By David Ljunggren and Ben Blanchard
OTTAWA/BEIJING (Reuters) – Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Monday that Canada’s former ambassador to China had been fired because his comments on an extradition case involving an executive of telecommunications firm Huawei had made it untenable for him to stay in the job.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Saturday he had removed John McCallum for saying that Huawei Technologies Co Ltd Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou could make a strong argument against being sent to the United States.
Meng, the daughter of Huawei’s founder, was arrested in Vancouver on Dec. 1 over allegations of violations of U.S. sanctions on Iran.
Trudeau’s remarks appeared to underline Ottawa’s insistence that there would be no political interference in the case.
“Ambassador McCallum’s comments were inconsistent with the position of the government of Canada … and that is what made it untenable for (him) to remain in his role,” Freeland told reporters in what was the first official explanation of McCallum’s dismissal.
Meng’s arrest enraged China, which has called for the extradition case to be dropped immediately.
China’s foreign ministry said on Monday that the matter was an internal Canadian affair and China would not comment.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang reiterated China’s call for Canada to “make the correct choice” and release Meng so she could return to China. She was granted bail 10 days after her arrest.
The United States, which has until Wednesday to formally request her extradition, said last week it would press ahead with the case.
Canadian officials will then have a month to decide whether the case is strong enough to be heard in court. Meng will have ample opportunity to appeal decisions against her and legal experts say it could be years before the matter is settled.
The U.S. Department of Justice is set to announce criminal charges related to Huawei on Monday, four sources told Reuters.
Following Meng’s arrest, China detained two Canadian citizens on national security grounds. A Chinese court later retried a Canadian man who had been jailed for drugs smuggling and sentenced him to death.
Freeland said the situation was difficult but replied “absolutely” when asked whether the damage to ties between Canada and China could be repaired.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard, Allison Martell and David Ljunggren; Writing by Cynthia Osterman; Editing by Frances Kerry and Grant McCool)