Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the safe return of two Canadians detained in China remains the government’s top priority amid reports of a potential deal to send Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou back home.
He made the comment the day after the Wall Street Journal reported the news of a potential deal between the U.S. Department of Justice and Meng’s representatives — one that would allow her to return home to China with a deferred prosecution agreement.
“I’m not going to comment on those reports. Canadians know well that our top priority is the safe return of the two Michaels,” Trudeau said when asked about the potential deal on Friday.
“I think we’re going to continue to work as hard as we possibly can to bring these two Michaels home. It’s been extremely difficult for them, for their families and their loved ones. We will continue to stand up for Canadians in difficulty anywhere around the world.”
Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig were detained in apparent retaliation after Canada infuriated China by arresting Meng in December 2018. Canada did so at the behest of the United States, which had requested her extradition.
Meng’s arrest plunged Canada-China relations into a deep freeze. Spavor and Kovrig have been stuck in a Chinese prison for two years, and another Canadian, Robert Schellenberg, was sentenced to die in China following a hastily scheduled retrial of his drug smuggling conviction in China just one month after Meng’s arrest. Schellenberg has maintained his innocence since his arrest in 2014.
China also briefly banned imports of Canadian pork and beef, claiming a banned animal feed additive was found in a shipment of Canadian pork.
Given the apparent linkages between Spavor’s and Kovrig’s detention and Meng’s extradition case, any deal allowing her return to China — something China has been fiercely demanding — could have implications for the two Canadians.
According to reporting from Reuters, an anonymous source told the outlet that negotiations between Meng’s lawyers and the U.S. Justice Department ramped up following the U.S. presidential election, although it’s unclear whether a deal for the telecom executive’s release has been struck.
The United States requested Meng’s extradition over allegations related to U.S. sanctions against Iran, which have led to her being wanted in the U.S. on charges of bank fraud. Meng and Huawei both deny the allegations.
China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying also disputed the Wall Street Journal’s report about a looming deal.
“I don’t know where this information came from,” she said in a statement sent to Global News.
“China has an explicit position on this issue. Ms. Meng Wanzhou is innocent…China once again urges the US side to immediately withdraw the arrest warrant and extradition request for Ms. Meng Wanzhou, and urges the Canadian side to immediately release Ms. Meng Wanzhou so that she can return to China safely at an early date.”
Because Meng does not think she did anything wrong, the Reuters source said, she is reluctant to make admissions she doesn’t think are true — a reality that complicates the possibility of a deferred prosecution agreement.
Deferred prosecution agreements aren’t usually negotiated for individuals, but rather for corporations. The deals let businesses avoid criminal charges in exchange for penalties being significantly curbed.
Meanwhile, Trudeau won’t comment on the possibility of the deal, though he emphasized his focus on the two detained Canadians.
“We will continue to work extremely hard for the safe return home of the two Michaels. Two years away is much too long to be imprisoned in China, or anywhere,” Trudeau said, speaking in French.
“We will continue to do everything in our power to bring them back.”
— With files from Sean Boynton