VANCOUVER—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is dismissing accusations reportedly levelled by Beijing against two Canadians detained in China in what analysts have called an extralegal move meant to pressure Canada into releasing a top Chinese tech executive.
The Chinese state news agency Xinhua cited unidentified Chinese authorities in a Monday report claiming former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig stands accused of violating Chinese laws by acting as a spy and stealing Chinese state secrets and intelligence with the help of Canadian businessman Michael Spavor.
Trudeau said Monday it’s “unfortunate” China continues to push forward with the detentions of Canadians Kovrig and Spavor, who have been jailed in China since December.
The arrest and imprisonment of the pair followed closely on the heels of the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver International Airport on Dec. 1, though as of last week both men had yet to be formally charged or granted access to lawyers.
“We are a country of the rule of law. We will ensure that rule of law is fully respected and we will go through those processes in a proper and rigorous way,” Trudeau told reporters in Prince Edward Island.
An anonymously sourced report in China’s state-controlled Xinhua News Agency reported Monday that Kovrig and Spavor worked together to steal state secrets, linking their cases for the first time.
“Authorities stressed that China is a country ruled by law and will firmly crack down on criminal acts that severely undermine national security,” the Xinhua report states.
The story was likewise posted on the official news website of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission.
International Crisis Group — the think tank for which Kovrig works — said in a statement Monday that staff are aware of the Xinhua report, but have not received any notification of formal charges against Kovrig.
“Michael’s work for Crisis Group has been entirely transparent and in the open as all who follow his work can attest,” the statement said. “Vague and unsubstantiated accusations against him are unwarranted and unfair.”
Observers have argued the arrest of the men was a retaliatory measure, taken in response to Canada’s arrest of Meng at the behest of U.S. authorities. Meng is being sought for extradition to the U.S. to face fraud charges related to violations of trade sanctions against Iran.
Consular access for Kovrig and Spavor has likewise been limited, with visits from Canadian officials permitted roughly once a month. Meng, meanwhile, was released on bail in Vancouver within weeks of her arrest, and is currently living under strict bail conditions in her family’s multimillion dollar home in the Dunbar neighbourhood of Vancouver pending extradition proceedings in the B.C. Supreme Court.
A statement from Meng’s lawyers Sunday confirmed she had filed a civil suit against the RCMP, Canadian government and Canada Border Services Agency alleging her rights were violated during the course of her arrest.
On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang brushed aside suggestions China’s claims regarding Meng’s mistreatment paired with Kovrig and Spavor’s detentions amounted to a double standard.
“China has strictly fulfilled our due obligations as required in the China-Canada Consular Agreement,” Lu said, according to a translation of his remarks posted to the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s website.
He said China “took compulsory measures” against Kovrig and Spavor, because they were suspected of undermining China’s national security — a narrative Beijing has aggressively advanced since the men’s arrest.
“I believe you are well aware that it is common practice for all countries in the world to deal with cases concerning national security in this way,” said Lu.
As for Meng’s treatment by Canada, Lu said it amounted to “a grave violation of her legitimate rights and interests and also constitutes a serious political incident.”
Meng’s claims of mistreatment during her arrest — while potentially legitimate — are likely part of a larger legal strategy to affect the outcome of her extradition proceedings, legal experts told the Star Vancouver on Sunday.
In January, Australia’s former foreign minister, Gareth Evans, voiced his support for Kovrig, a friend and former colleague.
“In the case of Michael Kovrig, whom I know personally, I am totally confident that (his detention) is only about retaliation against Canada for the Meng case and in reality has nothing to do with his or Crisis Group’s foreign policy analysis and advocacy activities in China,” Evans said.
Evans had served as chief executive of the International Crisis Group think tank. Kovrig acts as its senior adviser for northeast Asia.
Former Canadian ambassadors David Mulroney and Guy Saint-Jacques said Monday the reported accusations against Kovrig and Spavor are a clear attempt to amplify pressure on the Canadian government toward Meng’s release.
Saint-Jacques previously told the Star Vancouver that the Chinese judiciary is a far cry from the independent institution Canadians understand their own courts to be. When facing charges in Chinese courts, he said, “99.9 per cent of the time, you’re found guilty.”
Meng is schedule to appear in court in Vancouver on Wednesday in relation to her extradition proceedings.
With files from the Canadian Press.
Perrin Grauer is a Vancouver-based reporter covering community issues and Canada’s drug policies. Follow him on Twitter: @perringrauer