Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has fired Canada’s ambassador to China after the envoy said it would be “great” if the US dropped its extradition request for Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.
Mr Trudeau said he had asked for and accepted John McCallum’s resignation on Friday night (local time).
Mr McCallum made the remark to a Vancouver StarMetro journalist at a charity lunch on Friday.
That came a day after he issued a statement that said he misspoke about the case earlier in the week and regretted saying Ms Wanzhou had a strong case against extradition.
The arrest of the daughter of the founder of Chinese tech giant Huawei at Vancouver’s airport on December 1 severely damaged relations between China and Canada.
The US alleges that she violated its sanctions on Iran by misleading banks about Huawei’s business dealings in the country.
“Last night I asked for and accepted John McCallum’s resignation as Canada’s ambassador to China,” Mr Trudeau said in a statement.
Mr Trudeau said Jim Nickel, the deputy head of mission at the Canadian embassy in Beijing, would represent the Canadian government in China.
He thanked Mr McCallum, a former minister in Mr Trudeau’s Cabinet, for his 20 years of public service.
Beijing’s ‘hostage’ diplomacy
China detained two Canadian diplomats shortly after Ms Meng’s arrest, which Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College at the Australian National University, warned was a troubling example of Beijing’s retaliation in an article in the Australian Financial Review.
“This is another case of what is becoming known as ‘hostage diplomacy’ by the Chinese party-state,” he wrote.
A few weeks after Ms Meng’s arrest, a Chinese court sentenced a Canadian convicted of drug smuggling to death, after the defendant appealed against an earlier 15-year prison term.
Mr McCallum told Chinese media in the Toronto area earlier in the week that the extradition of Ms Meng to the United States “would not be a happy outcome”.
He suggested the case was politically motivated and said the US could make a trade deal with China in which it would no longer seek her extradition, and two Canadians detained in China could then be released.
But on Thursday the ambassador walked back the remarks and said he “misspoke”.
Termination leaves ‘nobody feeling good’: PMO source
Mr Trudeau had earlier dismissed calls to fire Mr McCallum.
But the Prime Minister and his foreign minister Chrystia Freeland had also stressed that Canada’s government could not interfere politically in the case.
The leader of the opposition Conservative Party, Andrew Scheer, said Mr McCallum should have been fired days ago because his remarks raised concerns about the politicisation of Ms Meng’s case.
Mr Scheer said his remarks caused damage to Canada’s reputation by delivering different messages through different media on different days.
Mr McCallum’s remarks surprised many and fuelled speculation that Canada might be trying to send a signal to China to reduce tensions.
A year ago, Mr McCallum also made controversial comments about how Canada had more in common with China than the United States under President Donald Trump.
Mr McCallum has strong personal ties to China, and he pointed out to Chinese-language media this week that his wife was of Chinese ethnicity and his three sons had Chinese spouses.
An anonymous source in the Prime Minister’s office told the Toronto Star that “nobody was feeling good” about the former academic’s termination.
“You can walk back those comments once. Not twice,” they said.
Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said he felt bad for Mr McCallum but said it was the right thing to do.
“What is worse is this is happening in the middle of the crisis when we need all hands on deck,” Mr Saint-Jacques said.
He said China would now know that Mr McCallum was not speaking for the Canadian government.
Mr Trudeau and Ms Freeland have stressed that Canada has an extradition treaty with the US that it must respect.
The White House National Security Council declined comment on Mr McCallum’s termination.
The US has until Wednesday to submit paperwork to formalise the extradition request.