Conservative MP Michael Chong speaks to reporters as he arrives for a Conservative caucus retreat on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on January 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Tory critic dismisses Chinese pandemic ‘excuse’ barring access to two Michaels

Dominic Barton, Canada’s ambassador to China, had internet visits with Spavor on Friday and Kovrig on Saturday

China can no longer credibly use the “excuse” of COVID-19 to continue keeping Canadian diplomats from visiting Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, the Conservative foreign affairs critic says.

Conservative MP Michael Chong also says this past week’s virtual consular visits to Kovrig and Spavor should have happened much sooner.

“COVID-19 is an excuse that doesn’t hold water,” Chong said in an interview Sunday.

“The economy in China has largely reopened,” he added. “A direct in-person visit should have already taken place a long time ago with appropriate social distancing.”

Kovrig and Spavor have been in prison in China since December 2018 in what is widely seen as retaliation for Canada arresting Chinese high-tech executive Meng Wanzhou on an American extradition warrant.

Dominic Barton, Canada’s ambassador to China, had internet-based visits with Spavor on Friday and Kovrig on Saturday.

It was the first contact Canadian diplomats have had with the two men since in-person visits in mid-January.

The Chinese government has said it can’t allow in-person visits to prisons because of concerns around COVID-19. The federal government has been pushing China since the spring for an alternative form of access in order to check on the welfare of the two men.

“There was absolutely no reason that virtual access couldn’t have been offered by China even during the height of the pandemic, and no justification for denying in-person visits after China emerged from lockdown during the summer,” said David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China.

“This is simply more cruel treatment by China, with the expectation that we will be grateful even for even a half-hearted effort on their part. We shouldn’t fall into that trap.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne pressed for virtual access in his own in-person meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, when the two crossed paths in Rome in August.

Up until January, Canadian diplomats had been able to visit the two men approximately once a month.

Chong reiterated past Conservative criticism of the government’s handling of relations with China, saying its approach has lacked coherence, and that Canada should impose targeted sanctions on the people responsible for the imprisonment of the two men.

But Chong said he is seeing signs of the government taking a firmer stand against China recently with tougher rhetoric this past week from Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Bob Rae, Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations.

“I think the Liberal government’s finally responding to the pressure that the Conservatives have been putting on them,” said Chong.

Sajjan accused China of engaging in “hostage diplomacy” in an online panel discussion, while Rae ripped into his Chinese counterpart in a meeting of the UN General Assembly on Friday for saying that Canada was bullying the People’s Republic.

Rae said Meng was living under “house arrest” while Spavor and Kovrig “have been living in terrible conditions, without consular access, without any humane treatment whatsoever.”

“This is something which we shall never forget,” Rae added.

“If you think that insulting us or insulting my country or insulting anyone is going to help in resolving the situation, you’re sadly mistaken.”

Champagne, too, has ramped up his public criticism of China’s human rights record on a number of issues: Beijing’s crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong and the forced detention Uighur Muslims in the country’s Xinjiang province.

In a recent interview prior to the virtual visits with Kovrig and Spavor, Champagne said Canada would continue to push back against Beijing by working with allies.

“We need to act together, and we need to be strong together to face what we have seen, a coercive type of diplomacy by China,” the minister said.

Champagne said it was significant that the case of the “two Michaels” was raised in China’s recent summit with the European Union, including in its final communique.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also thanked U.S. President Donald Trump for America’s “ongoing support” in the effort to free Kovrig and Spavor during a Saturday phone call.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

ChinaCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Environment Canada has issued a snow warning for the Kootenays on Friday. File photo
Environment Canada issues snow warning for Friday

Two-to-10 centimetres is expected to fall

File photo
EDITORIAL: The power of a single vote

In the Oct. 24 British Columbia election, every vote is important

RCMP stock photo (Black Press)
Kelowna RCMP investigating unexplained death of cattle

Cattle found dead near gravel road, east of the Kelowna Airport

The Freeride World Tour will be back in Golden for the fourth year in a row, with athletes coming from across the world to ski at Kicking Horse. (Jeremy Bernard Photography/Kicking Horse Mountain Resort/Instagram photo)
Freeride World Tour to return to Golden

The tour will have a modified championship format in it’s fourth annual stop at Kicking Horse

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presents modelling of COVID-19 spread in B.C., March 25, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 203 new cases

up to 1,766 active cases in B.C., two more deaths

(Kelowna Capital News)
B.C. Labour Board orders Peachland cannabis company to reinstate laid-off employees

The B.C. Labour Relations Board determined the employees were laid off due to their plan to unionize

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
British Columbia man dies during ski trip near glacier west of Calgary

Kananaskis Public Safety and Alpine Helicopters responded around 2:30 p.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, following a week-long break for the House of Commons. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
One crisis after another for Trudeau since last federal election one year ago

It has been a year of unprecedented calamity and crisis

Curtis Sagmoen
Public warning issued to North Okanagan sex trade workers

RCMP warns workers to stay away from Salmon River Road area

Two pigs roam the Salmon Arm Walmart parking lot during a prior visit photographed by Danielle Burgi. (Danielle Burgi photo)
Pigs trot over for a visit at Salmon Arm shopping centre

Employees say this was the second drop-in from the temporarily free-range porkers

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Penticton law courts. (Black Press file)
Osoyoos man in court for alleged shooting

The Oct. 11 shooting left a man with non-life threatening injuries

Most Read