Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has tried to speak directly to China’s premier about three Canadians detained in the country, his office confirms.
Chantal Gagnon, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office, said in a statement that Trudeau requested a phone call with Premier Li Keqiang ahead of the Jan. 14 sentencing hearing for Robert Schellenberg.
Gagnon said the move was in accordance with a government policy to advocate for Canadians that might face the death penalty. Schellenberg is currently appealing a death sentence for allegedly smuggling drugs in China.
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“The prime minister requested a call with Premier Li Keqiang so that he could personally advocate for clemency in this case, as well as reinforce our repeated call for the immediate release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor,” Gagnon said.
Kovrig and Spavor were detained in China in the wake of the arrest of Chinese tech executive Meng Wanzhou of Huawei Technologies in December. She was arrested in Vancouver on behalf of the United States, where she is wanted on fraud charges.
China accuses both men of espionage, but Canada, along with many of its allies, has condemned the detentions.
Trudeau’s office did not clarify what, if any, response was received from Beijing after the request was made.
CBC News, which first reported the story, said that Trudeau’s attempt was ignored.
The report cited the PMO, as well as a heavily-redacted briefing note for the prime minister that was obtained under access-to-information laws.