OTTAWA: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday accused China of ignoring a former Canadian envoy’s “diplomatic immunity” when it detained him last month along with a compatriot. Michael Kovrig was arrested on December 10 in China, after taking a leave from his diplomatic posting to work for the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank.
China detained former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor last month, accusing them both of activities that “endanger China’s security”-a phrase often used by Beijing when alleging espionage. Their detentions are thought to be in retaliation for Canada’s arrest on a US request of Huawei vice president Meng Wanzhou, who is accused of violating Iran sanctions.
“It is unfortunate that China has arbitrarily and unfairly detained two Canadian citizens, and indeed in one of the cases is not respecting diplomatic immunity,” said Trudeau. “This is something that we are engaged right now both with Chinese officials and with our partners around the world where there is a concern for the need for all countries to do like Canada and to respect the rule of law and the independence of our judicial processes.”
It was the first public comment on Kovrig’s status. Officials previously said he was on an unpaid leave from his Canadian government job. According to the Vienna Convention, persons carrying a diplomatic passport enjoy immunity when they are abroad. Trudeau’s statement therefore suggests that Kovrig carried such a passport while on sabbatical, which is possible if authorized by Canada’s foreign ministry.
Ottawa has called-backed by Australia, Britain, France, Germany, the European Union and the United States-for the Canadians’ immediate release. On Thurday, the Netherlands, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia also added their voices of support for Canada. China’s Ambassador to Canada Lu Shaye, in a letter to a Canadian newspaper on Wednesday, accused Ottawa and its allies of applying a “double standard” in criticizing the detentions of Kovrig and Spavor while defending Meng’s arrest, attributing this to “Western egotism and white supremacy.”
In other news, Canada’s top court on Friday confirmed the voting rights of expatriates by ruling that a law-already repealed last month-wrongly denied those living abroad for five years or more a chance to cast a ballot. In a 5-2 decision, the Supreme Court said the regulation infringed on Canadian expats’ constitutional right to vote, which Chief Justice Richard Wagner called a “fundamental political right” and “a core tenet of our democracy.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government had already reformed the elections act, doing away with the five-year provision last month. But the ruling was still widely viewed as important in that it would prevent future governments from bringing back the restrictions. The impugned sections of the act had been on the books since 1993 but had only been used during the previous Tory government’s decade in office, to 2015.
The law was challenged by two Canadians living in the United States. They both tried to vote in the 2011 election but were rebuffed due to the residency requirement. Over the past century, Canada has expanded the right to vote, originally restricted to property-owning men aged 21 or older, to women, racial minorities, persons once described as suffering from a “mental disease,” prison inmates and soldiers and diplomatic staff posted abroad. Residence, the court noted, was one of the last restrictions on the right to vote in Canadian federal elections.
The majority of the court said the government failed to justify the measure, and called it overly broad. “While it seeks to bar people from voting who lack a sufficient connection to Canada, no correlation has been shown between, on the one hand, how long a Canadian citizen has lived abroad and, on the other hand, the extent of his or her subjective commitment to Canada,” said the ruling. “Many non-resident citizens maintain deep and abiding connections to Canada through family, online media and visits home, and by contributing taxes and collecting social benefits,” the justices noted.
In a dissenting opinion, Justices Suzanne Cote and Russell Brown called the five-year rule “a reasonable limit” on voting rights. “Opening the vote to long-term non-residents… would be a regressive development, undermining the longstanding and entirely salutary practice in Westminster parliamentary democracies of privileging local connections in deciding who may elect local representatives,” they wrote. According to the government, an estimated three million Canadians or nine percent of the population live abroad. Expatriate voting has historically been low. – AFP