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Canada Canada mounting global effort to free Canadians detained in China

Michael Spavor, left, and Michael Kovrig

The Globe and Mail

Ottawa is mounting a global campaign to get more allied countries to publicly denounce China’s detention of two Canadians in response to the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, building on recent statements of support from the United States, Britain and the European Union.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters in a Saturday morning conference call that Canada’s ambassadors around the world are now talking with their host countries about the “worrying precedent” China has set with its “arbitrary detention” of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

“Our allies understand what’s at stake and it was good to have them come out and say that publicly," she said. “We are going to continue this work with allies around the world.”

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Later on Saturday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau restated his concern for Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor, adding that Canadians and people around the world are “extremely disturbed” by China’s detention of the pair.

“We continue to call for the release of the detainees,” Mr. Trudeau said. “This is something that is extremely important to us to stand up for Canadians, and we feel that respecting the rule of law, respecting the rights of citizens, of prisoners, is extremely important.”

Chinese officials took former diplomat Mr. Kovrig and entrepreneur Mr. Spavor into custody on Dec. 10, just days after China promised retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Ms. Meng. Canada apprehended the Huawei chief financial officer on Dec. 1, when she was changing planes at Vancouver International Airport, in response to a provisional arrest warrant issued in New York. The Americans allege that Ms. Meng committed fraud in 2013 in relation to U.S. sanctions on Iran.

Ms. Meng was released on $10-million bail and is living in Vancouver under constant surveillance in one of the two multimillion-dollar homes owned by her husband.

China’s embassy in Ottawa has called the arrest of Ms. Meng, the daughter of the firm’s founder, a “political conspiracy” to undermine the telecom giant, and has dismissed Mr. Trudeau’s assertion that he had no role in the case.

Amid this global diplomatic effort to put more pressure on China, Ms. Freeland said Canada continues talking with Beijing to explain that Ms. Meng’s detention was not political and that she has been treated with respect throughout the judicial process.

“With regards to Ms. Meng, we do think it’s important to explain to the Chinese authorities, to the Chinese public, that Canada has been behaving scrupulously as a rule-of-law state," Ms. Freeland said. “This is clearly a difficult moment in our relationship with China and it’s important to keep on talking and raising issues directly with them as we are doing.”

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Ms. Freeland did not answer the question of whether the two Canadians are being treated well during their detention.

A day earlier, she issued a statement marking a shift in Canada’s tone that called for the “immediate release” of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor. The blunt diplomatic language is reserved for when one country believes another state has absolutely no grounds to arrest its citizens.

On Thursday, reports surfaced that Mr. Kovrig is not allowed to apply for bail or see a lawyer, faces questioning every morning, afternoon and evening, and is forbidden to turn off the lights at night. He is allowed only one consular visit from Canadian diplomats a month, and family and loved ones cannot see him, the reports said.

Ms. Freeland said on Saturday that Chinese authorities have not explicitly told their Canadian counterparts that the arrests of the two were a tit-for-tat reprisal for the detention of Ms. Meng.

“It would, of course, be highly inappropriate for there to be any connections,” she said.

Canada’s ambassador to China, John McCallum, is staying in Beijing over Christmas to continue pushing for the release of the detainees, Ms. Freeland said in the briefing on Saturday.

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Ms. Freeland added that she was grateful that large non-governmental organizations have also called for the two Canadians to be released.

“We share with these partners the conviction that the rule of law is not optional, it’s the bedrock of our democracy and it’s fundamental to all free societies," she said.

With a report from Michelle Zilio

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