Mr. Speaker, the Canadian ambassador to China, Dominic Barton, the Prime Minister's hand-picked choice for that post, came before the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations on February 5. He spoke about his mandate. He said during his opening statement:
I want to say also that the utmost priority of my goal and objectives is to work for the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, and to seek clemency for Robert Schellenberg. That's right in the headlights, and I think about that every day.
Later in his testimony he said:
Getting to my mandate and priorities in discussions with the Prime Minister and then with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the overall objective is to restore the relationship, but with three priorities, and I would argue, one very important caveat that's in that.
First and foremost is to secure the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, and get clemency for Robert Schellenberg. That is core; that's a priority.
Notice that Ambassador Barton was not just speaking about his own personal priorities, he was speaking about the mandate he had been given by the Prime Minister. He returned to that specific formulation, “securing the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor and gaining clemency for Robert Schellenberg”, twice more during his remarks.
Certainly Canadians would expect the government to do all it can to secure the release of detained Canadians. However, when I asked about the case of another detained Canadian, Huseyin Celil, the ambassador initially appeared completely unaware of what I was talking about. He then said:
...Huseyin is not a Canadian citizenship holder, we aren't able to get access to him on a consular services side.
Mr. Celil is a Canadian citizen, and he has been in prison for a decade and a half in China. It is, frankly, a disgrace that we would appoint an ambassador who is so ignorant of something so basic, and he seemed similarly unaware of Canada's policy in the South China Sea.
This is not principally about Ambassador Barton. It is evident that the Prime Minister gave a specific mandate to the ambassador to secure the release of some Canadians, but not all Canadians, detained in China.
Why did the Prime Minister give Ambassador Barton a mandate to seek the release of some Canadians but not others? Mr. Celil is a Uighur Muslim and a dual national. Some have wondered if racism has informed the decision to omit securing the release of Mr. Celil from Ambassador Barton's mandate.
At a time when China's government denies dual nationality and when religious and ethnic minorities in China, especially Uighur Muslims, face horrific abuses of human rights, it might be convenient to throw this Muslim Canadian under the bus and ignore his fundamental human rights. It might be convenient, but it is deeply immoral and contrary to our values.
I have no doubt that the government, now pressed on this issue, will say that it cares about Mr. Celil, and I fully expect the parliamentary secretary to say that.
However, the government needs to explain why Ambassador Barton's mandate from the Prime Minister did not include securing the release of Mr. Celil. It needs to explain the mention four times of three other consular cases, but no mention of Mr. Celil during the introductory remarks.
The government must do more than just say that it cares. It must formally direct our ambassador to make securing the release of Mr. Celil a central part of his mandate. It must direct him to publicly clarify that he regards Mr. Celil as a Canadian citizen.