The Canadian government is condemning Michael Spavor’s espionage conviction and 11-year prison sentence as unjust products of a fraudulent trial.
A court in Dandong, China, ruled on Wednesday that Mr. Spavor was guilty of spying and illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities. He and Michael Kovrig, another Canadian who faces similar charges, have been held under harsh conditions for almost 1,000 days, which Canada has called an example of China’s “hostage diplomacy.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau told reporters after the verdict that Canada’s ambassadors to China and the United States remain engaged in “intense discussions” aimed at securing the release of both Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig, whose treatment by Beijing is widely seen as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition request.
“This work will continue to go on with the aim of arriving at the result of freeing the two Michaels,” he said. He declined to say if a swap for Ms. Meng was under consideration.
Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig were seized by Chinese state agents in December, 2018, shortly after Ms. Meng’s arrest at the Vancouver international airport. China is demanding that Canada release Ms. Meng. The U.S. accuses her of lying to banking giant HSBC about Huawei’s business operations in Iran, putting the financial institution at risk of violating U.S. sanctions.
Mr. Garneau said China’s behaviour in this matter is unacceptable.
“The practice of arbitrary detention, with a mock, sham trial, with absolutely no transparency whatsoever and a verdict that is completely unjustified, are not acceptable in terms of international rules-based law,” he told reporters.
The government said that Mr. Spavor’s verdict will be appealed.
President Joe Biden’s administration has so far not taken any measures to resolve the impasse, but Mr. Garneau said that he believes the U.S. leader is approaching the matter seriously. “He has said that as far as he’s concerned, the two Michaels, he is treating them in terms of priority as though they were ... American citizens,” Mr. Garneau told reporters.
The Chinese embassy in Canada lashed out at the Canadian government in a statement, accusing the Trudeau government of making “groundless accusations” against China. It said the Canadian government is engaging in “megaphone diplomacy,” and that Ottawa’s actions to garner support from diplomats from other Western countries are “utterly despicable.” It noted that Canada has detained Ms. Meng for nearly 1,000 days.
It defended the Spavor trial, insisting that “China is a country under the rule of law” and demanding that Canada “stop slandering and attacking China so as to avoid bringing further damage to China-Canada relations.”
China has urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to intervene in the extradition process and send Ms. Meng home, but Mr. Trudeau has refused, saying it would only embolden China or other countries to arbitrarily detain other Canadians in order to bend Ottawa to their will.
Canada has been looking to the United States to amend or withdraw the extradition request for Ms. Meng.
As The Globe and Mail reported earlier this year, Dominic Barton, Canada’s ambassador to China, spent three weeks in Washington in April. His mission involved discussions about a possible U.S. deferred prosecution agreement for Ms. Meng. If such a deal were made, it could see the United States withdraw its extradition request for the Chinese executive and allow her to return home.
Mr. Garneau said Canada is continuing to put international pressure on China through a global campaign against countries resorting to hostage-taking, which was launched in February. It has so far gathered signatures from 66 countries, as well as the European Union. On its website, the campaign notes that “arbitrary detention” violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. “And if we continue building that consensus, we hope that China will eventually get the message,” Mr. Garneau said.
The day before Mr. Spavor’s verdict, another Canadian, Robert Schellenberg, lost his appeal in a different Chinese court. China had originally sentenced Mr. Schellenberg to 15 years in prison for drug trafficking, but weeks after Ms. Meng’s arrest his case was abruptly retried and his punishment was escalated to a death sentence.
During a news conference in Waterloo, Ont., Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said China’s conviction of Mr. Spavor is “horrific news” and completely unacceptable.
“The Communist regime in China is using one of our citizens as a diplomatic ploy, and it’s unacceptable. And we need to stand up clearly and have our allies stand up against this type of conduct by Communist China,” Mr. O’Toole said.
“Canada is a smaller nation [than China] in population and economic size, but we are a giant when it comes to our values and we will stand up.”
He accused Mr. Trudeau of mishandling Canada-China relations during his six years in power. “A Conservative government will stand up for our values, our citizens and our security,” he said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said a Chinese court's sentencing of Canadian businessman Michael Spavor to 11 years in prison for espionage on Wednesday was 'absolutely unacceptable' and called for his immediate release. Flora Bradley-Watson reports.
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