Politics

Canadian officials meet with detainee Michael Spavor in China

Canadian consular officials were able to visit with Michael Spavor today, the second time since he was detained in China nearly a month ago.

Global Affairs pushing for more consular access to 2 detained Canadian men

In this image made from video taken on March 2, 2017, Michael Spavor, director of Paektu Cultural Exchange, talks during a Skype interview in Yangi, China. (Associated Press)

Canadian consular officials were able to visit with Michael Spavor today — just the second consular visit he's received since he was detained in China nearly a month ago.

A spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada didn't provide many more details, citing privacy concerns.

Spavor, an entrepreneur originally from Calgary, and fellow Canadian Michael Kovrig, a diplomat on leave working as an adviser with the International Crisis Group, were taken separately into Chinese custody on alleged national security grounds in December.

Canadian officials said they continue to provide consular services to both men's families and are seeking more access to them.

Conservative MPs held a news conference on Parliament Hill to say that's not enough, and that it's time for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to personally intervene.

Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O'Toole accused Trudeau of taking a "profoundly naive" approach to diplomacy, and urged him to call Chinese President Xi Jinping directly to show he's taking the issue seriously.

Canadians 'deeply concerned'

"Canada is now engaged in a diplomatic tit-for-tat with China as a result of this arrest, and the prime minister's refusal to call the Chinese president to begin to de-escalate the situation has many Canadian families deeply concerned," he said, adding that Trudeau should demand daily consular access rather than the "minimal" access now granted by China.

O'Toole said Canadian travellers and businesspeople are worried about visiting China, and called on the government to either amend the country's travel advisory or assure Canadians it is safe to go there.

Alberta Conservative MP Stephanie Kusie, a former diplomat, said she has had several calls from former and current consular officials lamenting the lack of political action on the file, though she would not disclose their identities or the details of their roles.

"This is not just a consular matter. This is a political matter and it requires a political response," she said. 

"The people on the front line are recognizing the need for the prime minister to act, and today we are asking the government to do so."

Kusie said none of the officials who contacted her are currently working on the detention cases.

Countries support Canada

The detentions of Spavor, director of the Paektu Cultural Exchange, an organization that organizes sporting, cultural, tourism and business exchanges with North Korea, and Kovrig happened shortly after Canadian officials arrested Meng in Vancouver on an extradition request from the U.S. She was later granted bail and is now awaiting court proceedings.

"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," said Global Affairs spokesperson Amy Mills.

The emailed statement went on to thank the countries that have spoken in support of the detainees and the rule of law, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the United States and Australia, as well as the European Union.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump talked about the extradtion case during a phone call on Monday.

A government official speaking on background told CBC News that Canada requested the call with Trump.

In a released summary of the conversation, the Prime Minister's Office said the two leaders talked about Meng's high-profile extradition case and agreed on the importance of respecting the independence of judges and the rule of law.

Trump muddied the waters last month when he told Reuters in an interview that he would "certainly intervene" in Meng's case if he "thought it was necessary" to help ensure a trade deal with China.

That same day, U.S. Ambassador to Canada Kelly Craft told reporters it was "absolutely false" to assume a political motive behind Meng's arrest.

On Tuesday Trudeau's office released a summary of a call between the prime minister and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Monday night. They also discussed the Canadians' detentions and "both reiterated the importance of respecting and adhering to justice and the rule of law," said the readout.

Consular visits can involve assessing the well-being of the person being detained, clarifying the reasons for the detention, providing guidance on legal issues and acting as a link between the detainee and loved ones. This consular visit comes as a small delegation of Canadian parliamentarians tours Shanghai.

Sen. Joseph Day, leading the mission, said the Canadians pushed for the release of the two detainees during meetings with Chinese officials on Monday.

With files from the CBC's Katie Simpson and the Canadian Press

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