Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses the crowd as he attends Fundy Royal MP Alaina Lockhart’s nomination event in Quispamsis, N.B., on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses the crowd as he attends Fundy Royal MP Alaina Lockhart’s nomination event in Quispamsis, N.B., on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

McCallum says he ‘misspoke’ on Huawei executive’s extradition case

Comment came just hours after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau publicly defended him in the face of Conservatives demands to fire him

Canada’s ambassador to China admitted to an ill-timed and politically explosive slip of the tongue when he suggested detained Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou had a strong case to avoid extradition to the United States.

John McCallum’s surprise mea-culpa on Thursday was the latest head-snapping development in the saga of Canada’s fallout with China over Meng’s arrest. It came just hours after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau publicly defended him in the face of Conservatives demands to fire him.

“I regret that my comments with respect to the legal proceedings of Ms. Meng have created confusion. I misspoke,” McCallum, a former Liberal cabinet minister, said in a statement.

“These comments do not accurately represent my position on this issue. As the government has consistently made clear, there has been no political involvement in this process.”

McCallum’s candid comments about Meng’s legal case, made Tuesday to Chinese-language journalists in the Toronto area, raised eyebrows and fuelled speculation they were a political ploy to end Ottawa’s deepening diplomatic crisis with China.

McCallum not only said he thought Meng had strong legal arguments that could help her avoid extradition, he listed several arguments he thought could help her with her case. But by Thursday afternoon he was walking back those comments.

“As Canada’s Ambassador to China, I play no role in assessing any arguments or making any determinations in the extradition process,” McCallum said Thursday.

“The Canadian government’s priority — and my priority — is securing the release of the two Canadians arbitrarily detained in China and ensuring that the rights of all of our citizens are protected.”

READ MORE: Ottawa strikes $40M research deal on 5G technology with Huawei rival Nokia

In the days that followed Meng’s Dec. 1 arrest, China detained Michael Kovrig, a Canadian diplomat on leave, and Michael Spavor, an entrepreneur, on allegations of endangering China’s national security. They remain in Chinese custody.

Trudeau has called their detentions arbitrary and Western analysts believe their cases are part of an attempt by Beijing to pressure Canada into releasing Meng, whose arrest has angered the Chinese government.

Earlier Thursday, Trudeau dismissed calls to remove McCallum from his post. He said his government’s focus is on getting detained Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor home safely from China and ensuring their rights are respected and recalling McCallum wouldn’t achieve that.

“Making a change would not help release those Canadians a day sooner,” Trudeau said.

A day earlier, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called on Trudeau to fire McCallum for the remarks, which he said raised grave concerns about the politicization of the Meng case.

China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said her government “noted the relevant remarks by Ambassador McCallum” and reiterated its demand that Meng be released from her unjust detention, which she blamed on Canada and the United States.

“We have made our stern position clear,” Hua said Thursday, in translated remarks from her ministry’s website.

“In order to change the current situation, the Canadian side needs to face up to the issue squarely, take China’s solemn concerns seriously, and take measures to correct its mistakes.”

She noted Canada was acting on an extradition request from the U.S.

“We hope that the Canadian side will make the right choice instead of risking endangering itself for other’s gains,” Hua said.

At the top of McCallum’s list of Meng’s legal options was a possible defence on the grounds of political interference following comments by U.S. President Donald Trump last month that he might intervene in Meng’s case if it would help him nail down a trade deal with China.

McCallum also said Meng can argue against the extra-territorial aspect to her case and the fact the fraud allegations U.S. officials made against her are related to Iran sanctions that Canada did not sign onto.

Experts said that while McCallum’s remarks might have been controversial on the surface, the substance of his legal analysis was not far off the mark.

“In general, his comments in that respect were not out line with what some experts were saying,” said Paul Evans, a China expert at the University of British Columbia. “What was significant was he said it to basically a Chinese media audience.”

