TORONTO—Canadian MP Michael Cooper, who is in China as part of a legislative delegation, said it’s encouraging that one of the two Canadians detained in that country was granted a consular visit on Jan. 8.
He also said the delegation has told Chinese officials that it’s not business as usual while the Canadians remain detained.
Canada’s foreign affairs department said Jan. 8 that Canadian consular officials met with Michael Spavor, who, along with Michael Kovrig, was detained and charged with endangering China’s national security after Canada arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on an extradition request by the United States.
“The Canadian government remains deeply concerned by the arbitrary detention by Chinese authorities of these two Canadians since last month and continues to call for their immediate release,” Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Amy Mills said in a statement.
Cooper, who is a Conservative, and other Canadian lawmakers were scheduled to travel to China as part of a routine parliamentary visit before Beijing detained the Canadians. Cooper said Global Affairs Canada cleared them to continue with the visit, and the delegation used the opportunity to call for the release of the Canadians.
“In the course of meetings that we had with Chinese officials, we conveyed the position of the government of Canada, which was to call for the immediate release of Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig, and to emphasize the fact that it is unacceptable that Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig, up until the last few hours, were more or less unable to access consular services, were denied access to a lawyer, or are in conditions that are completely unacceptable,” Cooper said in a phone interview from Shanghai.
As part of their agenda, the delegation met with officials from Shanghai People’s Congress, where they spoke with the deputy director general. Cooper characterized the reaction in China as being the same as that of the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa: “long on criticism in terms of the arrest of Ms. Meng, and very short on details with respect to the of the detention of Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig.” But he said it was important for the delegation to express Canada’s concerns.
Cooper rejected what he called suggestions in media reports that the delegation went to China to “go along and get along,” or that the issue of the detained Canadians wasn’t part of the official agenda.
“There really is nothing on our official agenda, except the people whom we are meeting with … and what was discussed at the meetings we had with Chinese officials were the cases of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor,” he said.
Cooper, who visited China in 2017 as part of another delegation, said the tone of the visit this time was quite different. “It’s not a business-as-usual delegation.”
He added that the case of other Canadians detained in China, such as Sun Qian, an adherent of Falun Dafa, and Huseyincan Celil, a Canadian of Uyghur Chinese ethnicity, are also serious cases affecting Canada’s relations with China.
“They all involve arbitrary detentions, they all speak to a lack of due process, and they remain ongoing. And of course … these cases do impact the relationship.”
Allies Voice Support
In a phone conversation on Jan. 7, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump discussed what the White House described as the “unlawful detention” of Spavor and Kovrig, and agreed to continue to seek their release, according to statements from their offices.
In its statement on Jan. 8, Global Affairs Canada thanked the allies who have added their voice in support of the detained Canadians.
“Canada continues to express its appreciation to those who have spoken in support of these detained individuals and the rule of law, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the EU, the United States, and Australia,” the statement said.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Dec. 14 that China’s detention of the Canadians is unacceptable, and that the United States will work toward having them returned home.
Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland called for the “immediate release” of the two Canadians on Dec. 21.
Cooper said he wishes the Canadian government had spoken out sooner in demanding the release of the pair.
“Frankly, it’s disappointing that while Secretary Pompeo took a very clear stand, the Trudeau government dithered. But that being said, I do believe that our Global Affairs Canada consular officials, embassy officials, are doing what they can do in difficult circumstances,” he said.