Chinese officials have allowed Canadian diplomats in Beijing on-site virtual consular access to detained Canadian Michael Kovrig but COVID-19 travel restrictions have prevented Canadian officials from visiting the second Canadian detainee, Michael Spavor, according to a news release from Global Affairs Canada.
The press release says a team of Canadian diplomats led by Ambassador Dominic Barton was granted on-site virtual access to Kovrig.
“Canadian consular officials continue to provide consular services to him and his family,” the statement said. “Due to the provisions of the Privacy Act, no further information can be disclosed.”
Consular access to both men has usually been granted within days of each other but it’s not clear whether Canadian diplomats will be able to visit Spavor, who is being held in a prison in the city of Dandong near the North Korean border.
Canadian officials were last granted consular access to Kovrig and Spavor on Dec. 15 and 14 respectively.
Barton is leading Canada’s efforts in China to win the release of Kovrig and Spavor, who were arrested and imprisoned on Dec. 10, 2018, in what is widely seen as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Chinese high-tech executive Meng Wanzhou.
Meng, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies Co., was arrested in Vancouver on Dec. 1, 2018 upon the request of U.S. authorities. The 48-year-old daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei is wanted in the U.S. on charges of committing fraud related to the company’s dealings with Iran.
She has been released on bail while awaiting the result of extradition proceedings.
Meng’s arrest set off a diplomatic showdown between Canada and China, and Ottawa is caught in the fight between Beijing and Washington.
The two men have been charged with espionage.
“The Canadian government remains deeply concerned by the arbitrary detention by Chinese authorities of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor since December 2018 and continues to call for their immediate release,” said a statement from Global Affairs.
Earlier this month, Global Affairs said it had obtained an agreement to allow greater family and consular access for Spavor and Kovrig, who have become known as the “Two Michaels.”
Because no family access had been granted before, access for their families would be a first for the two men since their detention in China began.
In the meantime, Meng’s lawyers have asked the court to loosen her bail restrictions to allow her to leave her Vancouver home outside the hours of her overnight curfew without the presence of private security staff.
They say her close proximity to rotating security personnel puts her at risk of a COVID-19 infection.
British Columbia Supreme Court Justice William Ehrcke is expected to deliver a ruling on Jan. 29.
Last week, it emerged that Meng’s husband, Liu Xiaozong, and her two children were granted permission to come to Canada by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada officials. Liu came to Canada in October and in December was followed by the couple’s children.
Global Affairs said that Meng’s family members were granted permission to come here through a process that allows family members of foreign nationals to visit Canada temporarily.
With files from CBC News and The Canadian Press