I call the meeting of the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations to order.
Our meeting this morning will consist of two parts.
The first hour, of course, will be on consular affairs, and the second hour will be on Canada's extradition process.
As colleagues know, tomorrow evening from 5:30 to 7:30 we'll meet and have Ambassador Barton.
On Thursday, the subcommittee will meet from 11 a.m. until noon.
Our first witnesses this morning, from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, are Heather Jeffrey, assistant deputy minister, consular, security and emergency management; and Mr. Brian Szwarc, director general, consular operations.
Good morning. I think you have a 10-minute presentation. Please go ahead.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Members of the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations, I'm very pleased to appear before the committee today to provide a briefing on consular services, with a particular focus on the People's Republic of China.
My name is Heather Jeffrey. I'm the assistant deputy minister of consular, security and emergency management at Global Affairs Canada.
This is my colleague, Brian Szwarc, the director general for consular operations.
I will begin my presentation this morning by giving you an overview of the consular services provided to Canadians. I will then summarize the consular relationship with China, as well as our cases and the consular trends in that country. I will conclude by telling you about some of our most high profile cases in China.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs is responsible for the provision of consular services to Canadians abroad. These services are delivered by Global Affairs Canada and are guided by the Canadian Consular Services Charter.
Canadian representatives provide consular services 24/7 through more than 260 points of service across 150 countries and through the Emergency Watch and Response Centre, in Ottawa.
In order to provide relevant information to Canadians during their travels abroad, Global Affairs Canada makes use of two tools. The department's travel advice and advisories provide information on safe travel to more than 200 destinations, and the registration of Canadians abroad service enables government officials to contact Canadians in emergency situations. The Canadian Consular Services Charter details the services that Canadian government officials can provide to Canadians abroad.
These services include, for example, helping in a medical emergency by providing a list of local doctors and hospital services, providing victims of crime with advice and contact information for local police and medical services, assisting in cases of missing persons or the abduction of a child to another country, and the replacement of passports. In cases of arrest or detention, authorities are obligated by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations to advise foreign nationals of their right of access to a consular representative. Once Canada is notified of the detention of a Canadian citizen, the first priority of consular officials is to seek immediate access to that person to determine their safety and well-being.
In such cases, consular officials would advocate for equal treatment in accordance with local laws, liaise with family and legal representatives, and provide detainees with information on the local judicial and prison systems. Our officials offer consular support to all Canadian citizens, regardless of whether they carry another citizenship. However, many foreign states, such as China, do not recognize dual citizenship and might refuse to allow consular access to individuals they consider to be citizens only of their own country. This is a situation that consular officials deal with regularly in the Chinese context.
In total, about 175,000 new cases have been opened throughout our consular network in 2019. The vast majority of cases are of a routine or administrative nature, such as passport services or proof of citizenship applications, and they are generally addressed quickly by our missions abroad.
However, some 6,700 cases are more complex. In general, these are cases where Canadians need help dealing with a difficult situation abroad, such as a death, an arrest or a detention, a crime, a medical problem or issues with child care. The United States, Mexico and China are the countries with the largest number of those complex consular cases.
It is important to note that protecting the personal information of our consular clients is paramount. Consular officials are obliged to work within the parameters set by the Privacy Act. For this reason, the government is often very limited in what details it can provide publicly regarding specific consular cases.
With this overview of consular services offered by the Government of Canada, I will now provide some details specific to our consular services in China. Let me begin by giving a brief update on Canada's response to the novel coronavirus.
The current outbreak is of deep concern to Canadians in China, as well as in Canada. Actions are being taken to assist the impacted Canadians in Wuhan. As Deputy Minister Morgan informed you last week, Canada has secured a charter flight to bring Canadians from Wuhan, China to Canada, and we are finalizing arrangements with Chinese authorities to allow this flight to depart as soon as possible.
Global Affairs Canada is working closely with the Public Health Agency of Canada to provide relevant and timely travel and health information to Canadians in relation to the outbreak. Our travel advice was updated on January 24 to advise Canadians to avoid all travel to the province of Hubei due to the imposition of heavy travel restrictions in order to limit the spread of the virus. On January 29, we further updated the advisory to recommend against non-essential travel to China as a whole due to the outbreak.
Overall, in 2019 alone, consular officials opened 375 new cases in greater China. These include cases of arrest and detention, medical assistance, assault, well-being and whereabouts. There are currently 123 Canadians in custody in greater China. This figure is inclusive of Canadians in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. I want to stress that the number of Canadians in custody in China has remained stable over the last year.
