Canada granted consular access to Michael Spavor in China

Canada has been granted consular access to Michael Spavor, the second Canadian detained by China this week.

Canada's ambassador met on Sunday with Spavor, one of two Canadians detained in Beijing

Global Affairs Canada says they have been granted consular access to Michael Spavor who was detained in Beijing earlier this week. (Associated Press)

Canada has been granted consular access to Michael Spavor, the second Canadian detained in China this week.

Canada's ambassador to China John McCallum met with Spavor on Sunday, according to a statement from Global Affairs Canada.

"Canadian consular officials continue to provide consular services to him and his family and will continue to seek further access to Mr. Spavor," the statement said.

Spavor and former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig were taken into custody earlier this week in Beijing, days after the RCMP arrested a top Chinese business leader transiting through Vancouver at the behest of the United States. The U.S. wants Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies, to be extradited to the U.S. to face fraud charges.

McCallum met with Kovrig, who is on a leave of absence from Global Affairs Canada, on Friday. He served as a diplomat in China until 2016 and has been working for the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental agency. China says he was arrested for harming its national security.

According to today's statement, consular visits generally aim to assess the well-being of the person being detained, clarify the reason for the detention, provide guidance on legal issues and act as a link between the detainee and loved ones. Officials are working to get further access to both detainees.

Reason for detention unclear

Global Affairs would not disclose the reason for either Kovrig's or Spavor's detainment, citing provisions of the Privacy Act.

But according to the Beijing News, a state-run Chinese newspaper, the two were detained on suspicion of engagement in activities that endanger China's state security.

If that is the case, then it is an extremely serious situation, according to Sida Liu, a professor from the University of Toronto who specializes in China's legal system.

In an ordinary criminal case in China a suspect is put into a detention centre and their family is notified within 24 hours, Liu told CBC's News Network. They are also given access to a lawyer within 48 hours, Liu said.

Watch: Law professor on legal challenges faced by 2 Canadians detained in China:

U of T law professor Sida Liu, who has conducted extensive research on China's legal system, discusses some of the legal challenges facing Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig. 2:11

"But that's for ordinary criminal cases. There's a big exception for national security."

Liu said those conditions would not apply in the cases of the two Canadian detainees.

"The two Canadians can be detained for much longer ... and there is no guarantee that the lawyer would be involved at this point."

In an interview on Friday with the Canadian Press, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau criticized China's actions, calling them "not acceptable." When asked if the detention of the two Canadian men was intended as retaliation, a spokesperson for China's Foreign Ministry said they were being handled according to Chinese law.

Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was granted bail earlier this week. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also urged China on Friday to end the "unlawful detention" of the two Canadians.

"We ask all nations of the world to treat other citizens properly and the detention of these two Canadian citizens in China ought to end," Pompeo said in Washington, alongside Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.

Pompeo moved to temper an earlier statement by U.S. Donald Trump this week, who mused he might intervene in the Meng case if it helped him get a trade deal with China.

Pompeo said the extradition request for Meng isn't being used as political leverage in the trade talks with China.

In Washington, the arrests dominated questions Pompeo and Freeland took after a meeting that also included Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and U.S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis.

The two foreign ministers tried to distance the extradition process that is now in the Canadian courts from politics. Freeland said Friday's discussions focused on upholding the rule of law, and ensuring Meng's right to due process is respected and that the ongoing legal process remains free of politics.

"Canada, in detaining Ms. Meng, was not making a political judgment. In Canada there has been, to this point, no political interference in this issue at all. For Canada, this is a question of living up to our international treaty obligations and following the rule of law," Freeland said. "The extradition process is a criminal-justice process. This is not a tool that should be used for politicized ends."

'Canada's being used and manipulated'

But critics say Canada is being disingenuous in insisting the arrest is not about politics.

The arrest of a Chinese tech executive is yet another example that the U.S. is creating "a new Cold War" in international trade, says economist Jeffrey Sachs, who adds that Canada is abetting its southern neighbour.

Sachs said it's a "pretty well-known American approach to use its power to try and break the economic momentum of a rival," adding that it now sees China as a substantial rival.

The fraud allegations against Meng centre around the relationship between Huawei and a Hong Kong company called Skycom, that did business in Iran.

According to U.S. prosecutors, Skycom was a "hidden" subsidiary of Huawei. Meng once served on Skycom's board of directors but she says Huawei sold its interest in Skycom and she stepped down from the board.

Iran is subject to U.S. sanctions and banks can be found criminally liable if they help move money out of a sanctioned country and into the broader global banking system.

Watch: Jeffrey Sachs on Huawei executive's arrest

Jeffrey Sachs says Canada is caught in the middle of a diplomatic spat between two superpowers. 1:13

Sachs believes the arrests are a consequence for Canada's recent involvement in Washington's campaign to levy heavy-handed punishment on Meng over perceived Iran sanctions violations.

"I think Canada's doing the bidding of United States policy that is not well-controlled or well-modulated," he said.

"Maybe Canada's being used and manipulated, not only vis-à-vis China, but for the United States to try to show anyone: 'You dare cross us on any business with Iran, you're going to pay a price.'"

With files from Justin Li and the Canadian Press

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