Canada lawmakers in China to press for detainees' release

Ottawa (AFP) –


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed Tuesday to keep the pressure on Beijing as a Canadian parliamentary delegation in China sought the release of two Canadians held as spies.

"China is making stronger moves than it has before to try to get its own way on the world stage and Western countries and democracies around the world are pointing out (that) this is not something we need to continue to allow," Trudeau told reporters.

Former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor were detained after the arrest December 1 of a top Huawei executive, Meng Wanzhou, in Vancouver on a US warrant.

China has said it suspects Kovrig, who works for the International Crisis Group think tank, of espionage and alleged that Spavor had provided him with intelligence.

Trudeau told reporters Spavor "had been detained for political reasons."

"This is something that we remain concerned about (and) ... that countries around the world are concerned about," he said.

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said earlier that her parliamentary secretary Rob Oliphant and a delegation of lawmakers has gone to China to push for the two Canadians' freedom.

They arrived Monday in Shanghai and were expected to remain in China until Saturday. It was not immediately known who they were meeting with.

"Rob has been raising the case of the detained Canadians. That is really important for the Chinese to be hearing directly from us," Freeland told public broadcaster CBC.

"It's a terrible situation and we are very clear that these two men are arbitrarily detained."

Freeland said she had sought a meeting with her Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, to no avail.

The detentions have thrown relations between Ottawa and Beijing into crisis.

Two other Canadians convicted of drug trafficking have been sentenced to death, while Beijing also blocked Canadian shipments of canola and pork worth billions of dollars.

In response, Ottawa has rallied a dozen countries to its side, including Britain, France, Germany and the United States, as well as the EU, NATO and the G7.