Trudeau Fires Canadian Ambassador to China

John McCallum, former Canadian ambassador to China, pictured in 2013 (flickr).

John McCallum, former Canadian ambassador to China, pictured in 2013 (flickr).

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently announced he fired John McCallum, the Canadian ambassador to China. Trudeau released his unexpected decision in a press conference on January 26 following McCallum’s comments regarding the United States’ case against a high-profile Huawei executive.

Earlier in the week, McCallum remarked that Meng Wanzhou, the executive currently being held in Canada but facing extradition to the United States, had a “strong case” for resisting extradition. Canadian politicians were outraged at the comments, which came across as McCallum providing legal advice to the defendant.

Meng was arrested last month in Vancouver on charges of violating United States sanctions against Iran. She is the daughter of the founder of Huawei, a Chinese telecoms giant. Following her arrest, Beijing retaliated by detaining two Canadian citizens, and later, by retrying a Canadian man on drug charges and sentencing him to death.  

McCallum’s comments met with immediate backlash from Canadian opposition parties and government officials. Facing an increasingly fraught relationship with China, Canada has been careful to stress its belief in an independent judiciary and free and fair practice of the rule of law. McCallum’s remarks directly undermined the Canadian government’s careful handling of the situation. He incorrectly hinted that his statement represented a change in policy, sending a signal to Beijing that their hard-line tactics are weakening Canada’s resolve.

Echoing the majority of politicians’ sentiments, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer commented during a television interview, “If I were prime minister I would fire John McCallum. To have this type of comment is completely unacceptable and he needs to be held responsible for his actions.”

As of now, Trudeau has not made any plans to  replace McCallum public. The prime minister has attempted to shift the country’s attention to the circumstances of the two detained Canadians, remarking that “making a change would not help release those Canadians a day sooner.”