Bowing to pressure from Beijing to secure the release of two Canadians would put “an awful lot more” citizens at risk by signalling Canada can be intimidated, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday.
Trudeau did not budge from his stance that it would send the wrong message to drop extradition proceedings against Chinese telecommunications executive Meng Wanzhou in the hope of winning freedom for entrepreneur Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig.
Canadian authorities took Meng into custody over American allegations of lying to a bank to violate sanctions on Iran, and her extradition case is now before a British Columbia court.
Soon after Meng was arrested, Beijing detained Spavor and Kovrig on allegations of undermining China’s national security – developments widely seen as retaliation for Meng’s detention.
A letter to Trudeau signed by 19 former politicians and diplomats urges that Meng be freed in a bid to win the release of the detained Canadians.
Signatories to the letter, obtained by The Canadian Press, include Jean Chretien-era ministers Lloyd Axworthy and Andre Ouellet, former Conservative minister and ambassador Lawrence Cannon and former diplomat Robert Fowler, who was himself taken hostage in 2008 in Niger.
Trudeau said he completely disagrees with the letter-writers because bending to Beijing would imperil the millions of Canadians travelling throughout the world in normal times.
Watch: Trudeau says he ‘deeply disagrees’ with letter-writers
Canada will continue to work “incredibly hard” to gain the release of Spavor and Kovrig, Trudeau said, acknowledging the pain their loved ones are feeling.
“But at the same time our responsibility is to make sure that we’re also protecting Canadians into the future,” he said.
“And if countries around the world, including China, realize that by arbitrarily arresting random Canadians, they can get what they want out of Canada politically, well that makes an awful lot more Canadians who travel around the world vulnerable to that kind of pressure.
“So we will continue to stand for our strong, independent justice system. We will do everything we can to bring home the two Michaels. And we will continue to do everything we need to do to make sure that all Canadians are protected going forward.”