In an interview with the South China Morning Post published Wednesday morning, McCallum described telling China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs that if it kept imposing restrictions on Canadian trade exports amid the ongoing diplomatic feud, China could get a lot more than it bargained for.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer condemned the remarks by McCallum, calling them an “invitation of foreign interference in the Canadian election.”
“Instead of scheming with the Government of China to win re-election, Liberals should advocate for the safe return of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor and the restoration of Canadian canola and meat imports to China,” Scheer said in a statement.
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McCallum, a former Liberal cabinet minister and veteran with the party, was named ambassador by Trudeau in 2017.
Her arrest in December 2018 by Canadian border agents snared Canada in the crosshairs of the trade war between China and the U.S., with China detaining two Canadians — Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — in the days immediately following her arrest.
American law enforcement officials had requested Meng’s detention and are currently seeking her extradition.
In January 2019, the U.S. charged Meng and Huawei with 23 counts of skirting sanctions on Iran and corporate espionage.
China has demanded the federal government intervene in her case and release her.
Trudeau has refused, citing the extradition treaty governing the process between Canada and the U.S.
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Under the process, extradition requests play out in the courts but require final approval by the minister of citizenship and immigration only once the court has approved the extradition and before it officially goes ahead.
Extradition cases can take years to get to that point.
McCallum had said in January 2019 during a closed-door meeting with Chinese journalists in Toronto that he thought Meng had a good chance of fighting her extradition. News of that speculation quickly prompted accusations from diplomats and political opponents that he had overstepped his role.
McCallum maintained in the South China Morning Post interview that he “misspoke” during that incident but also said he believes “it is quite possible the judge will release her.”
A spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada did not say whether McCallum’s position is one that current government officials have also been making in their communications with the Chinese since the feud began.
“As Minister Freeland has said, when it comes to the extradition request for Meng Wanzhou, Canada has very carefully and intentionally abided by its extradition treaty commitments, in accordance with the rule of law,” said Marie-Pier Basil in an email.
“There has been no political interference in this case and a judicial process is underway.”
She added that the welfare of Kovrig and Spavor is the government’s top priority.
“Our government has been clear about our principles, our commitment to the rule of law, and our deep concern for our citizens who have been detained,” she said. “We will continue to stand up for them.”