Canadian delegation in North Korea to seek Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim's release

A top Canadian security official has arrived in North Korea hoping to negotiate the release of an imprisoned Canadian pastor, CBC News has confirmed.
Hyeon Soo Lim, a pastor from the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Mississauga, Ont., is taken to a sentencing hearing in Pyongyang, North Korea, in December, 2015. He was sentenced to a life sentence of hard labour for subversion. (Jon Chol Jin/Associated Press)

A top Canadian security official has arrived in North Korea hoping to negotiate the release of an imprisoned Canadian pastor, CBC News has confirmed.

The reclusive regime's state-run media reported Monday that Daniel Jean, the national security and intelligence adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, was in Pyongyang leading a delegation to discuss the case of Toronto Presbyterian minister Rev. Hyeon Soo Lim.

A spokesperson for Trudeau would only confirm that a Canadian delegation is present in the internationally isolated capital.

"Obviously, Pastor Lim's health and well-being remain of utmost importance to the government of Canada and we are continuing to engage on his case," said Cameron Ahmad in a statement.

"As this is an active case, we will not provide any further comment."

Separately, a senior government official confirmed to CBC News that Jean was leading the delegation as the prime minister's special envoy, and that while his focus is the release of Lim, he would also be free to "discuss other issues of regional concern."

Trump warns of 'fire, fury'

The delegation arrived on the same day U.S. President Donald Trump warned that North Korea would be met "with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen," if it does not stop threatening the United States.

Earlier Tuesday, there were reports citing U.S. intelligence analysts that Kim Jong-un's regime has managed to produce a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit atop a ballistic missile.

The Canadian official said the timing of the visit was based on the condition of Lim, and not directly related to the increasing world tensions associated with North Korea's repeated missile tests and last weekend's imposition of further sanctions by the United Nations.

The 62-year-old reverend, who was sentenced to a life of hard labour in prison by the North Korean regime for crimes against the state, is reportedly in poor health.

He was arrested in 2015 and charged with harming the dignity of the supreme leadership and trying to use religion to destroy the North Korean system, among other things.

According to media reports earlier this summer, Lim has problems with high blood pressure and complained about pains in the stomach in letters to friends.

His family has urged Trudeau to personally take up his plight.

Their pleas came in the aftermath of the death of Otto Warmbier, the U.S. citizen who was held in captivity by North Korea and released only to die a few days later.

Last year, Lim was interviewed by CNN with the permission and oversight of North Korean authorities. He discussed his confinement in a labour camp where he claimed he had seen no other prisoners.

Lim told interviewers he worked eight hours a day, six days a week digging holes for the planting of apple trees in the prison orchard.


Murray Brewster

Defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.