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

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

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the province still hopes to bring the hospitalization number down before relaxing restrictions. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
14 new deaths, 366 new COVID-19 cases in Alberta

Province nearing 100K COVID-19 vaccine doses administered

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

Mom’s Diner owner Wesley Langlois has joined a growing number of Alberta restaurants that are allowing sit-in dining despite public health restrictions. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Red Deer diner joins sit-down dining protest

Mom’s Diner has joined a growing list of Alberta restaurants flouting health restrictions

Young hockey players were out on Bentley Tuesday for a march to a support a return to sports. (Photo courtesy of Bobby McKinlay)
(Kraft Dinner/Twitter)
Kraft Dinner launches candy-flavoured mac and cheese just in time for Valentine’s Day

Sweet and cheesy treat will be here just in time for the cheesiest holiday of the year

In this undated image made from a video taken by the Duke of Sussex and posted on @SaveChildrenUK by the Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, shows the Duchess of Sussex reading the book “Duck! Rabbit!” to their son Archie who celebrates his first birthday on Wednesday May 6, 2020. The Canadian Paediatric Society is reminding families that the process of raising a reader starts from birth. (Duke of Sussex/@SaveChildrenUK)
Canadian Paediatric Society says raising a reader starts from birth

CPS says literacy is one of the strongest predictors of lifelong health outcomes

Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough responds to a question during a news conference Thursday August 20, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Easing rules for parental benefits created inequities among parents, documents say

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough’s office says the government will make any necessary changes

People walk along a pedestrianized zone of Sainte-Catherine street in Montreal, Monday, May 18, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. Newly released statistics point to a major drop in police-recorded crime during the first eight months of the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Crime down in first 8 months of pandemic, but mental health calls rise: StatCan

The agency says violent crimes such as assault dropped significantly

(Photo submitted)
Central Alberta researchers recognized for studies in agricultural sciences

Jessica Sperber of Ponoka and David MacTaggart of Lacombe awarded prestigious scholarship

FILE – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers his opening remarks at a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Tuesday, January 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine CEO ‘very, very clear’ that Canada’s contracts will be honoured: Trudeau

Trudeau says he spoke to Moderna CEO on the morning of Jan. 26

Most Read