Rights groups call on Trudeau to raise plight of prisoners held in China on trip

OTTAWA — A Montreal woman whose father has been imprisoned in China wants Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to press for the release of him and more than a dozen other prisoners, but she isn’t optimistic.

It has been more than 15 years since Ti-Anna Wang last saw her father, Wang Bingzhang, who has been in solitary confinement in China after his arrest and trial for trying to foster democracy — a legal process widely derided as a sham.

Wang pressed her case with Trudeau last year when he first visited China, but she’s sensing a momentum in Sino-Canadian relations that leaves her discouraged: the focus, she says, is all about deepening trade ties with China, and not speaking frankly about human rights.

“It speaks volumes about what our government prioritizes in terms of importance,” Wang said Thursday. “It’s indicative of a misguided hierarchy of values.”

Her father, one of the first generation of Chinese students permitted to travel abroad, got his doctorate at Montreal’s McGill University, but was abducted by Chinese agents in Vietnam in 2002 and taken to China, where he was convicted.

The Wang case is one of 16 that a coalition of Canadian human rights groups led by Amnesty International wants Trudeau to raise directly with Chinese leadership after he touches down in Beijing next week.

In addition to that list of political prisoners adopted by Amnesty, the daughter of two Canadian winery owners from British Columbia who have been held by Chinese authorities renewed her plea for Trudeau to help her family.

Amy Chang, 24, told Trudeau in a letter this week that last 20 months have been a “nightmare” since her parents, John Chang and Allison Lu, were jailed after a customs dispute with the government.

Trudeau will be paying his second visit to China in 16 months, part of a renewed push by the government to deepen economic relations.

In announcing his return trip, Trudeau’s office emphasized the need to strengthen trade, investment and job creation. He also plans to continue frank dialogue with China on topics like human rights and good governance.

Amnesty Secretary General Alex Neve says in a letter to Trudeau that the human rights situation has deteriorated since his visit to China last year.

That includes a clampdown on human rights lawyers and moves to curtail freedom of assembly and expression, says Neve.

The fact that so many Canadians or people with Canadian connections are behind bars in China has consequences for any future trade deal, he said.

“Now is the time to be very serious about this when we are considering taking the Canada-China relationship to even deeper levels.”

The coalition wants Canada to push for mandatory human rights assessments in any potential free trade negotiation with China.

International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne appears to be playing down expectations that Trudeau will announce formal trade talks next week.

The minister said in a speech Thursday that Canada wants to ensure a level playing field for small- and medium-sized companies. And he suggested human rights would be part of the discussion.

“Canada has always set a bar and has always sought to move the dial for human progress through engagement.”

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