Canadian Foreign Minister lobbies Chinese counterpart over Kovrig and Spavor in Rome: visit to Ottawa

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Canadian Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne met his Chinese counterpart, State Councilor Wang Yi, in Rome on Tuesday and urged Beijing to release two Canadian citizens he has detained, Ottawa said.Champagne, in Europe on an official trip, met Wang in a hotel for 90 minutes. The two had previously held face-to-face talks in Japan in November 2019.

Ties between the two countries deteriorated in December 2018 after Canadian police arrested Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies, on a US extradition warrant.

Soon after, China arrested Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig and, in June, charged them with espionage. It has also blocked imports of certain canola seeds.

Michael Spavor, left, and former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig are being held in China, both on charges of espionage. (The Associated Press / International Crisis Group / The Canadian Press)

“Minister Champagne once again reaffirmed that the cases of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor remain a top priority … and that Canada continues to call on China to immediately release the two men,” the foreign ministry said in a statement. .

Speaking to CBC’s Megan Williams in Rome on Wednesday, Champagne said the two sides “clearly have a number of things that we deeply disagree on. But as far as we can talk, I think that’s a positive sign of progress ”.

“We will continue to be involved and hopefully improve consular access [to Kovrig and Spavor]. This was essential in our discussions, to ensure that detainees would have access to their relatives. ”

China’s Foreign Ministry said Wang told Champagne that Canada’s unprovoked detention of Chinese citizens had created “serious difficulties” in bilateral relations. He added in a statement that Wang urged Ottawa to take measures as soon as possible to remove obstacles to the development of Sino-Canadian relations.

Beijing’s minutes of the meeting did not mention Huawei Meng or Champagne’s call for China to release Kovrig and Spavor.

“Obviously, COVID complicates access [to Kovrig and Spavor], but I said there were different ways to get there. I had suggested before that we could even imagine virtual access, ”Champange told CBC News.

WATCH | Champagne meets the Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs in Rome:

Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne discussed consular access for Canadian detainees Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. 1:49

The meeting follows a Federal Court ruling denying Meng access to sensitive information contained in reports of his arrest produced by Canada’s spy agency.

The Huawei executive was looking for the documents in an attempt to prove that she was the victim of a conspiracy between Canadian and American law enforcement.

In a 35-page decision released Tuesday, Judge Catherine Kane said Meng’s lawyers argued they were seeking information on the planning of his arrest, interagency cooperation, execution of the arrest and collection. evidence – but none of this was contained in the blacked out portions of the documents provided by CSIS.

“The information does not provide the ‘missing pieces of the puzzle’ sought by Meng,” Kane wrote.

“The redacted information does not respond to and illuminate allegations of abuse of process and is not the type of information that Ms. Meng’s lawyer said would be relevant. ”

And even if it had been relevant, the judge said, she wouldn’t have been inclined to publish it anyway.

“If any of the redacted information was marginally relevant – which it is not – the court would find its disclosure to be prejudicial,” Kane said.

Canada’s Foreign Affairs said Wang and Champagne “also discussed the importance of global collaboration on COVID-19, including the search for a vaccine,” he added.

Champagne also raised Canada’s opposition to China over its treatment of Hong Kong, said a Canadian government official who requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation.

Last month, Canada suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong following new Chinese national security legislation and said it could boost immigration from the former British colony.

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