December 8, 2019

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Canadian prisoners in China need U.S. action

Editorial

They stole state secrets. That’s the crime China now alleges against the two hostages, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who disappeared into Chinese prisons in December, as soon as Chinese tech executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver.

On Friday, the federal justice department announced that it will lay before a Vancouver judge the U.S. government’s accusations against Ms. Meng, who is chief financial officer of smartphone maker Huawei. The U.S. contends she committed fraud against a bank in the U.S. by concealing her firm’s dealings in Iran in violation of U.S. government sanctions. China responded Monday by announcing through the Xinhua News Agency that the two Michaels had stolen state secrets.

Michael Kovrig (left) and Michael Spavor, the two Canadians detained in China, are shown in these 2018 images taken from video.

THE CANADIAN PRESS

Michael Kovrig (left) and Michael Spavor, the two Canadians detained in China, are shown in these 2018 images taken from video.

It’s hard to talk about China without disclosing state secrets. It’s a state secret that China kidnaps Hong Kong bookstore owners who sell books critical of China. It’s a state secret that China has imprisoned around a million Uyghurs in locked re-education centres in Xinjiang province. It’s a state secret that China executes Falun Gong practitioners and harvests their organs for transplant. The millions of people who discuss these cruel practices around the world are all disclosing Chinese state secrets.

China is holding Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor and uttering dark threats against them in the hope of bullying Canada into releasing Ms. Meng. But Canada is holding Ms. Meng at the request of the United States and will not release her or deliver her to the U.S. authorities until the matter has been studied in open court, where Ms. Meng and her lawyers will take part in the debate. In the meantime, she is free on bail and living comfortably in her Vancouver house.

Ms. Meng on Friday filed a lawsuit against the Canadian government and its agents. She says border services officers held, searched and questioned her at Vancouver airport under false pretences before she was arrested by the RCMP. Her detention was unlawful and arbitrary, the suit says, and officers intentionally failed to advise her of the true reasons for her detention, her right to counsel and her right to silence.

These claims should be examined and fairly arbitrated. They might even form part of an argument for her release. Mr. Kovrig, Mr. Spavor and others languishing in China’s prisons, meanwhile, can only dream of a day when China’s detainees will have rights and the opportunity to defend them before an independent judge.

Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou

DARRYL DYCK / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou

The U.S. government holds the key to resolve this dispute. The U.S. asked for Ms. Meng’s extradition, which is the source of the grief visited upon Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor. The U.S. is in the midst of a vast trade dispute with China in which complaints against Huawei are one element. The Trump administration is showing great patience, watching with folded arms while two Canadians suffer the ordeal of imprisonment and punitive interrogation in China.

Canada’s demands for U.S. action to end the ordeal of the two Michaels have been met with friendly verbal gestures from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and from Larry Kudlow, director of the U.S. National Economic Council. These gestures made no difference. Canada needs energetic action by the U.S. to make release of the Canadian hostages a top priority in the U.S.-China trade negotiation. China has to understand that its adversary in this matter is in Washington, not in Ottawa.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.

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