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Federal leaders campaign while Kovrig, Spavor mark 1,000 days imprisoned in China

The Liberals have faced criticism from some over their handling of Kovrig and Spavor’s ongoing detentions
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau makes remarks on gun control during the Canadian federal election campaign in Markham, Ont., on Sunday, September 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Canada’s federal leaders spent part of their time on the campaign trail Sunday expressing support for two men who have now been detained in China for 1,000 days.

Sunday also saw Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole flip-flop on a key part of his gun policy following several days of Liberal attacks over his party’s plan to lift the ban on so-called ‘assault-style’ firearms ushered in last year.

During a campaign stop in the Greater Toronto Area, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau continued with some of those attacks during a campaign stop north of Toronto, hours before O’Toole reversed his position and said he would maintain the 2020 ban and subject it to a review if voted into office on Sept. 20.

But Trudeau opened his morning remarks by acknowledging today was a difficult one for the relatives of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

He says he spoke with both men’s families to assure them the international community and Canadians stood behind them, and pledged his government wouldn’t rest until both men are freed.

“I can assure you that this government over the past 1,000 days has put forward all the different range of tools that we have to put pressure on the Chinese government to return Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, on our allies to influence them and to have them advocate for us,” said Trudeau.

“We’ve been significantly more successful than the previous government was because we use all the tools at our disposal, usually not shouting in the public square. We usually lean in, and put pressure on those countries in various ways to ensure that we can get Canadians home in a way that is quiet and effective.”

Chinese officials arrested the men out of what Canada believes to be retaliation for the RCMP’s arrest of Huawei Technologies chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in December 2018 while she travelled through the Vancouver airport.

She was arrested on an extradition request from the United States, where officials want her to be prosecuted for allegedly violating U.S. sanctions against Iran.

New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh said Sunday he can’t imagine what these past 1,000 days have been like for Kovrig and Spavor, who are without the human rights and dignities afforded to those in Canada’s criminal justice system.

“We’re going to renew our calls that we’ve got to do everything possible, everything we can working with our international allies to continue to apply pressure on China to secure the release of these Canadians, of our fellow Canadians,” he said during an announcement in Ottawa.

The Liberal government has faced criticism from some over its handling of Kovrig and Spavor’s ongoing detentions.

The Conservatives, in particular, have said the Liberals have been soft on their policy towards a more authoritarian China, and promised to take a tougher approach if they form government on Sept. 20

In his election platform, leader Erin O’Toole pledges to negotiate new trade agreements with nations in the Indo-Pacific and Africa so Canada doesn’t have to rely as heavily on China, as well as work with international allies in hopes of “decoupling” their supply chains from the Chinese regime.

The Conservatives also promise to ban Huawei from Canada’s 5G infrastructure and advise universities against partnering with Chinese “state-controlled” companies.

“I’ve often said China might be much larger in terms of population and economy, but they can learn a lot from us with respect to engagement for human rights, dignity and the rule of law,” O’Toole said at a campaign stop in Vancouver.

“Our sanctions would be meant to highlight the fact that the two Michaels are in prison as diplomatic pawns. That is unacceptable for a country that projects itself as a world-leading country. We’d like to push the communist regime to do better.”

While campaigning in British Columbia on a promise to put more RCMP officers in communities to combat gangs and drugs, O’Toole clarified that if he forms government, a ban the Liberals placed on firearms that were reclassified last year would remain in place.

In May 2020, Trudeau’s government banned some 1,500 firearm models, including the popular AR-15 rifle and the Ruger Mini-14, used in some of the country’s deadliest shootings.

O’Toole had promised to repeal the order-in-council that instituted the ban, but after several days of attacks from the Liberals about striking a deal with the country’s gun lobby, he clarified the ban would stay in place and conduct a review of Canada’s system for classifying firearms.

Gun policy was the focus of Trudeau’s campaigning efforts as well, as the Liberal Leader promised to further tighten the rules imposed last year.

Speaking in Markham, Ont., Trudeau said the Liberals would offer owners of affected weapons the option of selling them to the government or having them rendered inoperable.

He also discussed a platform promise to limit the number of rounds high-capacity gun magazines can hold and a $1 billion pledge to help provinces and territories ban handguns.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press