OTTAWA – A third Canadian has been detained in China but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the government has no reason to believe the case is linked to the recent detentions of two other Canadians in the country.
“There are tens of thousands of Canadians who live, travel, work in China in any given year. There are obviously regular situations where Canadians require consular assistance,” Trudeau said in a news conference Wednesday afternoon. “We are, of course, taking any and every situation seriously, as we always do. We are looking into the details on this most recent one that doesn’t seem to fit the pattern of the previous two.”
Consular officials are providing assistance to the family of the individual, Global Affairs Canada said Wednesday. The department declined to provide further information due to provisions under the Privacy Act.
The latest detention comes after Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of tech giant Huawei, was arrested in Vancouver on Dec. 1 at the request of the United States, where she is wanted on fraud allegations. Law-enforcement officials allege that she lied to U.S. banks about a corporate structure devised to get around sanctions against Iran.
Days later, two Canadians were detained in Beijing for allegedly endangering China’s national security: entrepreneur Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat on a leave of absence from Global Affairs. Both men remain in custody on suspicion of endangering China’s national security.
Meng has since been released on bail and is to return to court in February for what most legal observers predict could be a long, drawn-out legal process.
For its part, China has now granted Canada access to both Spavor and Kovrig. Global Affairs Canada said John McCallum, Canada’s ambassador to China, met with Kovrig on Friday and Spavor on Sunday.
Spavor is director of the Paektu Cultural Exchange and one of the few people from the West to have met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. He also helped arrange a visit to North Korea by former basketball star Dennis Rodman.
Kovrig served as a diplomat in China until 2016 and has been working for the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental agency focused on ending conflicts.
Conservative MP Erin O’Toole tweeted that on Tuesday his office “relayed concerns about another possible detention of a Canadian in China” to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.
“We remain very concerned about these reports and continue to urge the prime minister to intervene personally,” he wrote.
Trudeau said he’s holding off on publicly demanding Spavor’s and Kovrig’s release because it could be counterproductive. He conceded that now that he’s in power, things look different from the way they did when he was an opposition leader.
“Every case is different. It requires a complex approach that is a combination of multiple different elements,” he said. “When I was in opposition, I remember standing in the House and challenging (Stephen) Harper to ‘pick up the phone and get this Canadian released.’ I now understand that it’s a lot more complicated than that. Sometimes politicizing or amplifying the level of public discourse on this may be satisfying in the short term but would not contribute to the outcome that we all want, which is for Canadians to be safe and secure.”
In a previous interview with The Canadian Press, Trudeau said it’s often best to let diplomats speak to diplomats and ministers speak to ministers, and keep leader-to-leader talks as a last resort.
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