The provision of consular services to Canadians in China is governed by a bilateral agreement signed by Canada and China more than 20 years ago. This agreement, which is available publicly, details the consular obligations and entitlements of our two countries in order to facilitate the protection of the rights and interests of our citizens.
I will now summarize some of the most high profile cases concerning China, which I think are of special interest to the committee.
Given the public nature of this meeting, I am limited by the provisions of the Privacy Act when it comes to personal information I can share.
The Government of Canada is extremely concerned by the cases of Canadians arbitrarily detained or facing the death penalty in China. Canadian representatives at all levels have raised those concerns with their Chinese counterparts, and they will continue to do so.
Canada opposes the use of the death penalty in all cases everywhere. Aligned with this principle, the Government of Canada seeks clemency for all Canadians facing the death penalty. Canada has raised with China our firm position on the death penalty, and we have called on China to grant clemency to Canadians facing this sentence.
In the cases of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, the Government of Canada has been unwavering in its position and in calling for their immediate release and return to Canada. As you will no doubt be aware, Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor were detained by Chinese authorities on December 10, 2018, accused of posing a threat to China's national security. They were formally arrested on May 6, 2019.
Officials at the Embassy of Canada to China have had regular consular access to Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor since their detention in December 2018, conducting consular visits on an approximately monthly basis. The latest consular visit to Mr. Spavor took place on January 13, and to Mr. Kovrig on January 14, led by Ambassador Barton. The Government of Canada has been very clear that these two Canadians have been unacceptably and arbitrarily detained. We will continue to call for their immediate release.
Mr. Robert Schellenberg was detained by Chinese authorities in 2014 and charged with drug smuggling. He was initially sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment, but at a December 2018 appeal hearing, a Chinese court ordered a retrial. The next month a judge overturned the initial verdict and issued a death sentence. Mr. Schellenberg appealed the death sentence, and a hearing took place in May 2019. The verdict is pending.
Canada has strongly condemned the sentence of death imposed on Mr. Schellenberg at his retrial, and we expressed our extreme concern that China chose to arbitrarily apply the death penalty in his case. We have called on China to grant clemency to Mr. Schellenberg.
The particular cases that I've highlighted today represent only a few cases of the Canadian citizens in custody in China. While privacy considerations limit me from providing any details on specific cases, I want to stress that Canadian officials, both here and in China, are actively engaged on all of these cases and will continue to raise concerns with Chinese authorities.
Thank you for the opportunity to present this consular overview to the committee. We look forward to your questions.
Mr. Chair, we began with reporting through our emergency watch and response centre, which is actually an emergency management tool that conducts a bit of a watch on what's happening globally around the world. We have situation reporting to inform people of developing situations.
In the case of the coronavirus, we began in January to track the spread of that virus. On January 26, we stood up an emergency response team when we saw the measures being taken by the Government of China to control the spread of that virus and the challenges that it was putting in place for local residents in Hubei province in particular.
I would say that, at the time, the full extent of the Canadian presence in Hubei province was not immediately evident. We don't have a consulate in that province. At the time there was only a very small number of Canadians who were actually registered through the registry of Canadians abroad as being resident in Hubei.
I would say, generally, that when Canadians feel in a more secure or safe place they tend not to think about registering with the government when they travel. They do so, I think, in what they perceive as more dangerous or hostile areas. In this case, I think we had only about 38 Canadians registered. Now we know that there are many more—we're up to 565 Canadians registered in Hubei province. About eight or nine days ago we had no requests for consular assistance. Those requests have obviously escalated.
Currently, all the requests we have in Hubei are from Canadians seeking assistance to depart. We have no cases of Canadians who are ill with the virus who are looking for our help to leave the province. We've been working with the Government of China to obtain those permissions.
Obviously, a response and evacuation out of a quarantine zone in a country such as China poses some unique challenges. Every emergency response is different, and this one indeed has a lot of complexity to it. We immediately put in place a process to put together the evacuation flight and seek the necessary permissions. We required visas from the Chinese government, and we required overflight clearances from a number of countries, some of which have closed their airspace in recent days. All of those challenges have been met and overcome, and we are now not that far away from removing the first tranche of Canadians from that situation.
But it does require a very detailed response. We had to send a ground team into Wuhan, so we now have a consular team on the ground in Wuhan city. They are preparing the logistics for the departure. We've been working with local authorities, completing the manifests of passengers and also compiling all the details that are required for ground movements in an area under such severe quarantine restrictions. People have to inform us of their routings, about how they're going to get to the airport—
The Government of China has taken different measures in different areas to respond to the spread of the coronavirus in an effort to impede its continued extension. Hubei province is the focus of attention because of the particular restrictions around travel in and out of that province. For example, it required special permissions for our consular team to enter Hubei province. It is closed to traffic. Canadians in Hubei province have been telling us in their conversations with us that they have been instructed to stay in their homes and to avoid gatherings.
