Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to dispatch an envoy was key to securing the release of a Canadian pastor imprisoned in North Korea, says a Canadian with knowledge of the case.
As was first reported in state-run media in North Korea, Daniel Jean, the national security and intelligence adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, led a delegation to the capital city of Pyongyang to discuss the case of Toronto Presbyterian minister Rev. Hyeon Soo Lim.
The Canadian, who spoke to CBC News and asked not to be identified, said the six-member delegation arrived on Aug. 6. The outcome — Lim’s release — was a certainty from North Korea’s perspective, but Canadian officials were still not sure it was a done deal.
“Right up until the very end, I guess our government did not trust the process,” said the source, who had knowledge of the events leading up to Lim’s release.
State-run North Korean media reported Lim was freed on “sick bail … from the humanitarian viewpoint.”
Lim was arrested in February 2015, when the Conservative government of Stephen Harper was in office, and was sentenced in December of that year to a life of hard labour for allegedly trying to overthrow the regime.
The Canadian said the scenario could have played out more simply and swiftly if the federal government had agreed earlier to provide high-level communication. After a foreign national receives a life sentence, only the North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un can grant clemency according to the Constitution, the source said.
No details confirmed
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office would not confirm any details about Lim’s release and it is not known when he is expected to arrive in Canada.
Lim’s release comes after Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old U.S. student, died one week after his release from North Korea after 17 months in prison. He returned in a coma, and his family believes he was tortured and left in a vegetative state.
Jack Kim, special adviser for HanVoice, a group that advocates for human rights in North Korea, said the timing of Lim’s release could be related to the Warmbier case as well as the pastor’s reported ailing health. North Korea holds all the cards, as no Western countries have any leverage with the regime, he said.
North Korea also uses high-profile cases as a domestic…