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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has arrested diplomatic immunity for Michael Kovrig, who is being detained by China. Photo: Bloomberg

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau accuses China of ignoring detainee Michael Kovrig’s ‘diplomatic immunity’ in Huawei arrest fallout

  • It was the first official Canadian comment on Michael Kovrig’s status as a diplomat
  • Justin Trudeau said China should apply ‘rule of law’, in the same way that Canada was treating Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, who was arrested in Vancouver last month

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday accused China of ignoring a former Canadian envoy’s “diplomatic immunity” when it detained him last month along with a compatriot.

Michael Kovrig was arrested on December 10 in China, after taking a leave from his diplomatic posting to work for the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank.

China detained former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor last month, accusing them both of activities that “endanger China’s security” – a phrase often used by Beijing when alleging espionage.

Their detentions are thought to be in retaliation for Canada’s arrest on a US request of Huawei Vice-President Meng Wanzhou – also known as Sabrina Meng and Cathy Meng – who is accused of bank fraud related to violating Iran sanctions.

China’s arrest of Kovrig, Spavor, sends chill though US academics

Trudeau, speaking Friday during a press conference in Regina, said that Canada was operating under the “rule of law’’ in the Meng case, including granting her bail to allow her to be in her own home in Vancouver. He encouraged China to do the same.

“This is the way we live up to our rules within our justice system,” Trudeau said.

In this file image made from a video taken on March 28, 2018, Michael Kovrig speaks during an interview in Hong Kong. Photo: AP

“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,” he continued.

“This is something that we are engaged right now both with Chinese officials and with our partners around the world where there is a concern for the need for all countries to do like Canada and to respect the rule of law and the independence of our judicial processes.”

It was the first public comment on Kovrig’s status. Officials previously said he was on an unpaid leave from his Canadian government job.

Canadian Michael Kovrig held in China for allegedly endangering national security

According to the Vienna Convention, persons carrying a diplomatic passport enjoy immunity when they are abroad. Trudeau’s statement therefore suggests that Kovrig carried such a passport while on sabbatical, which is possible if authorised by Canada’s foreign ministry.

Ottawa has called for the Canadians’ immediate release, a request backed by Australia, Britain, France, Germany, the European Union and the United States.

On Thursday, the Netherlands, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia also added their voices of support for Canada.

Last month, Trudeau’s government stopped short of asserting diplomatic rights for Kovrig.

“The fact that Mr Kovrig is an employee of my department means a lot of us know him and that adds another layer to the concern,” Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said on December 12 during a press conference in Ottawa, but she didn’t say at that time he was entitled to diplomatic immunity.

Canadian diplomats in China meet detained citizen, Michael Spavor

China’s Ambassador to Canada Lu Shaye, in a letter to a Canadian newspaper on Wednesday, accused Ottawa and its allies of applying a “double standard” in criticising the detentions of Kovrig and Spavor while defending Meng’s arrest, attributing this to “Western egotism and white supremacy”.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg