Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stepped up his critiques of Beijing over the detention of two Canadians charged with spying last week by Chinese authorities.
Deploying some of his harshest language since the December 2018 arrest of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, the prime minister said Monday (June 22) “we deplore” the political pressure China is applying to Canada.
The two Canadians were detained shortly after Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. CFO Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver 18 months ago upon an extradition request from the U.S.
Meng’s extradition case is continuing to unfold in B.C., however, Kovrig and Spavor were charged only days ago following more than 550 days in detainment.
Trudeau has faced criticism in Canada over whether his response to what he describes as the “arbitrary” arrests of Spavor and Kovrig has been strong enough.
A spokesman from China’s foreign ministry on Monday called Trudeau’s earlier remarks about arbitrary detention irresponsible.
But during a daily media briefing in Ottawa, the prime minister once again condemned Beijing’s actions, noting Chinese officials had previously linked the Meng case with the Kovrig-Spavor case.
He was also adamant that Canada would not engage in any deal-making and that the country’s judicial system would remain independent.
Trudeau said any quid pro quos would degrade Canada’s judicial system.
He remained reluctant, however, to offer any updates about whether Huawei’s 5G equipment would be approved for use in Canada — another point of tension between Canada and China.
Canada’s intelligence allies have put pressure on Canada to ban the equipment over concerns it’s vulnerable to espionage.
The U.S. and Australia have already instituted outright bans on Huawei’s 5G gear.
Canada’s three largest telecom providers have all announced plans to build out their 5G networks using equipment from European vendors.
The recent decisions from Telus Corp. and BCE Inc. to opt for the European equipment mark a change of strategy after they had long been aligned with Huawei.
But ongoing uncertainty about whether or not Canada would ban Huawei’s equipment apparently made the situation too untenable for the telecom giants.
Trudeau would only say on Monday that Canadian intelligence agencies and security officials continue to review Huawei’s equipment and any decision would be based on science.
Meanwhile, the prime minister also faced questions about the status of migrant farm workers in Canada following the death of a third worker from Mexico who tested positive for COVID-19.
The Mexican government said last week it would put a stop to sending migrant workers from their country to Canadian farms in which COVID-19 cases have been reported.
But Mexico reversed course Sunday after it reached an agreement with Canada to improve safety measures for migrant workers on Canadian farmers.
“Every single person who works in Canada deserves to do so in a safe environment,” Trudeau said.
Such workers have been allowed into the country to help farmers amid unprecedented travel restrictions on non-citizens and non-residents brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Employers are required to isolate workers for 14 days after entry into the country or risk being prohibited from hiring migrant workers.
Canada’s food security depends on assistance from 60,000 such workers, who began arriving in April on flights chartered by industry and paid for by employers.
Farmers are also required to upgrade the housing for migrant workers in quarantine.
“Obviously there are cases those rules were not followed and we’re extremely concerned by that and there will be consequences for companies that did not follow the rules designed to protect workers in Canada,” Trudeau said.
“In Canada, anyone doing work — let alone essential work as part of our food chain — needs to feel protected. Obviously in the case of these three tragic deaths, that wasn’t the case.”
He added the government is now ensuring that “changes will be made.”