West Kelowna Grizzli Winery owners' arrest a warning for Canadians doing business in China: daughter

Amy Chang, the daughter of Canadian winery owners facing trial in China, is shown in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 31, 2017. The daughter of two Canadian winery owners being held by Chinese authorities over an alleged customs valuation dispute says the case should serve as a warning for other Canadians hoping to do business in China.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

OTTAWA - The daughter of two Canadian winery owners being held by Chinese authorities over an alleged customs valuation dispute says the case should serve as a warning for other Canadians hoping to do business in China.

Amy Chang is in Ottawa this week pleading with federal politicians for help in getting her parents released from custody in Shanghai, where the two were arrested in March 2016 while visiting their business suppliers and agents.

John Chang and Lan-Fed (Allison) Lu, who own two wineries in British Columbia, including the new Grizzli Winery in West Kelowna, and one in Ontario, were put on trial behind closed doors last Friday at the Shanghai High People’s Court on charges of smuggling.

They are accused of under-reporting the value of the wine they export to China.

For their 23-year-old daughter, it's been a nightmare that she hopes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau can bring to an end.

"This should never have happened," Chang said Wednesday as she prepared to meet separately in Ottawa with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair to press her case.

"There should not have been a trial; there shouldn't even be a conviction."

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer raised the case Thursday in the House of Commons.

"So far the prime minister has been absent on this file. Is he too busy or does he just not care?" Scheer said during question period.

"I am following the case of Mr. Chang and Ms. Lu very closely," responded Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who said she shared Scheer's "deep concern" about the situation.

She also said she'd be meeting with Amy Chang later in the day.

"It has been raised repeatedly at a high level by the government and officials. Our officials are in contact with Mr. Chang, Ms. Lu, and their family."

Chang, who was in a different Chinese province and immediately fled to Taiwan when she heard of her parents being arrested, said she had yet to hear about the outcome of their trial.

But she said there is no justifiable reason why the Chinese government has criminalized a commercial dispute, and she's hoping the prime minister can sway Chinese authorities to drop the case against them.

"If this is an issue regarding undervaluation, then they can let me know and we can deal with this diplomatically," said Chang, who along with more than 60 employees is now operating her family's business, the Lulu Island Winery based in Richmond, B.C.

"There's no need to have Canadian citizens detained overseas and imprisoned."

Trudeau, who has been pushing for closer trading ties with China, was unavailable to meet Wednesday with Chang, having just returned from Europe. Still, Chang said she hoped for a meeting with him later in the week.

A Global Affairs spokeswoman said the department is closely following the case.

"We have raised our concerns at a high level with Chinese authorities," Jocelyn Sweet said in an email. "Canadian officials are in contact with the relevant Chinese authorities, and are providing consular assistance to Mr. Chang, Ms. Lu, and their family."

Chang said that assistance has amounted to one visit every three months from Canadian consular officials in China.

Lulu Island Winery has appealed to the government, arguing that the detention is a violation of China's international trade obligations under the World Trade Organization's valuation agreement, and therefore a matter of Canadian national interest.

The winery has also called on Canada's international trade and justice ministers to demand their Chinese counterparts secure permission for Chang and his wife to return to Canada while the customs dispute is resolved.

Chang said she has only been able to communicate with her father through a lawyer in Shanghai. He has been incarcerated with no direct access to his family, and both his physical and mental health have been deteriorating since his arrest, she said.

Her mother, Lu, was also initially held in custody but was released in January on the condition she not leave China. Lu's Canadian passport was confiscated and she must report regularly to Chinese authorities.

In an emailed response to questions, the Chinese embassy in Ottawa said it had learned through the media that the case was "undergoing judicial process" and that "the Chinese court will fairly handle the case in accordance with the law."

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