Canada’s new ambassador to China led his first consular visits with detained Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig over the past week, CBC News reported Tuesday, citing anonymous sources.
Global Affairs Canada officials announced Monday that Canadian consular officials conducted consular visits with Spavor on Oct. 28 and Kovrig on Oct. 25.
According to a senior government source, who spoke to CBC News on the condition of anonymity, Ambassador Dominic Barton met with Spavor and Kovrig during the consular visits.
Kovrig, who took a leave of absence from Global Affairs Canada to work as the North East Asia analyst for the non-governmental think tank International Crisis Group, and Spavor, a China-based Canadian entrepreneur, were detained separately by Chinese authorities on Dec. 10, 2018.
Their arrest came days after Canadian officials arrested Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of telecom giant Huawei, at the request of U.S. authorities.
Meng, who is also the daughter of company founder Ren Zhengfei, is fighting extradition to the United States over allegations she was involved in violating sanctions on Iran.
A Canadian court released Meng on bail while she awaits the results of her extradition hearing.
China is demanding Meng’s unconditional release and has been ratcheting up diplomatic and economic pressure on Canada.
Chinese officials said Kovrig and Spavor are being investigated for “endangering national security.”
While the two men receive regular consular visits by Canadian diplomats, they have been denied access to lawyers and their family members since their arrest last year.
China has also placed restrictions on various Canadian exports to China, including canola and meat. In January, China handed a death sentence to a convicted Canadian drug smuggler in a sudden retrial.
Barton was appointed Canada’s ambassador in China in early September.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau fired previous Ambassador John McCallum after he said in an interview with Chinese-language media that Meng had a strong case to fight her extradition to the U.S.
Barton, a former global managing director of consulting firm McKinsey & Co., worked in Asia for 12 years and served on the board of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada. He also was an adjunct professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, according to online biographies.
He has also served as the chair of the finance minister’s advisory council on economic growth and has helped the Liberal government shape its economic policies and strategies.
Speaking to the reporters in September, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Barton’s close personal connections to Trudeau and herself means he will have “close and direct contacts” that will help him do the job.
She also said his appointment sends “an important message to China” about how much Canada values its relationship with China.
With files from CBC News and The Associated Press