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Canadians held in China face up to 4 hours a day of interrogation, ambassador says

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Two Canadian men detained in China face up to four hours of questioning each day and have no access to a lawyer, according to Canada’s top diplomat in Beijing.

Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were both detained in China late last year. The men, who were arrested not long after Canada arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of the U.S., stand accused of national security offences.

“It’s not a fixed number, but on the order of four hours a day,” Ambassador John McCallum said Wednesday of the interrogations. “This could go on for up to six months under the Chinese system. It’s what they call an extra-judicial system so those are the conditions under which they are detained.”

McCallum provided the update on the conditions of Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Spavor, a businessman, after taking part in a special panel at a Liberal cabinet retreat in Sherbrooke, Que. 

McCallum said he has visited both men and spoken with their families, and has also visited Robert Schellenberg, a Canadian man who was recently sentenced to death in China for drug smuggling.

The ambassador said he is scheduled to speak with Schellenberg’s father Thursday.

McCallum said the government is taking steps on “many fronts” to garner support from world leaders and foreign ministers, but that’s “just the beginning.” He said business leaders and the media must also act to increase pressure on Beijing.

“I think we have to engage the senior Chinese leadership and persuade them that what they’re doing is not good for China’s image in the world, it’s not good for the image of corporate China in the world, and I think we have to always work with our U.S. allies,” he said.

Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig are both being detained in China with limited consular access. (Associated Press/International Crisis Group/Canadian Press)

McCallum said the detainees only have consular access once per month.

Asked if it’s time for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to make direct contact with Chinese President Xi Jinping, McCallum said: “I think the time will come when it’s most appropriate.”

It’s not clear when McCallum paid a visit to Schellenberg, who is now on death row after being convicted of smuggling 222 kilograms of methamphetamines. Schellenberg had appealed his 15-year prison sentence, but a court deemed that punishment too light at a retrial and ordered the death penalty.

As tensions between the countries increase, Canada issued an updated travel advisory for China, warning its citizens about the risk of arbitrary enforcement of laws in the country. 

Canadian Robert Schellenberg has been sentenced to death for drug smuggling in China. (CCTV via Associated Press)

China issued its own travel warning just hours later, citing the “arbitrary detention” of a Chinese national in Canada at the request of a “third-party country.”

Appeal for clemency

Earlier this week, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said the government had reached out to China’s ambassador to Canada requesting clemency.

“Canada’s position when it comes to the death penalty is consistent and of very long-standing,” she said. “As Canadians know, we do not have the death penalty in Canada. We believe it is inhumane and inappropriate, and wherever the death penalty is considered with regard to a Canadian we speak out against it.”

The latest escalation in diplomatic tensions is just one of the issues on the table for cabinet ministers at the three-day retreat that continues through Friday.

Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., David MacNaughton, said leaders in the U.S. have been supportive of Canada’s position so far.

“I hope they continue to back Canada in this particular dispute,” MacNaughton said.

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List of Tourist Attractions Open Now in Ottawa

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With Ontario now in Step 3 of 2021 three-step plan for reopening, museums and other indoor attractions are allowed to reopen with capacity limited to not exceed 50 per cent capacity indoors and 75 per cent capacity outdoors.

Here is a list of Ottawa attractions you can visit starting July 16th.

Do remember to wear masks and buy tickets in advance.

Parliament Hill

Parliament’s Centre Block and Peace Tower are closed for renovation.

You can join for tours of the Senate of Canada Building (2 Rideau Street), House of Commons at West Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill, and East Block at East Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill.

When: Grounds open; guided tours of Parliament are suspended through the summer of 2021.
Where: 111 Wellington Street, Downtown Ottawa

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Ottawa performer leapfrogs from gymnastics to Broadway to TV

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A new AppleTV+ series set in a magical town that’s stuck in a neverending 1940s musical includes a pair of Ottawa siblings in the cast. 

Warren Yang and his sister, Ericka Hunter, play two of the singing, dancing residents of the village portrayed in Schmigadoon!, a small-screen series that takes its cues from classic musicals like Brigadoon, Wizard of Oz and Sound of Music, and skewers them with the offbeat comedic mastery of Saturday Night Live. 

In fact, you’ll recognize many of the names from SNL, starting with executive producer Lorne Michaels, creator of the late-night, live-comedy sketch show. Schmigadoon! also stars SNL cast member Cecily Strong and comedian Keegan-Michael Key, who hosted SNL in May. They play a New York couple who get lost on a hike and stumble into a strange town where everyone sings and dances. 

For Yang, a relative newcomer to show-biz, the series marks his television debut. For Hunter, the younger of his two older sisters, it’s the latest in a career path that began with dance lessons as a child more than 30 years ago. She attended Canterbury High School, Ottawa’s arts-focused secondary school. 

“Her dream was always to perform,” said Yang, 34, in an interview. “But that was never the path I thought was an option for me.” 

While his sister studied dance, Yang did gymnastics. He was an elite gymnast throughout his youth, ultimately leaving Merivale High School at 16 to train in Montreal, finishing high school through correspondence courses. He was a member of the Canadian National Team and received a scholarship to study at Penn State, majoring in marketing. 

A few years after graduation, Yang was working at an advertising agency in Toronto when he got a call from a Manhattan number. To his astonishment, they asked if he would be interested in auditioning for a Broadway revival of Miss Saigon.

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COVID-19: uOttawa to require vaccination for students living in residence

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Vaccination will be mandatory for students who want to live in residence at the University of Ottawa this year, with proof of vaccination and at least one dose required before move-in, or within two weeks of doing so if they can’t secure a shot before arriving.

Those who can’t receive a vaccine for “health-related reasons or other grounds protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code” will be able to submit a request for accommodation through the university’s housing portal, according to information on the university’s website.

Students with one dose living in residence will also have to receive their second dose “within the timeframe recommended by Ottawa Public Health.”

People who haven’t been granted an exemption and don’t get vaccinated or submit proof of having done so by the deadlines set out by the school will have their residence agreements terminated, uOttawa warns.

“Medical and health professionals are clear that vaccination is the most (effective) means of protecting people and those around them,” reads a statement provided to this newspaper by uOttawa’s director of strategic communications, Patrick Charette.

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“It is precisely for this reason that the University of Ottawa is requiring all students living in residence for the 2021-2022 academic year to be fully vaccinated. The University recognizes that some students may require accommodations for a variety of reasons and will be treating exceptions appropriately.”

Faculty, staff and students are also strongly encouraged to get vaccinated, the statement notes.

“Ensuring a high vaccine coverage in all communities is critical to ensuring an ongoing decline in cases and ending the pandemic. This will be especially important with the return of students to post-secondary institutions in our region in the fall of 2021.”

Neither Carleton University nor Algonquin College is currently mandating vaccination for students living in residence, according to the websites for both schools. But uOttawa isn’t alone in its policy – Western University, Trent University, Durham College and Fanshawe College have all implemented similar requirements. Seneca College, in the GTA, is going even further, making vaccination mandatory for students and staff to come to campus, in-person, for the fall term.

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