Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada and other Western democracies are increasingly concerned about China's conduct, while a delegation of Canadian parliamentarians visit the country to demand the release of two Canadians accused by Beijing of violating national security.
Speaking at Sept-Iles, Que., Tuesday, Trudeau said that Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Michael Spavor, an entrepreneur who helped people travel to North Korea, were "arbitrarily detained" by Chinese officials. last year for reasons. "
"China is playing stronger, making stronger moves than it did before to try to make its way onto the world stage and Western countries and democracies around the world are coming together to emphasize that this is not something we need to continue allow, "Trudeau told reporters.
Trudeau's comments arrive as a group of Canadian parliamentarians and senators are in China this week to demand the release of Kovrig and Spavor, who were formally arrested from China last week after being detained for more than five months without charges.
Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland told CBC Metro Morning Tuesday that his parliamentary secretary, Rob Oliphant, and the delegation are raising the situation of Canadian detainees while they were in China.
"Rob [Oliphant] raised the case of Canadian inmates, and it is very important that the Chinese hear directly from us," Mrs. Freeland told the radio program. "I think it is very clear that this is a very difficult moment in the relationship between Canada and China."
Canada was involved in the dispute between China and the United States when it arrested the Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. Meng Wanzhou executive in Vancouver on an extradition request by the Americans in December. Ms. Meng faces charges of fraud related to US sanctions against Iran. In apparent retaliation, China arrested Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor days after Ms. Meng's arrest and blocked billions of Canadian rapeseed dollars and other agricultural imports.
More than five months later, Canada remains stuck between the United States and China, while trade tensions between the two largest economies in the world continue to increase.
Last week, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that gave his government the power to ban US companies from doing business with foreign telecommunications providers believed to pose a security threat, a measure aimed at Huawei in China. Ottawa is under pressure to follow the example, but indicated that it will not be rushed to decide whether to ban Huawei from the next generation of wireless networks in Canada.
Meanwhile, Ottawa also feels pressure from China, which calls for the release of Ms. Meng, daughter of Huawei's founder, and rejects high-level meetings to discuss Mr. Kovrig's and Mr. Spavor's cases.
Mr. Oliphant is joined in China by other liberal deputies Ali Ehsassi, Joe Peschisolido and Shaun Chen, as well as liberal senator Joseph Day, conservative senator Victor Oh and independent senator Renée Dupuis.
They are in China as part of their work with the Canada-China Legislative Association, which is funded by Parliament to promote relations between the two countries. It is not clear with whom they meet; none of the parliamentarians of the trip responded to The Globe and Mail's request for comment.
Guy Saint-Jacques, former Canadian ambassador to China, said he had no great expectations for the delegation visit.
"I think it's nice that we use these voices to express our displeasure or our frustration or complaints, but I'm not even sure that he will do it until [Chinese President] Xi Jinping because … Xi Jinping is so powerful that no one dares to criticize or bring bad news, "said Mr. Saint-Jacques in an interview.
David Mulroney, another former Canadian ambassador to China, said he was concerned that the delegation would raise the cases of those arrested "in the context of a dialogue of happy words" that does not address the serious nature of the issue.
"Instead of speaking frankly about extralegal detention and ill-treatment that may constitute torture, we are more likely to wipe out what happened as an unfortunate mistake that we all have to put behind us," he said.
Ms. Freeland said she repeatedly asked her counterpart, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, to discuss the cases of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor, but had no response.
"We are not the first country to find ourselves in this situation with China, and the Chinese practice seems to be to avoid, in the early stages of this type of distortion, avoiding higher-level encounters," said Ms Freeland.
The minister said that Canada has spoken with similar-minded countries to raise the situation of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor with China. He said the Americans, at Mr. Trudeau's request, recently raised high-profile cases directly with the Chinese – something Canadian officials told Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor during recent consular visits with them. Ms. Freeland said that the officials of the European Union and Australia, as well as the Secretary General of NATO, also raised their cases with China.
Mr. Saint-Jacques said that Canada's effort to mobilize international support is useful, as calls from other democracies to free Canadian men seem to have taken China by surprise. He said he thinks that the fact that Canada reaches allies is part of a greater effort to maintain the rule-based international order.
"Canada is working with other countries to try to reinvigorate the multilateral system so that countries can function in an environment where the rules apply to all and are predictable. Otherwise, we would end up in a system where China and the states United would give the blows and everyone would lose, "said Mr. Saint-Jacques.