Allegations that detainees in Afghanistan transferred by Canadians were likely tortured made headlines in China on Thursday, just weeks before Prime Minister Stephen Harper's first visit to the economic superpower.
China Daily's website ran the headline "Canada Handed over Afghans for Torture" after senior diplomat Richard Colvin blasted the detainee policies of Canada before a House of Commons committee on Wednesday. Colvin said his reports of the detainee situation were either ignored or rebuffed.
The story is of particular interest in China, because Colvin singled out David Mulroney — then a deputy minister but now Canada's ambassador to China — as one of the officials who didn't want to hear allegations of abuse.
A spokesman with the Canadian Embassy said David Mulroney had no comment.
Laurie Hawn, parliamentary secretary to Defence Minister Peter MacKay, told CBC News Colvin's testimony "seemed dramatic, but under questioning it was revealed to be flimsy, inconsistent, unreliable" and he questioned its credibility.
The timing of the allegations is unfortunate for the prime minister ahead of his China trip, said Jeremy Paltiel, a visiting political science professor from Carleton University in Ottawa.
In particular, it may undermine any efforts on Harper's part to address Canada's own human rights concerns in China, he said.
Canada-China relations strained under Harper
Human rights have been a sticking point in Canada-China relations since Harper became prime minister.
After Parliament unanimously adopted a motion giving honorary Canadian citizenship to the Dalai Lama in 2006, China threatened to use its considerable economic strength to penalize Canada.
The Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his lifelong struggle for Tibetan autonomy and his pursuit of peace. He has lived in exile since 1958, when China annexed Tibet.
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Chinese President Hu Jintao also threatened to call off a meeting between the two leaders in Vietnam in 2006 after Harper criticized China over a case involving Huseyin Celil, a Canadian activist jailed in China for alleged terrorist links.
Hu did eventually meet Harper, but China's Foreign Ministry rejected the criticism.
Paltiel said the Colvin allegations might give China ammunition should Harper bring up human rights issues concerning Tibet or other regions.
"They have used every opportunity that they can to point to elements of hypocrisy and have said quite bluntly the time has passed when you can lecture us," he said.
Harper is scheduled to visit China from Dec. 2 to Dec. 6.