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

Staff and board members from Port Alberni Family Guidance Association, from left, Jennifer Minard, Craig Summers, Laurel Lenormand, Melanie Stevenson, Brenda Kraneveldt, Nancy Anslow-Tooke and Doreen Grant, are celebrating the association’s 50th anniversary Oct. 24, 2020. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Port Alberni Family Guidance gets $19K for COVID-19 renovations

Community gaming grant will help keep counselling services running smoothly

Crystal Knudsen, president of Rotary Club of Port Alberni, restocks the little free library in front of Ladybird Engraving on Margaret Street. The Rotary club is working with Literacy Alberni to revive the libraries. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Port Alberni Rotary Club helps revive little libraries

“We used to have a huge warehouse space but we had to give that up before COVID.”

John Edmondson, left, from Bread of Life, Colin Minions and Capt. Michael Ramsay from the Salvation Army demonstrate Port Alberni’s first community food pantry, located on Tebo Avenue outside Jericho Road Church, Jan. 22, 2021. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Free food pantry opens in Port Alberni

Volunteers will monitor the pantry to make sure it stays stocked

An Island Health graph showing COVID-19 cases in the central Island by local health area between Dec. 27 and Jan. 23. (Island Health image)
Central Island’s COVID-19 case spike shifting, says Island Health

Cowichan Valley has seen the highest number of cases, but Nanaimo and south Island seeing upticks

Carol Hanson and Ellen Frood of ACAWS were two of the first 100 people to raise $500 for the Coldest Night of the Year 2021 event across Canada. They received these hoodies in recognition of their efforts. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Coldest Night of the Year goes virtual for 2021

Port Alberni organizers urging people to share photos of their walks to create community feel

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses the media during a news conference at the BC Centre of Disease Control in Vancouver B.C. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
B.C. announces 485 new COVID-19 cases, fewest deaths in months

‘The actions we take may seem small, but will have a big impact to stop the virus,” urges Dr. Henry

Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Search called off for small plane that went down in rough water south of Victoria

Plane bound for Port Angeles from Alaska believed to have one occupant, an Alaskan pilot

Royal B.C. Museum conservator Megan Doxsey-Whitfield kneels next to a carved stone pillar believed to have significance as a First Nations cultural marker by local Indigenous people. The pillar was discovered on the beach at Dallas Road last summer. Museum curatorial staff have been working with Songhees and Esquimalt Nation representatives to gain a clearer picture of its use. (Photo courtesy Royal BC Museum)
Stone carving found on Victoria beach confirmed Indigenous ritual pillar

Discussion underway with the Esquimalt and Songhees about suitable final home for the artifact

Former Vancouver Giants forward Evander Kane is seen here in Game 7 of the second round of the 2009 WHL playoffs against the Spokane Chiefs (Sam Chan under Wikipedia Commons licence)
Gambling debts revealed in details of bankruptcy filing by hockey star Evander Kane

Sharks left winger and former Vancouver Giants player owes close to $30 million total

Othman “Adam” Hamdan, pictured in front of Christina Lake’s Welcome Centre, was acquitted of terrorism related charges in 2017. He has been living in Christina Lake since November 2020. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Man acquitted on terrorism charges awaits deportation trial while living in Kootenays

Othman Ayed Hamdan said he wants to lead a normal life while he works on his upcoming book

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

B.C. Premier John Horgan wears a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 prior to being sworn in by The Honourable Janet Austin, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia during a virtual swearing in ceremony in Victoria, Thursday, November 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Premier Horgan calls jumping COVID vaccine queue ‘un-Canadian’

Horgan says most people in B.C. are doing their best to follow current public health guidelines

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart share a laugh while speaking to the media before sitting down for a meeting at City Hall, in Vancouver, on Friday August 30, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Vancouver mayor, Health Canada to formally discuss drug decriminalization

Kennedy Stewart says he’s encouraged by the federal health minister’s commitment to work with the city

Downtown Fernie is pictured after a snowfall.

Most Read