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Ministers, security officials demand that China release Canadians


A group of cabinet ministers and high-ranking security officials met on Friday to discuss the detention of two Canadians in China before Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland issued the government’s first public statement demanding their release.
Freeland made the demand during a teleconference call with reporters on Saturday morning, held mere hours after the release of her strongly worded statement.
Michael Kovrig, a diplomat on leave, and Michael Spaver, an entrepreneur who works throughout Asia and makes frequent trips to North Korea, were arrested last week by the Chinese government, which accused them of threatening “national security.”
Their arrests occurred mere days after police in Vancouver arrested Chinese businesswoman Meng Wanzhou, at the request of the United States.
The U.S. wants Meng, the chief financial officer of telecommunications giant Huawei, extradited because she allegedly violated trade sanctions the country has imposed against Iran. Meng, who is also the daughter of Huawei’s founder, has been released under bail conditions that include 24-hour monitoring.
Freeland reiterated Saturday that Meng’s arrest was not politically motivated. She said by detaining her, Canadian authorities were respecting the rule of law and international treaty commitments with the U.S. However, when asked whether Kovrig and Spavor had been arrested for similar reasons, she sidestepped the question.
Freeland was also reluctant to directly link Kovrig and Spaver’s detention with Meng’s.
“In my conversations with the Chinese ambassador, and in our conversations in China with Chinese authorities, the Chinese officials have not directly made that connection,” she said. “It would of course be highly inappropriate for there to be any connection.”
A year-end media availability held by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday was dominated by questions about Kovrig and Spaver, and the case of a third Canadian who had been arrested in the country, which Trudeau characterized as a separate matter.
Before the men were arrested, China had threatened “grave consequences” for Canada if it didn’t release Meng.
Freeland, who said she has spoken with the families of both men, told reporters that she and Canada’s ambassadors around the world would spend the coming days advocating for the safe release of Kovrig and Spaver. Canada’s ambassador to China, John McCallum, has met with both men, she said, and will be staying in Beijing over Christmas to “continue working on these cases.”
Asked about alternative options to secure Kovrig’s and Spaver’s release if China refused, Freeland declined to elaborate, saying only that “Canada absolutely has options, and Canada is working hard in a very concerted, organized way.”
Trudeau told Global News in an interview on Wednesday that he hadn’t spoken to Chinese President Xi Jinping directly about the two detained Canadians. Freeland, though, said Saturday that Trudeau is “deeply engaged” and would be “personally seized” with the matter over the nextfew days.