to avoid upsetting the long-term relationship between the two countries.
“What we have essentially is a Canadian delegation using China’s talking points at a time when we should be saying, ‘It’s not business as usual. The most important thing for us is to secure the freedom of these two people who have been wrongly detained,'” Mulroney told CBC.
“We’re saying, ‘Well, you know there are these embarrassments that come up every now and then but we have to stay focused on the long-term relationship.'”
After an initially muted response, Canada formally demanded that China release Kovrig and Spavor. On Dec. 21, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland issued a statement describing the men’s detention as arbitrary and called for their immediate release. She also said Canada would follow the rule of law and due process in Meng’s case and would adhere to its international legal commitments.
Allies including the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union added their voices in support of Canada’s position.
More recently, Global Affairs Canada confirmed that 13 Canadians have been detained in China since Meng’s arrest, with eight released so far. Global Affairs added that approximately 200 Canadians overall have been detained in China and continue to face ongoing legal proceedings.
U.S. prosecutors allege Meng misled banks about transactions linked to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. She is currently out on bail in Vancouver awaiting extradition hearings.