Canada’s foreign affairs minister denies any link between the federal government’s ongoing efforts to free two Canadians detained in China and Ottawa’s delay in releasing a decision stemming from its national security review of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.
The minister’s comments come after the United Kingdom this week banned Huawei from its 5G telecom network, following in the footsteps of Australia and the United States.
Observers have since pointed out that Canada is the last member of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance — which also includes New Zealand — to not restrict or ban the use of Huawei equipment in some form or another.
In an interview with The West Block that aired Sunday, guest host Farah Nasser asked Minister François-Philippe Champagne if the government’s 5G decision on Huawei is the only “bargaining chip” that Canada has left in its efforts to release Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, imprisoned in China since late 2018.
Champagne said he “would not make any link” between the two files.
“There’s really no link between the two.”
“One is … we take the decision to protect the national security and the best interest of Canadians, and the other one is to continue to advocate for two Canadians which have been arbitrarily detained,” he said.
Kovrig and Spavor were detained in December 2018, a move Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has described as an “obvious” attempt by China to put “political pressure” on Canada for the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on Canadian soil.
The two men were formally charged with alleged espionage in June 2020.
American authorities criminally charged Meng and Huawei and requested Meng’s extradition to the U.S. to stand trial; she has denied the charges and is fighting her extradition in an ongoing case in British Columbia.
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The matter has strained relations between Beijing — which has claimed Meng’s arrest was political — and the Canadian government, which amid all this has been conducting a national security review of Huawei Technologies Inc.
The review is expected to determine whether the tech company should be permitted to be involved in the development of Canada’s 5G network.
The Liberal government delayed its long-awaited decision until after last fall’s federal election. In the meantime, the detention of the two Michaels is nearing 600 days.
Asked on The West Block what other measures Canada is considering to obtain their freedom, Champagne suggested Washington also has a leading role to play in achieving a resolution.
“I think we need to also look towards Washington, because this all started there and certainly we are working with our American allies to try to see what more can be done,” Champagne said.
“And more broadly, I’ve been talking to make sure we’re looking with our allies around the world about an international protocol to prevent, to the extent possible, arbitrary detention — talking with like-mindeds to make sure that … whatever state who wants to engage with arbitrary detention would be facing consequences for their action.”
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Champagne told Nasser he’s been dealing with the issue of Kovrig and Spavor’s detention “almost on a daily basis” and his priority remains to achieve their “immediate release.”
“This is not only now a Canadian issue, it has become a world issue and I’m sure that China is taking notice, that this is hurting (themselves)… that arbitrary detention is not the way to resolve conflict in 2020,” Champagne said.
“We will be relentless and we will use every opportunity to advocate for the release and to get consular access in accordance with the Vienna convention.”
Canada ‘appalled’ by Russian hackers targeting COVID-19 vaccine research
Canada, the U.S and the U.K. this week also showed they’ve had their eyes on Russia, releasing news on Thursday that a Russian hacking group has been targeting coronavirus vaccine research in all three countries.
The group “almost certain operates as part of Russian intelligence services,” the Communications Security Establishment, Canada’s cyberspy agency, said in a statement.
Champagne told The West Block that the federal government is “deeply concerned” and “appalled” by those hacking efforts during a global pandemic.
“It’s really disturbing and it’s times like that where we say we need to strengthen our resolve to make sure that we are vigilant first,” said Champagne, who issued a statement on Thursday about defending national interests from “malicious state actors,” but did not mention Russia by name.
Russian hackers accused of targeting global COVID-19 vaccine research
Nasser asked Champagne what specifically Canada will do in response, beyond calling out “irresponsible state behaviour,” as described in Thursday’s statement.
“Working with our allies, I would say, that’s the best place we can be,” he responded.
“To make sure that what our government is doing when it comes to security, when it comes to protecting our IP, when it comes to protecting firms that are doing fundamental research to help Canadians, we will use every means at our disposal to protect them, to defend them and to make sure that we call it for what it is.
“And this is a good example of calling out Russia, in this case very specifically, of trying to disturb and target some of the research activities going on in Canada.”
— With files from Global News’ Amanda Connolly, Andrew Russell and Sam Cooper
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