OTTAWA — Chinese authorities have detained a Canadian woman over what they say are employment issues, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he didn’t believe the case is linked to the recent arrests of two other Canadians in the country.
Trudeau said Wednesday that the latest case, so far, doesn’t involve serious allegations related to China’s national security.
“These are two very different situations,” Trudeau told a news conference in Ottawa. “There are tens of thousands of Canadians who live, travel, work in China in any given year — there are obviously regular situations where Canadians require consular assistance.”
He added that the government is taking the most recent case seriously and that it’s looking into details that don’t “seem to fit the pattern of the previous two.” He raised visa issues as the sort of thing that might draw Chinese authorities’ attention.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying seemed to confirm that Thursday, saying the woman had received an administrative penalty for illegal employment. It did not provide further details.
Hua said the most recent case is different from the detention of the two Canadian men, noting they were taken in for endangering China’s national security, while the woman was given the penalty.
The case involves an Alberta woman who has been teaching in China for months and has indeed been held over a visa irregularity, Conservative MP Erin O’Toole said Wednesday in an interview. Until her detention, he said, she hadn’t had any problems with her visa.
O’Toole said the woman’s case was brought to the attention of a Tory MP in Alberta; O’Toole is the party’s foreign-affairs critic so he relayed the information to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland on Tuesday.
He declined to give any additional information about the woman, citing privacy concerns. O’Toole said he didn’t know whether the woman was still being detained by late Wednesday.
Several news outlets reported on Wednesday that the woman is a teacher named Sarah McIver. The National Post reported that she was teaching at a school in China when she was detained due to “visa complications,” and that arrangements were being made for her return to Canada.
Consular officials are providing assistance to the detainee’s family, Global Affairs Canada said.
“There’s hundreds of Canadians in one way or another working (in China) and is this something that they should worry about — existing visas?” O’Toole said. “That’s what’s very disconcerting about this … Canadians should know if suddenly visas are going to be pulled and reviewed and reconsidered.”
If China is indeed scrutinizing existing visas, O’Toole said Ottawa should post a new travel advisory to alert Canadians.
The latest detention comes with Canada locked in a diplomatic dispute with the Asian superpower.
Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of tech giant Huawei, was arrested in Vancouver on Dec. 1 at the request of the United States, where she is wanted on fraud allegations. Law-enforcement officials allege that she lied to U.S. banks about a corporate structure devised to get around sanctions against Iran.
Her arrest enraged China. It has demanded her release and warned of serious consequences for Canada.
Days after Meng’s arrest, the first two Canadians were detained in Beijing for allegedly endangering China’s national security.
Entrepreneur Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat on a leave of absence from Global Affairs, both remain in custody.
China has granted Canada access to both Spavor and Kovrig. Global Affairs Canada has said John McCallum, Canada’s ambassador to China, met with Kovrig on Friday and Spavor on Sunday.
Meng has since been released on bail and is to return to court in February for what most legal observers predict could be a long, drawn-out legal process.
Spavor is director of the Paektu Cultural Exchange and one of the few people from the West to have met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. He also helped arrange a visit to North Korea by former basketball star Dennis Rodman.
Kovrig served as a diplomat in China until 2016 and has been working for the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental agency focused on ending conflicts.
Last week, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer demanded Trudeau send a “very high-level message” to China and denounce any repercussions on Canadians abroad.
Trudeau told reporters Wednesday that he’s holding off on publicly demanding Spavor’s and Kovrig’s release because that could be counterproductive.
He conceded that now that he’s in power, things look different from the way they did before he became prime minister.
“Every case is different. It requires a complex approach that is a combination of multiple different elements,” Trudeau said.
“I remember standing in the House and challenging (Stephen) Harper to ‘pick up the phone and get this Canadian released.’ I now understand that it’s a lot more complicated than that … Sometimes politicizing or amplifying the level of public discourse on this may be satisfying in the short term, but would not contribute to the outcome that we all want, which is for Canadians to be safe and secure.”
In a recent interview with The Canadian Press, Trudeau said it’s often best to let diplomats speak to diplomats and ministers speak to ministers, and keep leader-to-leader talks as a last resort.
O’Toole challenged the go-slow approach.
“You don’t wait as if the call is some trump card after 10 detentions or something,” he said.
Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press
Seamus O’Regan faces calls to visit Attawapiskat during state of emergency
OTTAWA — Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan is facing calls from the federal NDP to visit the northern Ontario community of Attawapiskat First Nation.
Earlier this month, the community declared a state of emergency over concerns about chemical levels in tap water.
