Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may want to focus on trade, tourism, and business opportunities during his trip to China, but there is a pressing problem threatening to knock him off his positive message.
He is facing growing pressure to resist entering free trade talks with China until a commercial dispute involving detained Canadians is resolved.
John Chang and his wife, Allison Lu, who own wineries in B.C. and Ontario, have been trapped in a diplomatic nightmare since they were arrested during a work trip to Shanghai in March of 2016.
The pair have been accused by Chinese authorities of smuggling after allegedly under-reporting the value of wine they export to Asia.
Lu has been released from custody but is not allowed to leave Shanghai, while her husband remains in a detention facility.
The couple’s daughter, Amy Chang, said this is not a criminal matter and is demanding Trudeau hold off on free trade talks until her parents are sent back to Canada.
“When you’re trying to negotiate a free trade agreement, especially between Canada and China, if you cannot protect your own citizens right now… there are more cases that are just going to come up,” Chang said in an interview with CBC News.
The 24-year-old said the matter is urgent, since her father’s health is declining. She said her father has two tumours on his liver.
“Justin Trudeau, I really hope this time when you go to China, I really hope you can bring my parents home for Christmas,” Chang added.
Case raised at highest levels
Government officials would not confirm whether Trudeau plans to bring the Chang case up during high-level meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.
But International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne told CBC Radio’s The House that Canadian officials raise the case “all the time.”
“I made sure this was understood by our Chinese counterparts that this is something that not only matters to me, but to the highest level of the Canadian government. I will continue to press for that,” Champagne said.
While he would not say if the Chang and Lu case is a deal-breaker for entering free trade talks, Champagne said Canada is committed to finding a resolution.
“I would say, what Canadians expect of us is to raise consular cases wherever…