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Canada’s Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said Ottawa was respecting the rule of law when it arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou. Photo: Bloomberg

Canada ‘extremely disappointed’ over China’s detention of Michael Kovrig, Michael Spavor

  • Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan calls for immediate release of Canadian citizens held on spying charges
  • Beijing’s actions ‘undermine democracy’, lawmaker says

Canada is “extremely disappointed” that China continues to detain two of its citizens, its defence minister said on Saturday, as tensions escalate over a case that has roiled ties between the nations for almost six months.

Ottawa was respecting the rule of law when it arrested Huawei Technologies’ chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver in December on an extradition request from the United States, Harjit Sajjan said.

Meng has denied any wrongdoing and continues to fight the extradition in Canadian courts.

“In our democracy, the political system does not interfere with the judicial system and that’s where this process is,” Sajjan said in Singapore, where he is attending a regional security forum. “We’re extremely disappointed with China’s reaction, having two Canadians arbitrarily detained in this regard. And we seek their immediate release.”

Meng Wanzhou was detained in Canada in December. Photo: Reuters

China has repeatedly defended the arrest of Michael Kovrig, who works for the International Crisis Group, and entrepreneur Michael Spavor.

Kovrig was arrested on suspicion of spying on state secrets for foreign entities and other intelligence crimes, while Spavor was held on suspicion of stealing state secrets for foreign entities.

China charges Kovrig and Spavor with spying

Canada has insisted on their release, and US vice-president Mike Pence voiced support for the detained men at an appearance on Friday with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Held in isolation, the two Canadians were questioned multiple times a day and unable to turn off the lights in their cells, Bloomberg reported in December.

“For us, this is extremely black and white,” Sajjan said. “When you sign a treaty and things happen you do not politically interfere in the judicial system, it undermines our democracy.”

China has accused Canada of violating a bilateral agreement in arresting Meng and called for her release.

“I would just remind Canada to realise the consequences of being the cat’s paw for the US,” Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said on Friday.

“We hope it will correct its wrongdoing by taking prompt actions to avoid further harm.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Ottawa ‘disappointed’ by detention of two citizens