OTTAWA — Donald Trump has affirmed his respect for judicial independence, the Prime Minister's Office says, less than a month after the U.S. president baldly said he would intervene in Meng Wanzhou's pending extradition from Canada if it would help forge a trade deal with China.
In a summary of a phone call Monday between Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the PMO indicated the leaders discussed the high-profile U.S. extradition request — though Meng was not named — and agreed on the importance of respecting the independence of judges and the rule of law.
China has pressed Canada to get Meng freed from the extradition process, which Canadian politicians have replied they simply aren't allowed to do.
Trudeau also thanked Trump for the "strong statements of support" by the U.S. in response to the "arbitrary detention" of two Canadians in China, the summary says. "The two leaders agreed to continue to seek their release."
Entrepreneur Michael Spavor and fellow Canadian Michael Kovrig, a diplomat on leave from Global Affairs Canada, were taken into Chinese custody on security grounds in December.
Beijing's actions came just days after Canadian authorities in Vancouver arrested Meng, a senior executive with Chinese firm Huawei Technologies, who is wanted by the U.S. on fraud charges.
Meng's arrest infuriated Beijing, and many western analysts see China's detention of Spavor and Kovrig as retaliation.
Trudeau said at the time that Canada, which has an extradition treaty with the U.S., was merely following standard legal protocol.
Kelly Craft, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, told reporters it was "absolutely false" to assume a political motive behind Meng's arrest. However, Trump muddied the waters the same day by telling Reuters in an interview that he would "certainly intervene" in Meng's case "if I thought it was necessary" to help ensure a trade deal with China.
Canada has called for the immediate release of Kovrig and Spavor. Each man has had a single consular visit from John McCallum, Ottawa's ambassador to China.
A Canadian parliamentary delegation, long scheduled to visit China, is doing what it can this week to help secure the pair's freedom.
A Monday opinion piece in the China Daily newspaper, published by the country's Communist Party, accused Canada of acting "as a loyal adherent of the U.S. in the Meng detention drama."
"By continuing to follow the U.S., either passively or actively, Canada will eventually harm its national interests," said the article by Li Qingsi, a professor of international studies at Renmin University in China. "If Canada insists on following the old track, it may not benefit much from a big trading partner like China."
Meanwhile, a friend of Spavor says he is concerned about the detained Canadian's well-being and financial future now that an online fundraising effort in his name has been derailed.
Andray Abrahamian, a lecturer at Stanford University in California, was among the organizers of a GoFundMe campaign for Spavor.
"I worry about many things, starting with his health and emotional well-being," Abrahamian said Monday.
GoFundMe said the campaign in Spavor's name was shut down because its third-party payment processor, which made the decision, was unable to handle the donations.
GoFundMe spokeswoman Rachel Hollis would not elaborate on the reason, but said the fundraising portal relies on such processors to make sure money transfers made online "are securely processed and verified, helping us to keep GoFundMe the safest place to donate online."
The backers were told "it was for a 'terms and conditions' violation, but nothing more specific than that," Abrahamian said. "Basically, nearly everybody's money was refunded Friday without notice, then the next day the page was shut down."
Spavor is director of the Paektu Cultural Exchange, an organization that facilitates sporting, cultural, tourism and business exchanges with North Korea — a largely isolated country subject to a number of international sanctions over its nuclear-weapons program.
Abrahamian said the fundraising effort was intended to create "a little pot of money" to help with Spavor's legal fees or other costs and, when the stressful experience is over, to aid his recovery and readjustment.
"Once the issue with China is resolved, he probably won't be able to transit through that country, meaning he won't be able to continue his work promoting exchanges," Abrahamian said.
"So we wanted to help buy him some time while he figures out what's next. We also were hoping his family could use the money to have his possessions collected and shipped back to Canada.
"We're trying to figure out how to best solicit donations again, but are afraid we won't be as successful as this past attempt. It was Christmastime, after all."
— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter