People around the world ‘extremely disturbed’ by detention of Canadians: Trudeau

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OTTAWA — People around the world are “extremely disturbed” by China’s detention of two Canadians, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in Mali this weekend as he called for Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor to be released.

Canada is communicating with China about how important it is to release the detainees, Trudeau said Saturday in reference to the two men taken into custody on security grounds earlier this month.

The two were arrested days after Canadian authorities arrested Meng Wanzhou, a senior executive with Chinese firm Huawei Technologies, at Vancouver’s airport on Dec. 1 after receiving an extradition request from the U.S.

Chinese authorities subsequently arrested Kovrig, a former diplomat on leave from Global Affairs Canada and Spavor, an entrepreneur.

“We are impressing upon the Chinese how it is important that they release those detainees because this is something that Canadians, quite frankly, and people around the world are extremely disturbed by,” Trudeau told reporters during a surprise visit with peacekeepers in Gao, Mali.

Trudeau’s comments come as Canada relays to its allies that the detention of the two Canadians sets a worrying precedent — a point that Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says has “really resonated.”

Germany said Sunday it’s convinced Canada will ensure Wanzhou has access to a fair, unbiased and transparent judicial procedure.

“For the two Canadians who have been arrested in China, we urge that they be treated fairly and in compliance with the rule of law,” the country’s foreign office said in a statement.

On Friday, the U.S. State Department said Canada was honouring its international legal commitments in arresting Wanzhou and it also called for Kovrig and Spavor’s release.

Britain’s foreign secretary also released a statement saying the U.K. is deeply concerned by suggestions of political motivation for their detention, and the European Union said it raises concerns about legitimate research and business practices in China.

For Canada, the Meng incident has cast a shadow over the Trudeau government’s desire to deepen trade with China as the cornerstone of a broader strategy to diversify into Asian markets.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has accused Trudeau of taking a “naive approach” to China, leaving Canada without “leverage” to resolve the situation. He has also urged the prime minister to reach out to the highest levels of the Chinese government.

On Wednesday, Global Affairs Canada said a third Canadian was detained in China, but Trudeau said the federal government has no reason to believe the case is linked to the detention of Kovrig and Spavor.

— with files from Lee Berthiaume and Mike Blanchfield. Follow @kkirkup on Twitter.

Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press