Power & Politics

Scheer says detention of Canadians in China is retaliation for Huawei arrest

Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer says he believes that China's detention of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig is a retaliation against Canada over the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

Liberal government has not yet confirmed a link

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says there's a link between Canada's arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou and the Chinese detention of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig. (Adrian Wyld - The Canadian Press)

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said today he believes the detention of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig is China retaliating against Canada for the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

"That is my belief," Scheer told host Vassy Kapelos in a year-end interview with CBC News Network's Power & Politics.

"Of course, the government has access to more classified information and more sensitive information. But based on what I can observe, statements coming out of the government itself, messages from the regime and also from ... the newspaper that is so closely linked to the Communist party ... I believe its more prudent to operate under that assumption."

The Canadian government has not drawn a direct link between Meng's arrest and China's detention of Canadian citizens.

"Chinese officials in their contact with Canada have not drawn a connection between these different issues," said Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland in a press conference last week.

"From Canada's perspective, these kinds of issues ought never to be confused with one another. In the detention of Ms. Meng, Canada was ... acting scrupulously in line with our treaty commitments and in line with the rule of law."

China's Foreign Ministry has said Kovrig and Spavor are being detained on suspicion of "endangering national security," but has not provided further details.

Scheer went on to accuse Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of engaging in a "policy of appeasement" in his government's past dealings with China.

"We've seen in the past, Justin Trudeau professing his admiration for the basic dictatorship of China. We've seen this government refuse to have national security reviews for the takeover of Canadian companies that have sensitive technology. To date, silent on whether or not Huawei will be able to participate in the 5G spectrum auction," said Scheer.

"This government needs to be very prudent and be very cautious."

Calling for a Huawei 5G ban

Meng's arrest has also led to renewed scrutiny of the Chinese telecom giant Huawei, the largest telecommunications equipment manufacturer in the world and the second-largest maker of smartphones, after Samsung.

Several countries, including the U.S., have warned of national security concerns stemming from Huawei's murky connections to the Chinese government.

Earlier this month, the Conservatives called on the government to follow the U.S., Australia and New Zealand in banning the company from participating in Canada's emerging 5G network infrastructure.

Scheer repeated that call Friday.

"We know that the government in China has been involved in cyber attacks before," he said. "I look at our partners around the world, our traditional allies, our NATO partners who are making the same assessment. We share so much with them and rely on their technology, their expertise and interoperability in many aspects of our own armed forces."

Canada is conducting a comprehensive review of the 5G technology movement, which is expected to bring faster connections and greater data capacity.

An Australian newspaper reported last week that Canada was expected to announce a ban on Huawei within weeks, but Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale called the report "speculation."

Former U.S. ambassador to China Gary Locke told Power & Politics last week that the U.S. intelligence community fears the Chinese government could employ Huawei equipment for espionage or to disrupt the normal flow of telecommunications.

With files from Catharine Tunney.