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

Nuxalk College undertakes language digitization project

New tapes from over 50 years ago are set to be digitally transcribed

B.C. premier talks forestry, service needs with handful of northern mayors in Prince George

Prince George meeting completes premier’s tour of Kitimat, Terrace, Fort St. James and Quesnel

Bella Coola under another winter storm warning

Freezing rain is expected by this afternoon

‘Scariest boat ride of my life’: Passengers trapped by ice on rocky Nimpkish ferry sailing

The ferry docked in Bella Coola on Jan.12 coated in a thick layer of ice

Heiltsuk Nation calls probe into arrest of Indigenous man at bank ‘woefully inadequate’

Maxwell Johnson and his 12-year-old granddaughter had been at a Bank of Montreal branch in Vancouver on Dec. 20

Victoria police arrest 12 anti-pipeline protesters supporting Wet’suwet’en

‘We are unarmed, they have guns,’ protesters chanted on Wednesday morning

Man killed by police in Lytton called 911, asking to be shot: RCMP

Howard Schantz, also known as Barry Schantz was killed following a standoff at his Lytton home

Canadian public health agencies ramping up preparations in response to new virus

Health officials have said there are no confirmed cases of the emerging coronavirus in Canada

‘Naughty boy’: Monty Python star Terry Jones dies at 77

The comedian has been suffering from a rare form of dementia

Four things ‘not’ to do if you run into Prince Harry and Meghan in B.C.

Here is a list of some things you definitely should NOT do, according to the BBC

Harry and Meghan should cover their own security costs: NDP heritage critic

The prince, Meghan Markle and their eight-month-old son Archie are reportedly staying at a mansion near Victoria

Theo the 800-pound pig trimmed down and still looking for love on Vancouver Island

“He’s doing really well, lost quite a few pounds and can run now.”

Horgan unveils B.C. cabinet shuffle changes

Premier John Horgan has made three major changes to his cabinet

Dog reunited with Tofino owner, months after being taken from beach

Shannon Boothman ‘ecstatic’ at pet’s return after a tip leads to social media search

Most Read