The head of a delegation of Canadian parliamentarians heading to China this weekend says the detainment of two Canadians is not on the agenda for discussion with Chinese officials.
“If they bring it up, we’re well prepared to answer any questions they may have and to deal with any misunderstandings that may exist,” Sen. Joseph Day told Global News before boarding a plane to Shanghai on Friday.
The prime minister and the foreign affairs minister have been calling for the immediate release of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who were detained in December over national security concerns but have not been charged.
“This is a nation-to-nation issue that should be dealt with at the executive level, not the parliamentary level,” said Day, adding that the delegation does not want to interfere with diplomatic efforts.
“We’ll get into those discussions, absolutely, if they bring it up and if we see the opportunity. If we start to have discussions that are leading in that direction, it may well be that we will find that we will bring it up as a result of those discussions, but it’s not the purpose of our trip,” said Day, adding that the topic is not on the agenda.
Day, plus a handful of MPs who sit on the Canada-China Legislative Association, will attend the trip, which was scheduled long before Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou and China’s subsequent detainment of Kovrig and Spavor. The China trip was tacked on to precede a trip to Cambodia for the annual Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum.
Day says they will be meeting with a counterpart group in China and topics of mutual interest on the agenda include trade, tourism, health and education.
The lone Conservative MP on the trip, however, is prepared to bring up the issue of the detained Canadians with the Chinese.
“I expect that that issue will be raised. It’s inevitable,” Michael Cooper told Global News.
“It’s certainly a very serious concern that these Canadians have been detained, and I — along with all members of delegation — want to do whatever we can in our small way to see that these Canadians are returned to Canada safely and as soon as possible,” said Cooper.
“Obviously, the issue of the Canadians is a major issue right now and conveying to the Chinese their release and their immediate release,” Cooper said. “It wasn’t the purpose of the delegation, but the reality is that’s sort of the backdrop.”
Last month, Tourism Minister Melanie Joly cancelled her trip to China amid tensions.
Day says it was important for this trip to go ahead. He says while some members of the delegation had concerns about travelling to China, no one dropped out for that reason.
WATCH: China accuses Canadian allies of hypocrisy in Huawei CFO arrest
The group has had several briefings by Global Affairs Canada, but Day says it is not GAC’s job to advise the group whether to go or not, only to provide information so that the parliamentary delegation can make an informed decision.
“That’s what they did, and then we advised them we would be continuing with our plans because we feel this would be important for the continued nurturing of the relationship between Canada and China,” Day said.
The delegation’s latest Global Affairs briefing was Thursday. When the delegation arrives in Shanghai, they will be briefed by Canada’s consul general on the ground.
Day says he is not aware of any increased security surrounding the trip. He says he’s been to China several times and is “not travelling with any high degree of fear.”
“I’m excited to be going and to be leading the delegation, and hopefully the outcome of our meeting will be positive for both Canada and China,” said Day.
WATCH: China is slamming two detained Canadians for breaking the law, even though, as Abigail Bimman reports, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig haven’t been charged with anything