Justin Trudeau denies PMO pressured former diplomat over China statements

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today his office did not pressure a former Canadian ambassador to avoid recommending Canadians cease non-essential travel to China.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during an announcement at the Canadian Coast Guard Kitsilano Base in Vancouver on Monday July 29, 2019. (Darryl Dyck/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today his office did not pressure a former Canadian ambassador to avoid recommending that Canadians cease non-essential travel to China.

"I can confirm that the PMO did not direct that to happen," Trudeau said during a media availability at the Kitsilano Coast Guard base in Vancouver Monday afternoon.

The Globe and Mail reported last week that former Canadian ambassador to China David Mulroney said he had been instructed by an official with Global Affairs Canada to clear any public comments on Canada's China policy with the department beforehand. The official reportedly cited the "election environment" and said they were passing on a request from the PMO.

Mulroney told the Globe that the Global Affairs official also cautioned against telling Canadians to suspend non-essential travel to China. Mulroney told the newspaper he found the request troubling and said the department official implied he should soften his tone.

Another former ambassador, Guy Saint-Jacques, also told the Globe the department had contacted him as well.

David Mulroney, Canada's former ambassador to China, testifies in the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario on Thursday, Nov. 26, 2009. (Pawel Dwulit/Canadian Press)

Rob Oliphant, parliamentary secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, said Thursday that neither she nor the PMO had pressured the former diplomats over their comments on Canada's China policy.

The House of Commons committee on foreign affairs meets Tuesday to vote on whether to study allegations that federal officials have pressured two former diplomats. The Liberals hold five of the committee's nine seats.

Diplomatic and trade relations with China have deteriorated rapidly since Canada began extradition proceedings against Meng Wanzhou, a top executive with the Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei. Wanzhou faces charges in the United States of fraud and violating international sanctions against Iran.

In the wake of her detention and house arrest at her multi-million dollar Vancouver home, tensions between Canada and China escalated. Beijing detained two Canadians — former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor — on suspicion of espionage late last year; they've been in custody ever since. And in subsequent months, China placed restrictions on imports of Canadian canola, pork and beef.

PM defends China policy and travel costs

Canada has been urging its international allies to speak out against Beijing's detention of the two Canadians. During Monday's media availability, Trudeau was asked about adopting a different strategy by urging the U.S. to drop its bid to extradite Wanzhou.

Trudeau didn't indicate his government would change course.

"Canada is the country of the rule of the law," Trudeau said. "We are a country that respects an independent judiciary. We will continue to hope for a positive resolution on this. We will continue to stand strongly and squarely for the Canadians who have been detained."

Trudeau was in Vancouver Monday to announce the completion of renovations at the Kitsilano Coast Guard base in Vancouver — something that's been announced in the past. But the prime minister also faced questions about using taxpayer-funded trips to Vancouver to attend Liberal fundraisers.

"The prime minister has the responsibility to be the prime minister of all Canadians," Trudeau said. "And that is why I spend an awful lot of time getting out and meeting with Canadians."


  • A previous story said Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland stated that neither she nor the PMO had pressured former diplomats over their comments on Canada's China policy. In fact, her parliamentary secretary Rob Oliphant said this.
    Jul 29, 2019 7:10 PM ET


David Thurton

Senior reporter, Parliamentary Correspondent

David Thurton is a senior reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He covers daily politics in the nation’s capital and specializes in environment and energy policy. Born in Canada but raised in Trinidad and Tobago, he’s moved around more times than he can count. He’s worked for CBC in several provinces and territories, including Alberta and the Northwest Territories.