As It Happens

Trudeau hosts China's premier while imprisoned Canadian remains behind bars

The lawyer for the family of a dual Canadian-Chinese citizen jailed for the past decade says it's difficult to watch Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Chinese's premier hob-knobbing in Ottawa.
Huseyin Celil and one of his children / Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Prime Minister Trudeau (Twitter / CBC)
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is meeting with China's Premier Li Keqiang this week in Ottawa. 

The official visit comes just weeks after the prime minister's own visit to China. And it's the first such visit by a Chinese leader to Ottawa in more than six years. On the agenda for their meetings are trade and growing economic ties.

There's also been a lot of talk about an extradition treaty between the two countries.

But for the family of Huseyin Celil — a dual Canadian-Chinese citizen imprisoned in China since 2006 — seeing the two leaders together has stirred up deep and difficult emotions. Their hopes, that Celil's case might also be on the table, are thin.

Huseyin Celil's lawyer, Chris MacLeod (Chris MacLeod)

Chris MacLeod is the lawyer for Celil's family. He tells As It Happens host Carol Off that they are feeling very frustrated.

CAROL OFF: Mr. MacLeod, does Canada's new diplomatic dance with China change anything for your client, Huseyin Celil?

CHRIS MACLEOD: Well, we certainly hope so. He's been in jail now in China without communication with his family and without the Canadian government having access to see him directly. So we hope the channel has changed. The jury's out. I remain optimistic that Prime Minister Trudeau, [Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane] Dion and Consular Services have done a huddle and are working hard on the Celil case.

CO: And what is Mr. Celil's wife Kamila saying about this? Does she see hope now that these connections are being made with China?

Huseyin Celil's wife, Kamila (CP/Fred Chartrand)

CM: I think Kamila and the children are exasperated. They're extremely frustrated. They've done a remarkable job remaining hopeful. But no clear progress has been made.

CO: He has been in prison in China for 10 years. Can you tell us why he has been incarcerated there?

CM: That's a million dollar question. China says it's for terrorist-related allegations. I personally believe that when he was in Canada he was very active with the Uighur community. He spoke for the Uighur people. He went to neighbouring Uzbekistan with his wife to visit Kamila's family. [Celil] went to renew his visa. There was an alert and he was detained and transferred to China.

CO: We just saw Kevin Garratt released from China. He was there for two years. Why do you think that Kevin Garratt was released, but it still seems so difficult for Mr. Celil to be released?

CM: Garratt's a Canadian citizen who does not have any ties to China like Celil did. So [the cases are] entirely different. Celil's been tortured. We don't know if he's had a significant trial; we weren't allowed in the room. If that's how they're going to treat a Canadian, what's going to happen with an extradition where they're now asking for the return of Chinese nationals who've come to Canada? I want to watch this situation very carefully.

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