Prime Minister Justin Trudeau doubled down Monday and insisted China has “made a direct link” between that country’s detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor and Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.
“It has been obvious from the beginning that this was a political decision made by the Chinese government and we deplore it and have from the very beginning,” he said during his daily briefing. He also thanked Canada’s “friends and allies around the world” who have criticized what he called the “arbitrary detention” of the two Canadians.
His comments came hours after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced the Chinese government's decision on Friday to formally charge Kovrig and Spavor with espionage after holding them for 18 months, calling the move "politically motivated and completely groundless."
China has denied that the arrests of Kovrig and Spavor are tied to Meng’s case, and the Chinese government on Monday told Trudeau to “stop making irresponsible remarks” after he said last week that China had linked the two cases.
Key context: Kovrig and Spavor were arrested in China days after Canadian authorities arrested Meng at the Vancouver airport in December 2018 at the request of the U.S., and their detention is widely seen as retaliation for her arrest. Charges against the men were anticipated after Meng last month lost her first attempt at avoiding extradition to the U.S., where she faces fraud charges for allegedly violating U.S. sanctions on Iran. Meng is being held under house arrest in Vancouver.
“This using of arbitrary detentions as a means to advance political gains is something that is fully unacceptable in a world based on rules,” Trudeau said.
On Monday, the U.S. called for the men's release and for Canada to get "immediate consular access" to them. Pompeo's statement said China has blocked consular access to Kovrig and Spavor "for almost six months, and the world has no knowledge of the two Canadians’ condition."
What’s next: Asked if the Liberal government might consider trading Meng for Kovrig and Spavor, Trudeau responded with a firm “no.”
“Canada has a strong and independent justice system,” he said. “Anyone who’s considering … weakening the independence of our justice system doesn’t understand the importance of standing strong on our principles and our values.”