Canada's ambassador to China says some human rights moving backwards

Canada's ambassador to China says human rights in that country have taken a step backwards in some areas in recent years.

Guy Saint-Jacques says Trudeau open about Canada's relationship with Indigenous communities

Guy Saint-Jacques, Canada's ambassador to China, is shown speaking at the University of Alberta in Edmonton Feb. 11, 2013. This week, he told media during Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's visit to Beijing: 'I think things are going backwards unfortunately.' (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

Canada's ambassador to China says human rights in that country have taken a step backwards in some areas in recent years.

Guy Saint-Jacques, Canada's top diplomat in China for four years, said he's noticed a change in terms of people's ability to express themselves freely, and not in a positive way.

"In terms of personal freedom of course the advent of the internet has meant that now there are a lot more fora [forums] to allow people to express their views. But at the same time, I think it's fair to say that in the last three years, I think things are going backwards unfortunately," he told reporters during Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's visit to Beijing this week.

Still, he added some progress has been made, particularly in the area of economic rights.

"The fact that they have taken 600 million people out of poverty...They have about 70 million people that are still living below the poverty level and by 2020  [the goal is] to take them out. You have a growing middle class," he said.

Saint-Jacques said the prime minister raised the issue of human rights in his meetings with both Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and President Xi Jinping.

Canada's own issues brought up

He noted Trudeau highlighted the need to strengthen ties between the two countries to allow for more opportunities to talk frankly about these issues.

Chinese President Xi Jinping extends his hand as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduces the Canadian delegation before a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on Wednesday. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

"[Trudeau] said we are not perfect. We have many problems of our own. He mentioned Indigenous people but he said we will want to continue to raise those issues in a respectful manner," Saint-Jacques said.

The ambassador said the prime minister also spoke about individual consular cases, including Canadian Kevin Garratt, who was indicted on charges of espionage. He was detained in August 2014 near China's sensitive border with North Korea.

His family issued a statement Tuesday to express frustration at the lack of progress and their fears for Garratt's "fragile" health.

The ambassador would only say the case was raised, but would not elaborate any further.

Garratt's family said on Wednesday they were "extremely frustrated and disappointed" with the lack on progress in freeing him.

Before he was appointed ambassador to China Saint-Jacques served in Canada's embassy in Beijing and Hong Kong.