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China says Kovrig, Spavor may be freed if Canada ends Meng Wanzhou case

China welcomes detained Canadian’s wife’s comments
China welcomes detained Canadian's wife's comments

China has explicitly tied the fate of two detained Canadians to the release of Meng Wanzhou, joining the growing calls for Ottawa to intervene in the Huawei executive’s extradition.

In a media briefing Wednesday, Zhao Lijian, the spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, cited comments made by Michael Kovrig’s wife to the CBC and Reuters saying Canada’s justice minister has the power to end Meng’s extradition to the United States “at any point.”

“Such options are within the rule of law and could open up space for resolution to the situation of the two Canadians,” Zhao said, referring to Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who have now been detained for over 550 days.

Read more: Prominent Canadians call on Trudeau to end Meng Wanzhou case to free 2 Michaels

Kovrig‘s wife, Vina Nadjibulla, cited a legal opinion written by Brian Greenspan, a Toronto lawyer well-versed in extradition proceedings. Nadjibulla joined a group of prominent Canadians, many with previous federal government experience, in seeking the opinion.

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In the legal opinion — dated May 22, 2020 and addressed to Attorney General David Lametti — Greenspan said the justice minister can legally intervene in the case before it hits his desk, saying that “discretion” is “expressly codified” in the Extradition Act.

Can Canada end Meng Wanzhou’s extradition case?
Can Canada end Meng Wanzhou’s extradition case?

Greenspan argues that intervening and ending the extradition case preserves Canada’s judicial independence and is consistent with the rule of law, which Zhao said China agrees with.

“This shows that the Canadian government can actually handle this incident in a just manner according to Canadian law,” Zhao said.

“Once again we urge the Canadian side to earnestly respect the spirit of rule of law, treat China’s solemn position and concerns seriously, stop political manipulation, immediately release Ms. Meng and ensure her safe return to China.”

Read more: Feds could abandon Meng Wanzhou’s case now if they wanted to: ex-minister, lawyer

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Meng is fighting extradition to the United States, where American authorities have charged her and her company with multiple counts related to allegedly skirting U.S. sanctions on Iran and stealing corporate secrets. She was arrested in Vancouver in December 2018 at the request of the Americans, and has been kept under house arrest in the city ever since.

Just days after Meng’s arrest, Kovrig and Spavor were detained in China on what the country said were “suspicions” of stealing state secrets. The two men were not formally charged with espionage until last week, setting the stage for a formal trial with a high likelihood of conviction and a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Trudeau refuses to do prisoner swap for two Michaels
Trudeau refuses to do prisoner swap for two Michaels

China has repeatedly denied that Kovrig and Spavor’s detentions were in retaliation for Meng’s arrest, an argument that has recently been dismissed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and others in his cabinet.

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Ottawa has also dismissed Beijing’s claims that Meng’s arrest was a “political incident,” as Zhao called it Wednesday, insisting the case is consistent with Canadian law while also honouring the request of the U.S.

Treasury Board President says government not intervening in Meng Wanzhou case ‘to defend Canada’s reputation’ of judicial independence
Treasury Board President says government not intervening in Meng Wanzhou case ‘to defend Canada’s reputation’ of judicial independence

China’s comments came as a letter signed by a group of former Canadian officials, including those who sought Greenspan’s legal opinion, urged Trudeau to end Meng’s extradition case in order to seek Kovrig and Spavor’s return to Canada.

The letter also argues doing so would strengthen Canada’s foreign policy stance toward China, particularly concerning Beijing’s treatment of Hong Kong and Huawei’s attempts to introduce a 5G network in North America.

Read more: Senators call on Trudeau to sanction Chinese officials over human rights violations

In a statement Wednesday, Lametti’s office argued that the extradition process “ensures that individual rights are protected and that those sought for extradition are afforded due process before the courts, while honouring our international treaty obligations.

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“We are well aware of the laws and processes governing this important regime,” it said, adding it would not be appropriate to comment further on a case before the courts.

Nadjibulla and the group behind the letter have also raised concerns about the conditions Kovrig and Spavor are being detained in, which they say increase the likelihood of the men contracting COVID-19. Reports say Kovrig and Spavor are being held in detention facilities with 24-hour lighting and are being denied visits from lawyers and consular officials.

China detained Kovrig, Spavor in ‘political decision’ over Meng arrest, Trudeau says
China detained Kovrig, Spavor in ‘political decision’ over Meng arrest, Trudeau says

Zhao pushed back on Nadjibulla’s concerns Wednesday, saying Kovrig’s health and safety are being ensured and he was recently allowed to speak with his family, “for which he expressed gratefulness.”

“The case is being handled by competent authorities in accordance with law, and Kovrig’s legitimate rights are fully guaranteed,” he said.

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Zhao did not mention Spavor by name, only saying “detainees” are being protected from the novel coronavirus.

“As to consular visits, they will be resumed once the epidemic situation gets better,” he said.