Canada’s ambassador to China has been allowed to speak virtually to two Canadians held on spying charges.

It is the second such contact for the men, who have not met with a diplomat since visits were suspended in January because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Michael Kovrig Michael Spavor
Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. File photo: Twitter.

Relations between Beijing and Ottawa have spiralled since the detention of former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor nearly two years ago.

Chinese security services swooped on them days after the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on a US warrant, in what has been seen as a retaliatory move.

Canada’s foreign affairs ministry said Dominic Barton, Canada’s ambassador to China, was given “virtual consular access” to Spavor on November 10, and to Kovrig on November 19. 

“The Canadian government remains deeply concerned by the arbitrary detention by Chinese authorities of these two Canadians since December 2018 and continues to call for their immediate release,” a statement released on Thursday said.

The ministry said officials “continue to provide consular services” to the men and their families.

Visits were made regularly to the pair last year, but were halted after January. China later said all consular visits had been put on hold to tamp down the spread of Covid-19.

Meng Wanzhou
Meng Wanzhou. File photo: Huawei.

After the October consular access, Kovrig’s wife Vina Nadjibulla told Canadian media her husband had been “greatly relieved to receive news from the outside world” and was shocked to learn about the scale of the coronavirus pandemic.

China has responded to Canadian complaints about the pair’s treatment with accusations of “double standards”.

“What Canada has done to Meng Wanzhou is arbitrary detention,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters last month.

Meng, who is Huawei’s chief financial officer, is charged with bank fraud related to violations of US sanctions against Iran, and has been fighting extradition to the US ever since. She is living in Vancouver while she is out on bail. 

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