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Politics

Federal leaders spar over the detention of Canadians in China

Leaders' Debate: Singh and Scheer attack Trudeau's handling of Canadians being held in China

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau faced a barrage of criticism during the French-language federal leaders’ debate Thursday evening regarding Canada’s relationship with China and the ongoing detention of two Canadians there.

On the topic of tense relations with China, and the issue of the two detained Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the priority is the Canadians “who are currently in such a difficult situation” and that “action has to be taken immediately to help them.”

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Kovrig and Spavor were both detained in China earlier this year, and accused by the Chinese government of spying. Their arrests are widely seen as retaliation for the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, a top executive at Chinese telecom Huawai, by the RCMP in Vancouver so she can be processed for extradition to the United States.

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Singh also referred to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong, saying, “It’s very worrisome what’s happening there,” adding that Trudeau has not taken much action on the file. 

“He swings to the left during the campaign … but then once he’s in office, he swings back to the right,” Singh said. 

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Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said that Trudeau is not stepping in regarding the extradition case involving Meng.

“But for the SNC-Lavalin case, [he] tried to butt in.”

Scheer also said that it’s “not a big surprise that the Chinese government doesn’t respect Justin Trudeau,” claiming this lack of respect was the result of Trudeau’s “disastrous” two-week trip to India in early 2018.

Scheer said that, if elected, a Conservative government would pull Canadian money pledged by the Liberals to the Asia Infrastructure Bank, adding that there is “no good reason” for Canadian taxpayers to spend money to “support China’s foreign policy.”

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Trudeau, meanwhile, said that as prime minister he has always defended the rights of Canadians, including Kovrig and Spavor, whom he said China has “arbitrarily” detained in the midst of the ongoing diplomatic dispute between the two countries.

“We have activated all of our allies around the globe to put pressure on China, to tell them that, no, this isn’t how things are done.” 

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Trudeau said he would continue to fight on this issue, while also recognizing that China is a growing economy that is “creating economic opportunities for our producers and our workers.” 

People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier said returning the two detained Canadians from China would be a “top priority” for him, if elected.

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He also said Canada should consider all options.

“We need to look at our trade relationship with China,” Bernier said. “Perhaps we’ll have to impose tariffs if we don’t get the answer we want, that is to repatriate these Canadians as quickly as possible.”

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet was also critical of Trudeau’s policies on China, as well as his position on supply management in Canada’s dairy sector.

“The federal government decided to have an argument with China,” he said. “The thing is, we can’t always have disputes with these giants and these important countries.

Blanchet said that Canadian soy and pork producers are “paying the price” for Canada’s ongoing dispute with China.

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The Bloc leader has also said that arresting Wanzhou was a mistake and that in a fight with one of the largest economic forces in the world, Canada cannot afford to make this type of error.

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Trudeau, meanwhile, has always said that his position on the Wanzhou arrest was consistent with the law and that he could not interfere in the extradition process initiated by the U.S.