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

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

File photo
County of Wetaskiwin closing Winfield Arena for the remainder of the 2020/2021 season

County Council made their decision at the Jan.26, 2021 County Council Meeting.

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
City and County of Wetaskiwin COVID-19 numbers continue to drop

Fruition of provincial restrictions coming to light as active cases decline locally.

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the province still hopes to bring the hospitalization number down before relaxing restrictions. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
14 new deaths, 366 new COVID-19 cases in Alberta

Province nearing 100K COVID-19 vaccine doses administered

Black Press file photo
Leduc RCMP investigate serious collision involving train

Leduc RCMP were called to a collision between a train and truck on Centre Street in New Sarepta.

Mom’s Diner owner Wesley Langlois has joined a growing number of Alberta restaurants that are allowing sit-in dining despite public health restrictions. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Red Deer diner joins sit-down dining protest

Mom’s Diner has joined a growing list of Alberta restaurants flouting health restrictions

Young hockey players were out on Bentley Tuesday for a march to a support a return to sports. (Photo courtesy of Bobby McKinlay)
(Kraft Dinner/Twitter)
Kraft Dinner launches candy-flavoured mac and cheese just in time for Valentine’s Day

Sweet and cheesy treat will be here just in time for the cheesiest holiday of the year

In this undated image made from a video taken by the Duke of Sussex and posted on @SaveChildrenUK by the Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, shows the Duchess of Sussex reading the book “Duck! Rabbit!” to their son Archie who celebrates his first birthday on Wednesday May 6, 2020. The Canadian Paediatric Society is reminding families that the process of raising a reader starts from birth. (Duke of Sussex/@SaveChildrenUK)
Canadian Paediatric Society says raising a reader starts from birth

CPS says literacy is one of the strongest predictors of lifelong health outcomes

Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough responds to a question during a news conference Thursday August 20, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Easing rules for parental benefits created inequities among parents, documents say

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough’s office says the government will make any necessary changes

People walk along a pedestrianized zone of Sainte-Catherine street in Montreal, Monday, May 18, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. Newly released statistics point to a major drop in police-recorded crime during the first eight months of the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Crime down in first 8 months of pandemic, but mental health calls rise: StatCan

The agency says violent crimes such as assault dropped significantly

(Photo submitted)
Central Alberta researchers recognized for studies in agricultural sciences

Jessica Sperber of Ponoka and David MacTaggart of Lacombe awarded prestigious scholarship

FILE – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers his opening remarks at a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Tuesday, January 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine CEO ‘very, very clear’ that Canada’s contracts will be honoured: Trudeau

Trudeau says he spoke to Moderna CEO on the morning of Jan. 26

Most Read