(TORONTO) — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau fired Canada’s ambassador to China after the envoy said it would be “great” if the U.S. dropped its extradition request for a Chinese tech executive arrested in Canada.
Trudeau said Saturday that he had asked for and accepted John McCallum’s resignation Friday night.
McCallum made the remark to the Toronto Star on Friday. That came a day after he issued a statement saying he misspoke about the case earlier in the week and regretted saying Meng Wanzhou has a strong case against extradition.
The arrest of the daughter of the founder of Huawei Technologies Ltd. at Vancouver’s airport Dec. 1 severely damaged relations between China and Canada.
The U.S. wants her extradited to face charges that she committed fraud by misleading banks about Huawei’s business dealings in Iran
“Last night I asked for and accepted John McCallum’s resignation as Canada’s Ambassador to China,” Trudeau said in a statement.
Trudeau said Jim Nickel, the deputy head of mission at the Canadian Embassy in Beijing, would represent his government in China. He thanked McCallum, a former minister in Trudeau’s Cabinet, for his 20 years of public service.
China detained two Canadians shortly after Meng’s arrest in an apparent attempt to pressure Canada to release her. A Chinese court also sentenced a Canadian to death in a sudden retrial of a drug case, overturning a 15-year prison term handed down earlier.
McCallum told Chinese media in the Toronto area earlier in the week that the extradition of Meng to the United States “would not be a happy outcome.” He also suggested the case was politically motivated.
But on Thursday he walked back the remarks and said he “misspoke.”
Trudeau earlier this week dismissed calls to fire McCallum, but he clearly had enough after McCallum spoke off script again. Trudeau and Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland have stressed that Canada’s government can’t interfere politically in the case.
The leader of the opposition Conservative Party, Andrew Scheer, had said McCallum should be fired because his remarks raised concerns about the politicization of the Meng case.
“It should never have come to this. 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,” Scheer tweeted after the firing was announced.
McCallum’s remarks surprised many and fueled speculation that Canada might be trying to send a signal to China to reduce tensions.
Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said Friday that McCallum’s remarks about how Canada would like to see the U.S. drop the case “are true but he should have kept his mouth shut.”