John McCallum has resigned as ambassador to China at the request of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the wake of comments he made about a Huawei executive detained in Canada.
The prime minister did not immediately issue an explanation, but the move comes just hours after the former ambassador was quoted in StarMetro Vancouver as saying it would be “great for Canada” if the United States drops an extradition request against Meng Wanzhou.
“From Canada’s point of view, if (the U.S.) drops the extradition request, that would be great for Canada,” McCallum told the Star.
That comment followed a statement McCallum issued Thursday, saying he misspoke earlier in the week when he discussed Meng Wanzhou’s case with a group of Chinese-language journalists in Toronto, listing several arguments he thought could help her with her legal fight against extradition.
The dismissal of McCallum was too little too late for Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, who had called on Trudeau to fire the ambassador on the grounds that the remarks raised concerns about the politicization of the Meng case.
“It should never have come to this,” Scheer tweeted Saturday. ”Justin Trudeau should have fired his ambassador the moment he interfered in this case. Instead, he did nothing and allowed more damage to be done. More weakness and more indecision from Trudeau on China.”
Trudeau initially came to McCallum’s defence after the first set of controversial remarks became public but before Friday’s comments. The prime minister said earlier this week that his government’s focus was on getting detained Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor home safely from China and ensuring their rights are respected — and recalling McCallum wouldn’t achieve that.
The PMO declined to comment on exactly what led to the prime minister’s change of heart about McCallum’s fate.
In a news release announcing the ambassador’s resignation, Trudeau thanked McCallum for nearly two decades of service. He noted that McCallum served as minister of immigration and refugees between 2015 and 2017, during the height of Canada’s effort to resettle Syrian refugees.
Jim Nickel, deputy head of mission at the Embassy of Canada in Beijing, will represent the country in China as charge d’affaires effective immediately, the prime minister said.
The Canadian Press