Canada condemned China on Wednesday for its treatment of two detained Canadian citizens, days ahead of the anticipated start of an election campaign in which opposition parties are expected to accuse the government of being soft on Beijing.
Earlier in the day, a Chinese court sentenced businessman Michael Spavor to 11 years in prison on spying charges. read more
Foreign Minister Marc Garneau slammed what he called a completely unjustified verdict after “a mock sham trial.”
Spavor and Michael Kovrig were detained in December 2018, shortly after Vancouver police picked up Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. arrest warrant.
Meng is fighting extradition and her case began committal hearings on Wednesday, the last judicial phase before going to Justice Minister David Lametti for his decision.
Ottawa says the cases of Meng and the two detained Canadians are clearly linked. China has consistently denied the charge.
“This decision in no way diminishes our resolve to secure the immediate release of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig. … This has gone on too long,” Garneau told reporters.
Aides say Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who first took office in 2015, is set to call a snap federal election soon. His Liberal Party’s main opponent will be the Conservatives, who demand Trudeau take a tougher stance.
“Mr. Trudeau has been offside with respect to China for six years. A Conservative government will stand up for our values, our citizens and our security,” Conservative leader Erin O’Toole told reporters.
Canada is still pursuing intense talks with Washington and Beijing to secure the return of Spavor and Kovrig, who also faces spying charges, Garneau said, without giving details.
A source directly familiar with the U.S. talks said they were exclusively focused on the release of the two Michaels and had nothing to do with the case against Meng.
Garneau spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday about Spavor and Kovrig, the source said. The government says it will not agree to a deal to swap Meng for the Canadians, saying it cannot interfere in the judicial process.
Two senior Liberals, speaking on condition of anonymity, predicted that while the detainees might be a campaign issue, voters would focus on how the government had handled the COVID-19 pandemic.
Garneau said Canadians understood Ottawa was doing all it could to secure the two men’s release.
Meng faces charges of misleading HSBC Holdings (HSBA.L) about Huawei Technologies Co Ltd’s (HWT.UL) business dealings in Iran, potentially causing the bank to violate U.S. sanctions.
Canadian government lawyers argued on Wednesday that the U.S. case was valid and noted the bar for extradition was low.
Once final arguments are over, the judge will decide whether to order Meng’s extradition, followed by Lametti’s determination. Both decisions can be appealed and legal experts say the case could take years to complete.