Canadian MP Michael Cooper calls China’s treatment of detainees ‘unacceptable’
- Visiting delegation conveyed need for Beijing to immediately release Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who were detained in December
- Cooper says the two Canadians are ‘entitled to routine consular access and have been denied the right to a lawyer’
A member of a Canadian parliamentary delegation wrapped up a trip to China this week saying they were not satisfied with Beijing’s treatment of two detained Canadians and calling the limited consular access “unacceptable”.
“One of the issues we have is the failure of the Chinese government to provide Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor with the consular access that they are entitled to, according to the consular agreements between Canada and China,” Michael Cooper, a Canadian member of parliament, said in Hong Kong on Saturday after stops in Shanghai and Shenzhen.
“That is unacceptable. They are entitled to routine consular access and they have been denied the right to a lawyer,” Cooper said. “I am not satisfied at all. What our delegation conveyed was the need for immediate release.”
The visit by members of the Canada-China Legislative Association, which began on January 5, came after Kovrig and Spavor were detained separately by Chinese authorities on December 10 and amid the most tense diplomatic stand-off between the two countries in years.
Both men have been accused of endangering national security – a phrase often used by Beijing when alleging espionage. Canadian consular officials have been able to meet both Kovrig and Spavor twice since they were detained.
Their detentions came nine days after Canada’s arrest of Huawei Technologies executive Sabrina Meng Wanzhou at the request of the United States. Meng, who is accused of fraud related to violating Iran sanctions, has been released on bail and faces extradition to the US.
China has not linked the cases, but the detentions of the two Canadians have been widely seen as retaliation.
Cooper compared the treatment of Meng in Canada to that of the two Canadians in China, saying there was a stark contrast between the way the Canadian and Chinese governments had acted.
“Canada arrested Ms Meng pursuing an extradition treaty with the US, that was the basis upon which Ms Meng was arrested. Secondly, Ms Meng was provided access to consular services and legal representatives. She was granted bail,” Cooper said. “By contrast, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have been denied consular services and legal representation.”
A former diplomat and now adviser to the non-governmental organisation International Crisis Group, Kovrig was arrested in Beijing. The ICG said it had not heard anything directly from Kovrig since he was detained and did not know where he was being held.
Spavor, who runs a non-profit business focusing on North Korean cultural exchanges in the Chinese city of Dandong, in northeastern Liaoning, was detained by the provincial state security bureau.
On Friday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused China of ignoring former envoy Kovrig’s “diplomatic immunity” when it detained him along with Spavor.
“It is unfortunate that China has arbitrarily and unfairly detained two Canadian citizens, and indeed in one of the cases is not respecting diplomatic immunity,” Trudeau said.
It was the first time Trudeau or the Canadian government had accused Beijing of violating diplomatic immunity. Canada has called for the immediate release of Kovrig and Spavor, receiving widespread backing, including from Australia, Britain, France, Germany, the European Union, the United States and the Netherlands.
Earlier this month, China’s chief prosecutor Zhang Jun said at a briefing that Kovrig and Spavor had broken the country’s laws “without a doubt”.
China’s foreign ministry did not immediately reply to faxed requests from the South China Morning Post for comment.