A Canadian citizen has been detained in Beijing for more than 2 1/2 months – held against her will, according to supporters, for being a follower of the Falun Gong spiritual movement that is banned in mainland China.
Sun Qian, 51, who was born in China and obtained Canadian citizenship in 2007, was arrested in February, say Conservative foreign-affairs critic Peter Kent and Xun Li, president of the Falun Dafa Association of Canada.
It’s the second high-profile case in the past few months of a Canadian citizen winding up in the custody of the Chinese government.
And it emerges during the middle of a national debate over whether the Trudeau government should have agreed to negotiate an extradition treaty with China, a pact that would commit Canada to transfer fugitive Chinese to a country known for biased courts and harsh interrogation methods and where the death penalty is routinely imposed, even for non-violent crimes.
Ms. Sun’s case came to light this week when Mr. Kent raised the matter with Canada’s new ambassador to China, John McCallum, when he appeared before the Commons foreign-affairs committee. Mr. McCallum acknowledged the detention, saying he had been briefed on it, but offered little else.
In the second recent case, Chinese-Canadian billionaire Xiao Jianhua mysteriously disappeared Jan. 27 from Hong Kong’s Four Seasons Hotel, reportedly spirited away to the Chinese mainland by a phalanx of plainclothes policemen. Chinese political analysts think Mr. Xiao was wanted by President Xi Jinping and supporters because they believe he possesses incriminating evidence against political enemies of Mr. Xi.
Asked for comment on the Sun case, a spokesman at the Chinese embassy in Ottawa could offer none. It also did not confirm the nature of Ms. Sun’s detention.
The Chinese embassy, however, urged Canadian media to distrust any information provided by practitioners of Falun Gong, including its information websites. “Falun Gong is an evil cult that is anti-humanity and anti-science in nature, having caused enormous harm to Chinese society. It was banned by Chinese government in 1999, according to law,” embassy spokesman Yang Yundong said.
Referring to a Falun Gong website, Minghui, which has written about the Sun case, Mr. Yang urged The Globe to “believe no tales from them,” calling it an “anti-China” tool “that consistently makes up stories and spreads rumours.”
Mr. Wang said he had “no information” about Mr. Xiao.
Falun Gong emerged in China in the early 1990s as an exercise discipline focusing on meditation. It was soon seen as a threat, prompting a crackdown by the Chinese government. In 1999, authorities harshly suppressed the popular movement when some 10,000 practitioners gathered to protest outside Beijing’s elite leadership compound. International human-rights groups have for years documented the mistreatment of Falun Gong adherents in China.
On the issue of Canadians detained in China, Mr. McCallum said he doesn’t think discussing the cases is a good idea. “That doesn’t always help the person in detention if we broadcast their own situation in public. I think in those cases, almost all the time it is better to proceed in a low-profile way in order to do the best we can to help those individuals,” he told the foreign-affairs committee this week.
Mr. Kent disagreed and urged the Trudeau government to speak out in defence. “By staying silent or being less enthusiastic about speaking out, they are designating those folks as second-class Canadians.”
The department of Global Affairs refused to discuss Ms. Sun’s case, saying it needs to protect her right to privacy.
“Consular services are being provided to the Canadian citizen who has been detained in Beijing, China. Consular officials are in contact with local authorities to gather additional information,” said Austin Jean, a spokesman for Global Affairs.
Falun Dafa’s Mr. Li, who called the Chinese embassy’s characterization of the movement “hate speech,” wrote a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Wednesday, asking him to press Beijing to release Ms. Sun. “For the past 18 years, Falun Gong continues to be the most severely and illegally persecuted group in China,” he wrote. “The Canadian government has an obligation to protect Canadian citizens in China and also protect the dignity of Canadian values from being eroded by this repressive regime,” he wrote of the Chinese government, which is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party with no substantial political opposition.
He said Ms. Sun is being held in the Beijing First Detention Centre. He said she is a vice-president at a Chinese biochemical firm based in Beijing called Beijing Leadman Biochemistry Co. and that a Canadian embassy official visited her recently.
Mr. Li also said he believes Ms. Sun entered China on a Canadian passport on her most recent trip to the country.
Unlike Canada, China does not recognize dual citizenship and refuses requests from foreign governments in cases where Chinese-born people have not formally relinquished their passport or used their Chinese documents to enter China.
Mr. McCallum, meanwhile, defended the extradition talks, which the Trudeau government agreed to last September, saying the Liberals are a “long, long, long way” from actual negotiations. He says right now they’re just talking. “We’ve agreed to talk about the issues that need to be addressed for China or any other country to meet our high standards. This includes things like the death penalty and the importance of high standards of evidence in court proceedings. We lose nothing by explaining our system and talking about the values we hold dear.”