Politics

Canada's new ambassador to China leads 1st consular visits with Spavor, Kovrig

Canada’s new ambassador to China led his first consular visits with detained Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig over the past week, CBC News has learned.

Men have been held since December 2018; Dominic Barton named ambassador days before federal election

Former economic adviser Dominic Barton was named Canada's new ambassador to China in September 2019. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Canada's new ambassador to China led his first consular visits with detained Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig over the past week, CBC News has learned.

A senior government source told CBC News on the condition of anonymity that Dominic Barton met with Spavor on Oct. 28 and Kovrig on Oct. 25 — the first confirmation that Barton took part in the visits since he was named ambassador in early September.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told CBC's Power & Politics earlier this month that Barton's "accreditation has been accepted" and that he would begin to take part in the visits.

"That is a huge priority for him and we are getting monthly consular visits with Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor." Freeland said, adding that the meetings were "very important" to the detained Canadians.

"They're important to their families. I think they're important to all Canadians," she said.

Liberal Candidate Chrystia Freeland on foreign policy priorities. 11:52

Chinese officials detained Spavor and Kovrig in December 2018 following the RCMP's arrest of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.

According to Global Affairs Canada, Canadian officials have been granted consular access to Spavor and Kovrig 13 times since their detention.

The federal agency said the purpose of such visits include assessing well-being, providing legal guidance, determining the nature of the detention and helping detainees communicate with loved ones.

Michael Spavor, left, and former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig, right, were detained Dec. 10, 2018. (Associated Press/International Crisis Group/Canadian Press)

Global Affairs would not provide further information, citing provisions of the Privacy Act.

Following a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit this summer, Freeland said she hoped to keep negotiations between Canada and China behind closed doors. 

"The surest route to a successful outcome is for us not to be negotiating in public," she said in a statement.

with files from the CBC's Vassy Kapelos

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