Many of these types of measures to impede the spread of the virus—in terms of avoiding large groups and these types of things—actually would align with the advice that we take, which is given by the Public Health Agency of Canada as the expert body in Canada that advises us. We have been consulting with them. They've provided advice to us in terms of how to protect not only our staff but also Canadians on the ground. The measures are the same that they have spoken about here in Canada: frequent washing of hands, avoiding contact, self-isolation and these kinds of things. We've also provided advice on what to do to avoid exposing others if you have symptoms.
They've also advised us on the types of protective kit that we should be using. For our flights, we have very detailed medical advice on how those flights will take place. We will have a DND medical team on board the aircraft to provide medical assistance to Canadians who might need it inflight.
In terms of the evacuation, I would just underline that the Government of China will be conducting medical checks. Given the nature and the reasoning behind the quarantine, they have informed us that no one who is symptomatic will be allowed to depart Hubei province. They will be conducting medical checks on entry to the airport, inside the airport. We will also be conducting, through DND medical personnel, checks before Canadians board the aircraft, to ensure everyone's safety and security.
Thank you for the work you do. Obviously a lot of resources are given to your department and, like all of us, when you give someone resources, you expect people to use them wisely.
I would like to make a quick statement, especially for new members of Parliament, on embassies and consulates.
When members of Parliament could no longer contact the embassies and consulates directly on behalf of their constituents for routine matters—this occurred right after the Liberals took office in 2015—I have to say, from my own experience as a constituency worker, that it complicated things. It also insulates those consulates from the general public, as does, I believe, the Privacy Act. I believe it gives too much insulation for the government.
I would like to see a little more transparency from your department when it comes to these things, because ultimately all our salaries are paid for by the public, and it shouldn't take a crisis for people to start getting basic information specifically.
I'm going to be focusing largely on those matters today, Mr. Chair.
There are no publicly available statistics on the number of Canadians in China and the number of consular cases, so could you start by saying how many Canadians are currently in mainland China and in Hong Kong? Also, how do those figures compare to previous years?
Extradition is the process by which an accused or convicted person located in one country is surrendered to another country, pursuant to a request by an extradition partner, to face trial or the imposition or enforcement of a sentence. Extradition is an important tool of international cooperation used by Canadian and foreign police and prosecutors to fight serious crime at a global level.
The is responsible for the administration of the Extradition Act and the implementation of Canada's extradition agreements, and for dealing with requests for extradition to and from Canada. At the surrender stage, the minister must personally determine whether to order the person surrendered to the requesting state. The minister's authority under the Extradition Act is otherwise, in large part, delegated to legal counsel in the international assistance group, or IAG, a group within the Department of Justice. The IAG receives the request for extradition and the request for provisional arrest warrants, which are used in urgent circumstances to arrest a person before the extradition request is received. The IAG determines whether to seek a provisional arrest warrant and whether to proceed with an extradition request. In this function, the IAG's role can be likened to prosecutorial discretion and is not subject to political influence.
Canada may extradite only to an extradiction partner, which is defined in the Extradition Act as a state or entity with which Canada has a bilateral or applicable multilateral treaty, with which Canada has entered into a specific agreement, or whose name is listed in a schedule to the act. Canada has 51 bilateral extradition treaty partners, and there are 34 designated partners identified in the Extradition Act. Canada is also party to several multilateral conventions containing provisions on extradition, such as the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crimes, the United Nations Convention against the Illicit Trafficking in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, and the United Nations Convention against Corruption.
There are three key stages to the extradition process in Canada. First is the issuance of the authority to proceed, the decision by the IAG exercising the delegated function of the minister to authorize the commencement of extradition proceedings before the Canadian courts. Second is the extradition hearing, which is also referred to as the judicial phase of the extradition process. Finally, there is the ministerial phase. This is the decision of the minister on whether to order the surrender of the person sought for extradition to the requesting state.
Having provided that general overview, I'll hand it over to my colleague, Ms. Henchey.
We started by mentioning that there are three phases, but there is a possible preliminary phase, which is a request for a provisional arrest warrant. The Extradition Act and Canada's extradition agreements allow parties to apply for provisional arrest under urgent circumstances in order to avoid the flight of a particular person.
