Skip to main content
Welcome to
super saver spring
offer ends april 20
save over $140
save over 85%
$0.99
per week for 24 weeks
Welcome to
super saver spring
$0.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Michael Kovrig, left, and Michal Spavor are shown in these 2018 images taken from video.

The Associated Press

China is commencing trials within days for two Canadians it locked up in apparent retaliation for Canada’s 2018 arrest of a Huawei executive at the request of U.S. authorities.

Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig have been incarcerated for 829 days. Mr. Spavor will go to trial on Friday in Dandong, the city on the North Korean border where he is being held. Mr. Kovrig will be in court on Monday in Beijing.

On Thursday, the first high-level in-person talks between Beijing and the Joe Biden administration are set to begin in Alaska. The Canadian government is counting on this attempted reset of U.S.-China relations – after years of erosion under president Donald Trump – to open the door for the release of the two Canadians.

Story continues below advertisement

The Biden administration has made clear that it intends to push Beijing over its treatment of U.S. allies and human rights violations.

China alleges Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor are spies. “We believe these detentions are arbitrary, and remain deeply troubled by the lack of transparency surrounding these proceedings,” Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said in a statement.

Canada looks to Biden to free two Michaels jailed in China

Extradition hearings continue in Vancouver for Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. executive accused by the U.S. of committing fraud related to violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran. Ms. Meng denies the charges and is fighting extradition. Those hearings are expected to conclude in May but appeals could drag out proceedings for years.

Putting the two Canadians on trial now “could be a signal on the Meng case,” said Jude Blanchette, a China scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. “It could be a signal that China won’t be ‘bullied’ by outside pressure.”

But “if this isn’t a signal to the U.S., then it’s diplomatic folly of epic proportion, and clearly, it’s not the latter.”

Trials in China are regularly completed in a single day.

The Chinese justice system, which acts at the direction of the Communist Party, convicts nearly 100 per cent of the people who stand trial. The charges against the two Canadians carry a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Story continues below advertisement

Canada on Wednesday demanded immediate access to the two Canadians and the right for Canadian government representatives to attend the trials.

“Canadian officials are seeking continued consular access to Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig, in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the China-Canada Consular Agreement, and have also requested to attend the proceedings,” Mr. Garneau said in his statement.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has accused Beijing of concocting what he calls “trumped up charges” against the two men in an effort to apply political pressure on Canada to release Ms. Meng.

The issues on which the U.S. government plans to push Beijing include China’s barrage of punitive trade actions against Australia since the country’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, called for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19. The disease was first identified in China.

Washington is “not prepared to take substantial steps to improve relations” with China until “a more normal interplay between Canberra and Beijing is established,” Mr. Biden’s Indo-Pacific co-ordinator, Kurt Campbell, told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in an interview this week.

The Biden administration has also signalled to Mr. Trudeau and top officials that they were willing to do all that is possible to facilitate the release of the two Canadians once a review of China-U.S. relations is completed, senior officials in Ottawa told The Globe and Mail. The Globe is not identifying the federal sources because they were not authorized to speak on these matters.

Story continues below advertisement

Beijing, however, wants to make clear that it will respond to any action that involves Ms. Meng. Trials for the Canadians send a message: “Don’t think you’re going to move ahead on one without moving ahead on the other,” said Paul Evans, HSBC Chair in Asian Research at the University of British Columbia.

Taking Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor to trial would also be a way for Beijing to demonstrate resolve to the Americans.

“The movement to a trial is highly negative and indicates China doesn’t want to be seen to be pushed around – by the Americans or anyone else,” said Gordon Houlden, director emeritus of the University of Alberta’s China Institute.

It’s a sign of “the Chinese laying down a marker of where they stand on this issue. And I don’t think they will be dissuaded from their course by the meeting on Thursday,” he said.

Public statements of concern from the White House for Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor are a demonstration of support, “but that’s not what’s going to lead to opening their jail cells, I’m afraid,” Mr. Houlden said.

Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong said the Trudeau government needs to get a commitment from the Biden administration that the United States will help secure the release of the two Michaels.

Story continues below advertisement

News of the trial date hit hard for one person who knows Mr. Kovrig personally.

“It’s overwhelming to contemplate,” said Vina Nadjibulla, who is married to Mr. Kovrig and has been an advocate for his release, although the two are separated. “What I think about is Michael. As hard as it is here to process the news and to make sense of it all, it is much more difficult for him because he has to do it all by himself.

“After more than 800 days of isolation and confinement, he is now faced with this very difficult development.”

Ms. Nadjibulla said the court dates mean Canada must even more urgently work for the release of the two men.

Chinese security agents seized the two Canadians on Dec. 10, 2018, days after Ms. Meng was arrested at the Vancouver airport.

In June, 2020, Chinese authorities charged Mr. Kovrig with spying on national secrets and intelligence for entities outside the territory of China. Mr. Spavor was charged with spying on national secrets and illegally providing state secrets to entities outside of the territory of China.

Story continues below advertisement

In China, a sentence can be announced on the same day or delayed, sometimes for a long period.

Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the authors of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies