Getting China to release Kovrig and Spavor is a top priority for ‘the entire government,’ Freeland says

Getting China to release Kovrig and Spavor is a top priority for ‘the entire government,’ Freeland says

It’s a top priority for Canada to get Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor released from custody in China as soon as possible, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Saturday.

“This is a focus for the Prime Minister,” Freeland told reporters in a conference call. “This is a focus for the entire government.”

“We’re working hard on a number of fronts,” Freeland said.

Freeland’s comments come a day after she formally demanded that Kovrig and Spavor be let go.

China arrested Kovrig and Spavor on security grounds just days after Canadian authorities in Vancouver arrested Meng Wanzhou, a senior executive with Chinese firm Huawei Technologies, so she can be extradited to the U.S. to face fraud charges.

Meng has since been released on $10-million bail.

Freeland said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held a meeting of senior cabinet ministers and officials on Friday morning to stress that the release of Kovrig and Spavor is a top priority, Freeland said.

“The prime minister is deeply engaged in the issue,” Freeland said.

“It’s very personal,” Freeland said.

“The prime minister is very involved and the prime minister has been extremely involved in the issue from Day 1,” Freeland said.

She added that she had been speaking with Chinese authorities, stressing that Canada has the utmost respect for the rule of law.

“This has not been a political decision by Canada,” Freeland said. “This is about the rule of law.”

Freeland said she continues to be in discussions with Allies over the arrests of the Canadians, and that she’s very gratified by their response.

“We do believe that Canada is most effective and strongest when we are able to work together with our allies and partners,” Freeland said.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said this week that he’s “deeply concerned by suggestions of a political motivation for the detention of two Canadian citizens by the Chinese government. I call for them to be treated in a fair, unbiased and transparent manner.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called for Kovrig and Spavor to be freed but the State Department repeated the sentiment Friday.

“We share Canada’s commitment to the rule of law as fundamental to all free societies, and we will defend and uphold this principle. We also express our deep concern for the Chinese government’s detention of two Canadians earlier this month and call for their immediate release,” spokesman Robert Palladino said in a statement titled “Canada’s Legitimate Arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou.”

In yet another statement this week, the directors of several European policy institutions in Berlin expressed “deep concern” about the detained Canadians.

“Developments such as these increase uncertainty and distrust among foreign scholars who regularly conduct research within China, as they fear for their safety,” the statement said. “This will clearly undermine efforts to better understand developments in China and to further constructive relations between China and other countries.”

The bodies include the European Council on Foreign Relations, the Mercator Institute for China Studies and the Global Public Policy Institute.

With files from Canadian Press

Peter Edwards is a Toronto-based reporter primarily covering crime. Reach him by email at

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