NDP MP Charlie Angus, who represents the federal riding encompassing the reserve, is meeting with the community today and says O’Regan needs to see the impacts of the issue first-hand, including that community members are worried about being able to safety bathe their children.
Attawapiskat has drawn national attention for its 2012 housing crisis and it has also faced issues with youth suicide.
Former chief Theresa Spence, who launched a high-profile protest over the housing situation, has also started a hunger strike over water concerns.
O’Regan’s office says that addressing the water issue in full partnership with the First Nation is a top priority, adding it knows recent test results have raised concerns.
The Canadian Press
Trudeau to push trade pact in EU leaders’ summit as France moves ahead on CETA
MONTREAL — Lawmakers in France have begun their ratification of the comprehensive trade agreement between the European Union and Canada as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomes the leaders of the 28-country bloc to Montreal on Wednesday.
Trudeau has been pushing hard for a win on trade and foreign policy after two difficult years marked by a rough renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement with the Trump administration and the deterioration of political and trade relations with China.
Trudeau will talk up the merits of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA, with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in a series of events in Montreal over the next two days.
The group is to visit a pier in the bustling Port of Montreal, the gateway for European sea shipments into Canada.
International trade lawyer Lawrence Herman said that’s a welcome break from the resort-style backdrops that Trudeau and other prime ministers have preferred when they host international visitors.
“Appearing at the Port of Montreal in this era is much better than appearing at Lake Louise or Banff. The message we want to give is Canada is a leading economic force in the world,” said Herman.
“Meeting in Montreal or in any major urban centre gives that message much better than the typical image of Canada being a wilderness country full of mountains and streams.”
Wednesday’s legal development, the French National Assembly’s consideration of France’s CETA ratification bill, is also a prime focus for Canada’s Liberal prime minister, who will be fighting a federal election this fall.
Sources in France and Canada, who were not authorized to speak publicly about the talks, say Trudeau lobbied French President Emmanuel Macron for more than a year to introduce the bill, and that those efforts finally paid off last month in Paris during their most recent face-to-face meeting.
Almost all of CETA — in excess of 90 per cent — went into force in September 2017 under what is known as provisional application, but individual ratifications by EU member countries will bring it fully into effect.
That would mean a win for the international trading order that has been under assault by U.S. President Donald Trump.
“It’s an essential step. We’re very pleased with our co-operation with the French government,” International Trade Minister Jim Carr said in an interview.
Carr will be meeting his EU counterpart Cecilia Malmstrom in Montreal. He said the French move towards ratification is a significant step in Canada’s broader goal of diversifying Canada’s export markets.
Trudeau was in Paris in early June after attending the 75th anniversary commemorations of D-Day in France and Britain, and he and Macron emerged with news that France would move forward with CETA’s ratification. The introduction of the bill in the National Assembly is a first step in a process that the French government hopes will lead to full ratification by the end of 2019.
Macron and Trudeau have talked about the agreement repeatedly — in Paris in April 2018, in a telephone conversation a year later, and other face-to-face meetings. Macron is a staunch Europhile and open supporter of CETA, but he has had to tread cautiously because of populist opposition to trade deals in France and across Europe.
Canada has lobbied French lawmakers, businesspeople and farmers, an effort that included more than two dozen visits to various regions of France by Isabelle Hudon, the Canadian ambassador.
Trudeau also made a direct appeal to French lawmakers in an April 2018 speech to the National Assembly, the first time a Canadian prime minister addressed that body.
Earlier this week, Trump signed an executive order strengthening his protectionist Buy American Act, which requires federal agencies to increase their use of American-made products from 50 to 75 per cent.
Herman said Canadian companies need to be more aggressive in taking advantage of the new opportunities now open to them in Europe, especially its new “privileged” access to national and sub national government contracts in a sector valued at $3.3 trillion annually.
“As the U.S. turns inward and as protectionism raises its ugly face in the U.S. we have to look at other opportunities. And I think procurement is one of the areas where we have great possibility in Europe.”
CETA gives Canadian businesses preferred access to 500 million European consumers, and a $24-trillion market. In 2018, Canada’s exports to the EU increased by seven per cent to more than $44 billion.
But the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance offered mixed reviews on the deal, saying EU agri-food exports to Canada jumped 10 per cent in 2018, compared with the previous year, which increased Canada’s trade deficit with the EU to $3.5 billion.
Meanwhile, Canadian agri-food exports to the EU have dropped 10 per cent since CETA’s 2017 entry into force, the alliance said.
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press
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