After almost three years of arbitrary detainment, Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are finally home. Now, Canada’s foreign affairs minister says the federal government’s “eyes are wide open” when it comes to China.
The two Michaels were detained in December of 2018, in what is widely considered to be retaliation over the arrest of Chinese telecom giant Huawei’s CFO Meng Wanzhou at a Vancouver airport on fraud charges at the behest of the United States government.
Meng has been accused of committing fraud in order to circumvent U.S. sanctions against Iran. On Friday, a B.C. Supreme Court judge withdrew the U.S. extradition charge against her, allowing her to return home to China.
“It’s an eyes-wide-open policy with respect to (the Chinese government),” Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau told Mercedes Stephenson during an episode of Global News’ The West Block. He added that the arbitrary detention of the “Two Michaels” had ground Canada’s relationship with China to a halt.
However, the country’s relationship with China is continually evolving, said Garneau, and the two will still “co-exist.”
“We will compete. We will cooperate in areas where we need to cooperate, such as climate change, and we will challenge China, whether it’s on human rights or whether it’s on arbitrary detention, when appropriate,” he said.
The Michaels were released after 1,019 days in detention on Friday evening, and landed safely back in Calgary on Saturday morning, accompanied by Canada’s ambassador to China Dominic Barton. Garneau said the two men were released just hours after both governments arrived at a deferred prosecution agreement during judicial proceedings.
“It was certainly a very emotional moment,” Garneau said, noting the “outpouring of joy across the country” upon news they had returned.
A deferred prosecution agreement, or DPA, is a plea deal that allows corporations accused of breaking the law in cases involving allegations such as bribery, fraud or corruption to avoid a criminal trial.
Canada has repeatedly called the detentions of the two Michaels “unacceptable,” but the foreign affairs minister stopped short of saying whether there would be consequences for China moving forward.
He dodged a question on whether Canada would impose sanctions on China for the imprisonment of Spavor and Kovrig, reiterating that “we’re going to continue to challenge China as we move forward.”
When asked whether Canada would consider banning Huawei 5G, Garneau said the federal government “will” make a decision, but did not provide further details.
“Our primary consideration is ensuring the security of our telecommunication system,” he said. “And when we’re ready to make that decision, we will make it.”
Currently, Canada is the only country among the Five Eyes intelligence alliance that has not barred Huawei technologies. Alongside Canada, the alliance is comprised of Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the U.S.
Since February, Garneau said the federal government had been building “multilateral support” in its quest to bar arbitrary detentions.
“There are now sixty-five countries that have been supportive – and very loudly supportive – of the fact that you cannot arbitrarily detain the citizens of another country simply because you have a disagreement with the country that you’re dealing with,” he said.
“And I think that voice is continuing to grow and that it will eventually cause countries that use arbitrary detention to reconsider.”
— With files from Global News’ Maham Abedi