2nd CAnAdiAn missing in ChinA
Day after former envoy arrested, held by Beijing
• After Beijing authorities detained one Canadian citizen this week and accused him of spying, in a case many are linking to Canada’s recent arrest of a high-profile Chinese executive, a second Canadian citizen has gone missing in China and may be in trouble.
During a press conference Wednesday, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland confirmed that Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat in China on leave from her department, was detained in Beijing earlier this week.
Freeland said that Canadian officials have been unable to reach a second Canadian who contacted the Canadian government after being questioned by Chinese authorities.
An official familiar with the matter said late Wednesday that the other Canadian was entrepreneur Michael Spavor, director of Paektu Cultural Exchange.
Freeland said that Canadian officials were “working hard to find out” where Spavor is, and were in touch with his family. As for Kovrig, “we are very personally concerned,” she added. “We have expressed that concern directly to Chinese authorities and we are in direct personal contact with his family. We are very seized of this issue and we’re going to keep on working on it.”
Although the Canadian government was aware Kovrig had been detained by the Beijing State Security Bureau, they had not ascertained his whereabouts as of late Wednesday afternoon, nor had authorities provided any information as to the reason for his detention, a senior Canadian government official said.
Paektu Cultural Exchange, which calls itself “a Canadian owned China-based organization,” says on its website that it facilitates tours to North Korea for “sport, culture, business and tourism exchanges.”
Spavor, its director, is one of the few Westerners to have ever met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. He helped arrange a visit to North Korea by former NBA player Dennis Rodman.
Chinese state media, which are closely linked to the government, were reporting Wednesday that Kovrig is suspected of harming the country’s national security.
Sources including former Canadian ambassador to China Guy Saint-Jacques had confirmed to the National Post on Tuesday that Kovrig’s duties included travelling throughout China to report on the political situation, which included speaking with political dissidents. Since early 2017, Kovrig has worked for the International Crisis Group, a Hong Kongbased organization that monitors human rights abuses.
Saint-Jacques and another former ambassador to China, David Mulroney, said they believe the former diplomat’s detention comes as a direct response to Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver earlier this month. Meng, the chief financial officer of telecommunications giant Huawei, could be extradited to the U.S. for allegedly helping her company violate American economic sanctions against Iran by providing it with equipment. She was released on bail Tuesday.
The Americans must provide a full case file to Canadian prosecutors by the end of January. Then, Canada has 30 days to determine whether to formally start the extradition process, which results in an extradition hearing at British Columbia’s Supreme Court. If the court approves extradition, Meng can appeal that decision all the way up to the federal Supreme Court, which could take a long time. If the appeals fail, the final decision to send her to the U.S. rests with Canada’s attorney general.
In that case, said Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould in a statement on Wednesday, “I will ultimately have to decide on the issue of surrender of the person sought for extradition. Therefore, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the facts of this case at this time. Doing so would risk undermining both the independence of the court proceedings and the proper functioning of Canada’s extradition process.”
Meng’s counsel could ask for a judicial review of the attorney general’s decision, meaning the justice minister would have to disclose the advice she (or a future attorney general) received from officials. Even so, about 90 per cent of extraditions to the U.S. are granted, according to a second senior Canadian government official.
Although it is “rare,” according to the official, the U.S. attorney general could also just choose to drop the extradition request.
While the Canadian leadership has been careful to stress that there has been no political interference in the extradition, U.S. President Donald Trump has explicitly linked Meng’s prosecution to his country’s trade relationship with China. Trump told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday he would “certainly intervene” in Meng’s extradition should it be “good” for trade.
Freeland did not directly comment on those remarks but made it clear she disagrees with the idea. “Our extradition partners should not seek to politicize the extradition process or use it for ends other than the pursuit of justice and following the rule of law,” she said.
On the same day that Meng was arrested, Dec. 1, Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a three-month detente in their trade war. Any further escalation in the tit-for-tat tariffs, which the world’s two biggest economies have already placed on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of trade, could harm the global economy writ large.
Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou arrives at a parole office with a security guard in Vancouver on Wednesday, after being released on $10 million bail Tuesday.