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Kamila Talendibaeva has been advocating for her husband, Huseyin Celil, who has been unlawfully detained in China for 16 years. She is a mother of four boys and lives in Burlington, Ont.

Let me begin by saying that I am grateful for the reunification of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor with their families. It was moving to watch them return safely to Canada after more than 1,000 days of detention in China. And it has given me renewed faith that Canada can and will be able to save my husband, Huseyin Celil, too.

Still, explaining to my four boys here in Canada why their father did not walk off the plane with the two Michaels has proven difficult. Our youngest is now 15 years old; he has never met his father. I have not heard my husband’s voice in 16 years. I don’t even know whether he is still alive.

Ever since Justin Trudeau became Prime Minister in 2015, Canada has seemingly cut Huseyin out of the picture. The Liberal government has had four foreign affairs ministers – including Marc Garneau, who currently holds the role – and they have all failed to recognize Huseyin as a key priority. As well, they have all neglected to meet with me, in contrast with former Conservative foreign ministers John Baird and Peter MacKay, who did so on a regular basis.

In a news conference this week, Mr. Trudeau explained that Canada was able to succeed in reuniting the two Michaels with their families because “the challenge of their detention for political reasons was something that galvanized public opinion in Canada and around the world.” This is troubling – not just because Huseyin has received widespread public support, and not just because approximately 115 Canadians are still being detained in China for various reasons, but because the Prime Minister was being honest. The past six years have demonstrated that our government only acts on consular matters, beyond basic support, when there is a clear public-opinion cost to not doing so. The statement only affirms that not all Canadians are treated equally.

We have heard the Liberal government get the facts wrong far too often. Last year, Mr. Trudeau’s appointed ambassador to China, Dominic Barton, showed that he had no idea who Huseyin was, incorrectly claiming that because he was not a Canadian citizen, he could not receive consular support. Others, such as the deputy minister of foreign affairs, have erroneously stated that Huseyin has been refused consular access because he is a dual citizen who travelled on a Chinese passport. What actually happened was that in early 2006 he travelled with me to Uzbekistan on his Canadian passport; when he was there, he was arrested by Uzbek police, extradited to China at Beijing’s request, and then charged with terrorism.

Indeed, the Chinese government’s policy of not recognizing his dual Chinese-Canadian citizenship is often cited for why Huseyin remains detained. But after becoming a Canadian, Huseyin renounced his Chinese citizenship in accordance with Articles 9 and 10 of China’s Nationality Law. That means my husband is a wholly Canadian citizen. Any failure to recognize this is a breach of international law by China and Canada.

In March, 2021, Parliament’s Subcommittee on Foreign Affairs and International Development as well as the Subcommittee on International Human Rights recommended that Global Affairs Canada use all the tools at its disposal to secure the release of Huseyin, including the appointment of a special envoy specifically tasked with seeking his release and return. To date, this suggestion appears to have gone unconsidered.

Huseyin is a champion of human rights, and he is being held in China for defending the Uyghurs, some of the world’s most persecuted people. If his Canadian citizenship isn’t enough of a reason for the Liberal government to push for his return to Canada, surely the country’s long history of defending human-rights activists should come into play. And yet the government does not appear to even acknowledge that my husband has a legitimate claim to our country’s help.

I am disappointed in our government. Ever since the high-profile return of the two Michaels, no government official has reached out to me or returned my calls. But still, I have hope, as should every Canadian – and it’s this hope that propels me to fight for his release. To achieve that, I urge Mr. Trudeau to send a special envoy to China to determine what needs to be done to reunite our family. Huseyin has already paid a high price for Canada’s failures. Now, it is up to the Prime Minister to decide how much he is willing to do to bring him home – if not for Huseyin’s own rights under international law, then for his four children who need their father.

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