‘Canadians won’t be safe at 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics,’ Canada’s opposition leader says

Safety concerns follows the jailing and death sentence of two Canadians

Lamiat Sabin
Friday 13 August 2021 01:14 BST
<p>President Xi Jinping making a speech last month during the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party</p>

President Xi Jinping making a speech last month during the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party

Canadians should consider boycotting next year’s Beijing Winter Olympics over safety concerns, according to the leader of the Conservatives in Canada.

Erin O’Toole claimed that hostile relations between China and Canada have come to a point where the games “won’t be safe for Canadians, including Olympic athletes, to travel to China.”

At a news conference on Tuesday, he accused Beijing of using the death penalty for political purposes hours after a Chinese court upheld a death sentence for Robert Schellenberg, a Canadian detained in a drug case.

The Higher People’s Court of China’s Liaoning province rejected an appeal by Mr Schellenberg, whose 15-year prison term on drug smuggling charges was increased to a death sentence in 2019.

China imposing the “death penalty for political reasons is inexcusable”, opposition leader Mr O’Toole said.

Mr Schellenberg’s appeal against his death sentence has been rejected by a Chinese court

A day after Mr O’Toole’s comments, China jailed Michael Spavor – a Canadian businessman who ran an organisation promoting investment and tourism in North Korea – for 11 years on spying charges.

Spavor has been detained since 2018. He and Canadian former diplomat Michael Kovrig, whose fate remains unclear, were both arrested and months later accused of espionage.

Almost two years after his detention, Mr Spavor was tried on 19 March this year. Mr Kovrig was on trial on 22 March with the verdict planned to be announced at an unspecified later date.

Mr Spavor was sentenced to 11 years in prison after having been detained since 2018

The trials were held in closed courts in accordance of China’s Rules of Criminal Procedure for national security cases.

China has been criticised for treating the pair as bargaining chips – in what has been described as “hostage diplomacy”.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau described Mr Spavor’s case as “absolutely unacceptable and unjust”, and Mr Kovrig’s arrest “arbitrary”.

After Mr Spavor’s sentencing, Canadian foreign minister Marc Garneau slammed what he called a completely unjustified verdict after “a mock sham trial.”

Mr Kovrig’s fate remains unclear after he was detained and tried on espionage charges

There is also a diplomatic row between China and Canada over the extradition of Meng Wanzhou – a senior executive at Chinese tech giant Huawei, a company set up by her father – to the US.

Ms Meng, whose also goes by the name Cathy Meng, was arrested and detained in Vancouver in connection with possible violations of trade sanctions on Iran. Shortly after her arrest, Mr Spavor and Mr Kovrig were detained in China.

Canada has said that the cases of Meng and the two detained Canadians are linked. China has consistently denied the charge.

The Canadian men were detained in China after Ms Meng (pictured) was detained in Canada

In July this year, the European Parliament overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on diplomatic officials to boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

Also, more than 180 human rights groups – in support of Tibet, Taiwan, the Uighur Muslim community in China, and Hong Kong – have called for a boycott of the games over violations of human rights.

In an open letter published in February, they called on governments to “commit to a diplomatic boycott” of the event to ensure it was not used to “embolden” the Chinese government, as they claimed the 2008 Summer Olympics had done.

In response to the letter, Wang Wenbin, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, had said at the time that boycotts would “not be supported by the international community and will never succeed”.

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