Special Canada-China parliamentary committee holding first meeting in Ottawa

Canada China

A new special parliamentary committee created to examine Canada's fraught relationship with China is holding its first meeting in Ottawa.

The committee's creation was the result of a Conservative motion passed in December, thanks to support from other opposition parties in the minority Parliament.

The motion authorizes the committee to order the prime minister, Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and Canada's ambassador to China, Dominic Barton, to appear as witnesses ``from time to time as the committee sees fit.''

Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O'Toole said in December the committee will work to address Canada's current diplomatic dispute with China and help develop a specialized approach to easing the bilateral challenges between the two nations.

Thirteen months ago, China detained two Canadian citizens, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who remain imprisoned without access to lawyers or their families.

The move has been widely seen as retaliation for Canada's arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at the behest of the United States, which wants to extradite her on fraud charges related to U.S. sanctions against Iran.

The all-party Canada-China relations committee convened Monday afternoon and was dealing with a series of procedural issues.

Before the meeting, Conservative deputy leader Leona Alleslev said Canada's ambassador to Canada, Dominic Barton, told her in an email that he is ``ready and willing'' to testify.

She said it was important that he testify first because he could help the committee understand the government's strategy towards China.

Liberal MP Rob Oliphant, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs, said government MPs on the committee want to work constructively with the opposition.

``We will operate in good faith,'' he told reporters before the meeting. ``We have Canadian lives at stake, and we're going to take that very seriously.''

The meeting comes as Meng's extradition hearing begins in Vancouver.

China's foreign ministry reiterated its call for Canada to release Meng.

``The U.S. and Canada abused their bilateral extradition treaty and arbitrarily took compulsory measures against a Chinese citizen without cause,'' said spokesman Geng Shuang, according to translated remarks on his ministry's website.

``This is entirely a serious political incident that grossly violates the legitimate rights and interests of the Chinese citizen.''

Meng is free on bail and living in one of her two multimillion-dollar homes in Vancouver.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2020.