In such circumstances, the provisional arrest, if it's approved through the issuance of an authority to arrest, precedes the other three steps. The material submitted to Canada by the requesting state in support of a request for provisional arrest is reviewed by the IAG, the international assistance group, acting on behalf of the minister. The IAG determines whether there is sufficient basis to proceed with this provisional arrest request and, if so, proceeds to request from a judge the issuance of a warrant.
A provisional arrest warrant may be issued by a superior court judge if he or she is satisfied that there are grounds of urgency, the person is in Canada or on their way to Canada and a warrant for the person's arrest has been issued in the requesting state. Where a person has been provisionally arrested, the requesting state must submit a formal request for extradition within a specific period of time following the provisional arrest, and that period is specified in the applicable treaty. Otherwise, the person must be discharged from the extradition process.
When a formal extradition request is received, it is reviewed by the IAG to determine if it meets the requirements of the Extradition Act and the treaty. In assessing whether an authority to proceed should issue, the IAG will check that the request concerns extraditable conduct within the meaning of section 3 of the act. This means that the party seeking detention is an “extradition partner”; that the person is being sought for prosecution or for the imposition of a sentence; that, subject to a relevant extradition agreement, the foreign offence in respect of which the extradition is requested is punishable by the extradition partner by imprisoning or otherwise depriving them of their liberty for a maximum term of two years or more; and that the alleged criminal conduct, had it occurred in Canada, would have constituted an offence in Canada.
As a matter of practice, the IAG also examines whether the request is likely to be successful at the extradition hearing and before the minister by looking at factors that are taken into consideration at those stages, such as the sufficiency of the evidence and the country conditions in the requesting state. If the IAG does issue the authority to proceed, this authorizes the commencement of the extradition proceedings before a superior court judge in the province where the person is located. The authority to proceed constitutes the authority of the judge to embark upon the hearing.
The extradition hearing, which is also known as a committal hearing, takes place before a superior court judge, who must decide whether to commit the person for extradition based on the evidence provided by the requesting state. Counsel for the Attorney General of Canada will file this evidence before the court at the hearing, normally in the form of something called “the record of the case”, which is a certified summary of the evidence available in support of extradition. This is also provided to the person sought, in advance of the hearing. As Canada has an open court system, all materials filed before the courts are generally available to the public unless otherwise ordered by the court.
At the hearing, the judge decides if the evidence presented on behalf of the requesting state by the Attorney General of Canada would justify a committal for trial in Canada had that conduct taken place here. This is known as the double criminality test. If the judge is satisfied that the evidence meets this test, he or she will order the person committed for extradition and the matter will move on to the ministerial phase. If the judge discharges the person from the extradition process, that concludes the proceedings.
At the committal hearing, the counsel for the person sought may bring various motions, raise objections and seek additional time to prepare, all of which makes it difficult to predict how long any given extradition hearing will take to run its course.
Once the extradition hearing is concluded, if there's a committal it moves on to the ministerial phase, where the Minister of Justice must personally determine whether to order the person surrendered to the requesting state. The grounds on which the minister may order or refuse surrender derive from three sources: the Extradition Act, the relevant treaty or agreement and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Counsel for the person sought for extradition may choose to make written confidential submissions to the minister to assist him in making his decision. These submissions may be in respect of any ground that might justify a refusal of surrender or justify placing a condition on an order of surrender.
The submissions made to the minister are not public, unless the minister orders the person's surrender and that person then seeks a judicial review of the decision. Then it would be filed in court.
Mr. Chair, if I have enough time, I want to come back to the issue of the proposal to exchange prisoners.
I would like to remind our friend and colleague Mr. Fragiskatos that, when he talked about the opposition, I would have preferred if he had specified that it was the official opposition. Obviously, neither my colleague from the NDP nor I are associated with the comments that have been made so far. However, the fact still remains that this is a relevant issue insofar as, first of all, that idea seems to me totally unacceptable for at least three reasons.
First, they want to make a two-for-one exchange. That on its own seems totally unacceptable to me.
Second, since the beginning, Canada has consistently claimed that this process has to do with the rule of law. Since we are now in the second stage, which is the judicial stage, how could we bypass the judicial process in a so-called rule of law to reach a political agreement between the two countries? That is my second concern.
Third, it should be recognized that, on the surface, such an agreement between China and Canada would practically be an invitation to all authoritarian regimes of the world to imprison Canadians and then potentially have a prisoner exchange.
I know that this idea may have been stealthily considered by the government, although it has been categorically rejected since. I recognize this. Clearly, this idea seems totally unreasonable to me.
Does my analysis make sense to you?