Henry Chang, a Toronto immigration lawyer, said McCallum was advancing some ”potentially viable arguments here … However, I don’t think he should be speaking so confidently since these issues will ultimately be decided by the courts.”

READ MORE: China demands U.S. drop Huawei extradition request with Canada

Trudeau stressed Thursday that Canada is following the law.

“We will always stay grounded in defence of the rule of law and the integrity of our justice system, which of course includes the capacity for people to defend themselves enthusiastically which will be fully afforded to Ms. Meng and in her rights within the Canadian justice system,” Trudeau said.

Following Meng’s arrest, China also sentenced another Canadian, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, to death in a sudden retrial of his drug-smuggling case. Schellenberg had initially been sentenced in 2016 to 15 years behind bars.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has asked for clemency for Schellenberg and has called his death penalty “inhumane.”

Mike Blanchfield and Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
253 new COVID-19 cases, 4 more deaths in Interior Health over the weekend

More than 1,000 cases in the region remain active

Earth worms are decomposers. (Photo via Pixabay)
Stoke on Science-The A-Z: D is for decomposers

Jade Harvey-Berrill Stoke on Science Below our feet, currently buried beneath the… Continue reading

Alistair Taylor has lived in Revelstoke since 2003. He is running to be a city councillor in the upcoming byelection. (Jocelyn Doll/Revelstoke Review)
Alistair Taylor running for vacant council seat

Byelection coming up in Revelstoke in February

Matt Cherry is running to be a Revelstoke City Councillor in the upcoming byelection. (Submited/Matt Stepchuck)
Matt Cherry running in Revelstoke’s byelection

Advance polls are coming up Feb. 3 and 10, with election day on Feb. 13

A juvenile sturgeon in a B.C. rearing facility. The wild population in the Upper Columbia is estimated at 1,100 individuals, enhanced with roughly 5,500 hatchery fish. (file photo)
B.C.’s Upper Columbia sturgeon endure long battle with local extinction

Decades of monitoring and intervention is ongoing to save the prehistoric fish

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C. adjusts COVID-19 vaccine rollout for delivery slowdown

Daily cases decline over weekend, 31 more deaths

Interior Health confirms vaccination of priority populations has begun in Salmon Arm. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19 vaccinations underway in Salmon Arm

Interior Health confirms vaccination of priority populations has begun

This is the location, 3240 Skaha Lake Road, of where BC Housing plans to build a four storey supportive housing project for the homeless and at risk of being homeless. (Jesse Day Western News)
Penticton mayor and MLA concerned about new BC Housing project

‘Penticton already has its fair share’ of BC Housing projects

Interior Health declared the COVID-19 outbreak at McKinney Place long term care home over Monday, Jan. 18, 2020. (File photo)
COVID-19 outbreak at McKinney Place care home declared over

‘This has been one of our most challenging outbreaks so far,’ says chief medical health officer

Penticton Bylaw officer Glenn Smith, as well as resident Zak Laycock (not pictured), received the Governor General Award from the Royal Canadian Humane Association to recognize their heroism in a summer 2019 incident. (Contributed)
Bylaw officer and Penticton resident given awards for intervening in sexual assault

Bylaw officer Glenn Smith said he was simply in the right place at the right time

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Sunnybank
COVID-19 related deaths at Oliver, West Kelowna and Vernon senior care homes

Sunnybank, Heritage Retirement Residence and Noric House recorded deaths over the weekend

Hillview Elementary students Emma Li and Mina Nadeau were awarded by the Premier’s office for winning the annual holiday card contest. (Karen Rogers photo)
North Okanagan students’ art featured on Premier’s cards

Hillview youth chosen for annual holiday card contest

A female prisoner sent Langford police officers a thank-you card after she spent days in their custody. (Twitter/West Shore RCMP)
Woman gives Victoria-area jail 4.5-star review in handwritten card to police after arrest

‘We don’t often get thank you cards from people who stay with us, but this was sure nice to see’: RCMP

Most Read