Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's national security adviser has travelled to North Korea as a special envoy to discuss the case of an imprisoned Toronto pastor.
Daniel Jean, who serves as Mr. Trudeau's national security and intelligence adviser, is leading a Canadian delegation in Pyongyang to discuss pastor Hyeon Soo Lim's case, a senior government official told The Globe and Mail. While the purpose of the visit is to discuss Mr. Lim's case, the delegation will also raise "other issues of regional concern," the official said. The news of Mr. Jean's visit was first reported by North Korean state-run media.
The visit comes as U.S. President Donald Trump ramps up his rhetoric against Pyongyang, warning that North Korea would be met with "fire and fury" if it threatens the United States. Earlier, Pyongyang said it was ready to give Washington a "severe lesson" with its strategic nuclear force in response to any U.S. military action.
The Prime Minister's Office confirmed that Ottawa has sent a delegation to Pyongyang to discuss Mr. Lim's case, but would not provide any specifics about the visit.
"Pastor Lim's health and well-being remain of utmost importance to the government of Canada as we continue to engage on this case," PMO spokesman Cameron Ahmad said in an e-mail.
"As this is an active case, we will not provide further comment at this time."
The visit marks at least the third time Canadian officials have visited Mr. Lim since he was imprisoned, most recently in December 2016.
North Korea has said its laws dictate that any clemency decision come from its supreme leader, Chairman Kim Jong-un, and "that means that if it's going to happen, there's going to have to be some communication between the chairman's counterpart in Canada — who, of course, happens to be the prime minister," said a person with knowledge of the North Korean demands, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
That communication could take the form of a letter, but Canada has balked at any step that could make it look weak.
Still, North Korea's state news agency described Mr. Jean as "special envoy of the Canadian prime minister."
North Korea has also sought normalization of diplomatic relations, including accreditation of its ambassador to Canada, but its "number one" condition is "the respect element" of an appeal from Mr. Trudeau, the person said. "Everything beyond that is negotiable."
Mr. Lim, who is in his early 60s, was a pastor with the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Mississauga, Ont. The church has said Mr. Lim visited North Korea more than 100 times since 1997, where he helped set up an orphanage and nursing home. Mr. Lim's relatives and colleagues have said he travelled to North Korea on Jan. 31, 2014, as part of a regular humanitarian mission to the country. He was later detained.
In December 2015, he was sentenced to hard labour for life by North Korea's Supreme Court for what it says was an attempt to overthrow the regime.
The crimes Mr. Lim was charged with included harming the dignity of the supreme leadership, trying to use religion to destroy the North Korean system, disseminating negative propaganda about the North to overseas Koreans and helping U.S. and South Korean authorities lure and abduct North Korean citizens, along with aiding their programs to assist defectors from the North.
Mr. Lim said in a January 2016 interview with CNN that he spends eight hours a day digging holes at a labour camp where he has not seen any other prisoners. His church has said he has a "very serious health problem, very high blood pressure."
In the CNN interview, Mr. Lim said the experience has not shaken his faith, and he continues to pray.
"I hope I can go home some day," he told CNN. "Nobody knows if I will ever go home, but that is my hope. I miss my family. I am longing to see them again, and my congregation."
Canada established diplomatic relations with Pyongyang in 2001 but froze them in 2010. Ottawa now says it will only talk to North Korea about regional security, human rights and consular cases.
With a report from Nathan VanderKlippe in Beijing, Reuters and The Canadian Press