Tory critic dismisses China’s pandemic ‘excuse’ barring access to Kovrig, Spavor

Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong says Canada’s recent virtual consular access to Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor should have happened much sooner.

The Ontario MP also dismissed China’s position that it can’t allow in-person visits by diplomats because of COVID-19.

Chong told The Canadian Press that the fact the Chinese economy has largely reopened makes it clear that’s an “excuse” to flout international conventions that guarantee consular access.

Kovrig and Spavor have been in prison in China since December 2018 in what is widely seen as retaliation for Canada arresting Chinese high-tech executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition warrant.

Dominic Barton, Canada’s ambassador to China, had internet-based visits with Spavor on Friday and Kovrig on Saturday.

It was the first contact Canadian diplomats have had with the two men since in-person visits in mid-January.

People hold signs calling for China to release Canadian detainees Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig during an extradition hearing for Huawei Technologies Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver in 2019. (Lindsey Wasson/Reuters)

In August, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said that COVID-19 had complicated providing consular access to the men.

Kovrig’s wife, Vina Nadjibulla, told CBC News that her husband was “greatly relieved to receive news from the outside world” after ten months without consular access. 

“He was particularly heartened by reassurances regarding the health of everyone in the family and the ongoing efforts to secure his freedom. He was astonished to learn about the details of the COVID-19 pandemic and remarked that it all sounded like some ‘zombie apocalypse movie,'” her statement read.

“We are extremely proud that despite his long confinement, Michael’s spirit, determination — and even his sense of humour — remain unbroken. This is definitely something we can be grateful for this Thanksgiving weekend. And of course, our focus remains on doing everything possible to bring Michael home. We are deeply grateful for the support and solidarity of all Canadians.”

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