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Minister of Foreign Affairs Francois-Philippe Champagne, pictured on Dec. 3, 2019, said that while he hasn’t had a chance to look in detail at potential compensation for Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor, the Canadian government will consider it and 'what has been done in the past.'Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne has opened the door to the possibility of compensation for Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, the Canadians who have been detained for more than a year in China.

Speaking to reporters from Egypt, Mr. Champagne said that while he hasn’t had a chance to look in detail at potential compensation for Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor, the Canadian government will consider it and “what has been done in the past.” Other Canadians who were jailed abroad because of action or inaction by Ottawa, including Omar Khadr, have been awarded millions of dollars for abuses they suffered while detained. Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor have not indicated they intend to seek compensation.

“For now, my absolute priority is obviously to get their release and … raise awareness, where I go around the world to make sure that the case of arbitrary detention of the two Michaels is known and certainly to work constructively with our Chinese counterparts to improve their well being and detention condition,” Mr. Champange said.

Gar Pardy, former director-general of the consular affairs bureau in Ottawa, a civil-service operation that helps Canadians abroad, said that in some of the best-known cases, payouts were obtained through the court process. For instance, Mr. Khadr took the federal government to court and was offered $10.5-million in compensation in 2017 for abuses he suffered while detained as a teenager at the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“It was a case of where the courts decided that in effect there was an absolute failure on the part of the government to provide the assistance that they should have provided in the beginning. So that’s where the issue of compensation comes into play,” Mr. Pardy said.

The government gave $11.5-million to Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian, in 2007 after a judicial inquiry found Canadian officials passed information about him to U.S. national-security authorities, leading to his torture and imprisonment in Syria.

China detained Mr. Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat, and enterpreneur Mr. Spavor a year ago in what was widely seen as retaliation for Ottawa’s arrest of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition request. Beijing has accused the Canadians of spying.

The cases have become a major source of tension between Canada and China. Beijing banned shipments of Canadian pork and beef and severely curbed purchases of Canadian canola seed and soybeans after Ms. Meng’s arrest. Although China lifted the ban on meat imports last month, it said relations will improve only after Ms. Meng is released.

Mr. Champagne said he raised the plight of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor with his counterparts this week, including at an African peace and development forum in Aswan, Egypt, and at a multilateralism conference in Berlin. He said consular cases are top of mind when he travels abroad, with the focus on getting detained Canadians released or improving their detention conditions.

The government also appears to have changed its political management of consular affairs this week. When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his Parliamentary secretary appointments on Thursday, the new roster lacked a role dedicated to consular affairs. The job was previously held by former Liberal MP Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, and Omar Alghabra, who was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister on Thursday.

Mr. Champange said he and his new Parliamentary Secretary, Rob Oliphant, will manage consular matters.

The decision drew mixed reaction. David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said the Parliamentary secretary for consular affairs ensured cases got the political attention they deserve.

“The consular case load is growing and, as we’re seeing, the cases are becoming more complicated and more consequential in terms of our relationships with rising powers. I can’t understand why we appear to be taking our eye off the ball at this of all times,” Mr. Mulroney said in an e-mail.

Guy Saint-Jacques, another former Canadian ambassador to China, said the change is not a big deal because the Foreign Affairs Minister is involved in all high-profile consular cases regardless of the Parliamentary secretary setup.

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