Canadian MP in China Says Not Business As Usual

Detained Canadians Granted Consular Visit; Canadian citizen Michael Spavor, who is detained in China, in a file photo taking part in an interview from Yangi, China March 2, 2017. (AP Photo)


January 8, 2019 Updated: January 8, 2019

TORONTO—Canadian MP Michael Cooper, who is in China as part of a legislative delegation, says it’s encouraging news that one of the detained Canadians in China was granted consular visit, adding that the delegation has told Chinese officials it’s not business as usual while the Canadians remain detained.

Global Affairs Canada said on Jan. 8 that Canadian consular officials met with Michael Spavor, who along with Michael Kovrig were detained and charged with endangering China’s national security after Canada arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on an extradition request by the United States.

“The Canadian government remains deeply concerned by the arbitrary detention by Chinese authorities of these two Canadians since last month and continues to call for their immediate release,” Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Amy Mills said in a statement.

Conservative MP Michael Cooper in a file photo. (The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld)

Conservative MP Cooper and other Canadian lawmakers were scheduled to visit China as part of a routine parliamentary delegation visit before China detained the Canadians. Cooper said Global Affairs Canada told them it’s fine to continue with their visit, and the delegation used this opportunity to call for the release of the Canadians.

“In the course of meetings that we had with Chinese officials, we conveyed the position of the government of Canada, which was to call for the immediate release of Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig, and to emphasize the fact that it is unacceptable that Mr. Spavor and Mr Kovrig, up until the last few hours, were more ore less unable to access consular services, denied access to a lawyer, or are in conditions that are completely unacceptable,” Cooper said.

As part of their agenda, the delegation met with officials from Shanghai People’s Congress, where they spoke with the deputy director general. Cooper characterized the reaction from the Chinese as being the same as that of the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa: “long on criticism in terms of the arrest of Ms. Meng, and very short on details with respect to the details of the detention of Mr. Spavor and Mr, Kovrig.” But he said it was important for the delegation to express Canada’s concern.

Cooper rejected what he called suggestions in media reports that the delegation went to China to “go along and get along” or that the issue of the detained Canadians wasn’t part of the official agenda.

“There really is nothing on our official agenda except the people whom we are meeting with…and what was discussed at the meetings we had with Chinese officials were the cases of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor,” Cooper said.

Cooper, who visited China in 2017 as part of another delegation, said the tone of the visit this time was quite different, saying “it’s not a business as usual delegation.”

He added that the case of other detained Canadians in China, such as Sun Qian, an adherent of Falun Dafa and Huseyincan Celil, a Canadian of Uyghur Chinese ethnicity, are also serious cases impacting Canada’s relations with China.

“They all involve arbitrary detentions, they all speak to a lack of due process, and they remain ongoing, and of course those cases including and these cases, do impact the relationship.”

Allies Voice Support

In a phone conversation on Jan. 7, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Donald Trump discussed the “unlawful detention of two Canadian citizens in China,” and agreed to continue to seek their release, according to statements released by their offices.

In its statement on Jan. 8, Global Affairs Canada thanked the allies who have added their voice in support of the detained Canadians.

“Canada continues to express its appreciation to those who have spoken in support of these detained individuals and the rule of law, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the EU, the United States, and Australia,” Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Mills said.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said on Dec. 14 that China’s detention of Canadians is unacceptable, and that the United States will work toward returning them home.

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland asked for the “immediate release” of the two Canadians on Dec. 21.

Cooper said he wished Canada’s government had spoken out earlier to ask for the release of the detained Canadians.

“Frankly, it’s disappointing that while Secretary Pompeo took a very clear stand, the Trudeau government dithered. But that being said, I do believe that our Global Affairs Canada, consular officials, embassy officials, are doing what they can do in difficult circumstances,” he said.