Sept. 5 marks a grim milestone for former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor: It’s the 1,000th day of their imprisonment in a Chinese jail in apparent retaliation for the detention of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Canada.
In an effort to show Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor that Canadians have not forgotten about them, The Globe and Mail invited readers to send written letters or e-mailed messages of support. Hundreds responded with cards, drawings and heartfelt notes. One reader sent a sleep mask to block harsh lighting in a jail cell. Another offered to take the Michaels trout fishing on Great Slave Lake when they’re free.
Here is a selection of the submissions we received, edited and condensed for length.
Dear Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig,
First … I dislike when I hear the two of you referred to as “The Two Michaels.” You are two separate people, with two separate identities, experiences, feelings, families and lives.
I, nevertheless, understand that you are facing similar treatment by the Chinese government, and that it is just simpler to refer to you as “The Two Michaels.” But I see you … as the individuals you are.
I lived in China from 1980 to 1982, and have firsthand knowledge of the Draconian measures the Chinese government uses on people – both Chinese and foreigners alike – when they want to make a spectacle or example of them for political purposes.
My heart breaks for all you’ve gone through for far too long. You don’t deserve to be in solitary confinement, not have glasses to wear, or not get to see sunshine, exercise and generally be treated with respect, according to the Geneva Conventions. It is especially egregious given that Meng Wanzhou – the obvious reason you are being detained – is living the high life in her $20-million mansion in Canada.
Please know that Canadians are behind you, and are angry at your mistreatment at the hands of the Chinese government who show no humanity in its treatment of you. We are putting as much pressure on the Canadian government to get you home as soon as humanly possible.
I wish an end to this nightmare for you and your families.
Ever in my thoughts,
Dear Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig,
I’m just a Globe and Mail subscriber with no connection to you except as a fellow Canadian who is watching and wishing to see you free to reclaim your lives. It is incomprehensible that your cruel situation has been drawn out for so long. The Globe has invited readers to send you a message, so I am doing so, for whatever amount of strength, or some small solace or comfort it may give you to know at least that you are not alone, that Canadians are thinking of you and care about you and wish for your ordeal to be over. As long as you are in prison, no Canadian can feel free. Your suffering is also our suffering. I fervently hope the politics of justice will finally turn in the direction of humanity and compassion and honour, and that this will soon end in your release for you, and for us all.
Owen Sound, Ont.
Since late 2018, two Canadians have been jailed in apparent retaliation for Canada’s prosecution of a Huawei executive. One has been sentenced to 11 years in prison
Hello from Canada to you both, Michael Spavor, and Michael Kovrig.
Although we have never met, we are fellow Canadians. I have been watching and reading for any news about you since you have been held in China. You are not forgotten. There are many Canadians who hold both of you in their hearts, because you are good men who represented our country on our behalf.
I’ve tried to imagine what it must be like to always be indoors, as you both are, and I truly can’t. However, I pray that you continue to be strong, and know that you have good people working very hard for your release. I’m certain your families are also being supported by many through their ordeal of not having you, their beloved ones, with them. I hope you receive many messages from Canadians and can gain some strength from them to carry on. We are doing whatever we can to help end this, for you both.
You are not forgotten.
With deep respect and care,
You and I joined the Foreign Service not that far apart, and served in equally difficult places. Every time I see your name in the paper – which is daily – I know it could have been me, or many of our colleagues. I’m sorry it turned out to be you.
You may feel impotent, stuck in prison. But rest assured you are transforming Canada’s role in the world even as you languish in prison.
You will be freed one day, and when you emerge you will find a Canada that is more conscious of the dangers of the new international order, more focused on our interests and more willing to confront those dangers. We will learn from the tragedy that has befallen you and Michael Spavor.
Dear Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor,
I want you to know that you are not forgotten. Your pictures sit on our kitchen table and you are with us at each meal and throughout the day. It is easy to say you are in our “thoughts and prayers,” but you remain in our hearts. We speak of you regularly at church and in our Zoom calls, both national and international, as we try to raise further awareness of your situation. It is funny, because you will never know us, but you have entered our lives!
We cannot imagine where/how you are finding the strength for each day. Hold firm, this will end, and you will return to your loved ones and to this beautiful and free country. Peace, justice and healing will prevail. Be assured of this deep in your souls. Please know too that there are so many of us, both in Canada and around the world, who are longing and working for your freedom.
You are in my thoughts and prayers. May you both be freed soon from the great injustices that have befallen you. You are an example in courage to all of us and what you are going through has not gone unnoticed. May God continue to strengthen and bless you, Michael and Michael, while this is resolved.
To those at the Chinese embassy and government censoring these e-mails, I urge you, please, in the name of what is right, to let these two men go. If these were your citizens being held and treated so unjustly, you would want the same. May God inspire you to reconsider your position here and bring this to a fair and just conclusion.
Your courage and equanimity in the face of unimaginable misfortune shines a light that one day will banish the darkness of totalitarian regimes everywhere. You make all Canadians so very, very proud. Our thoughts are with you.
The people of China have an amazing history of overcoming terrible tragedies and injustices, and have strived to live in a society of laws and respect for the rights of its citizens. The arrest and imprisonment of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor is not the act of a great people showing its commitment to the universal rights of individuals as declared in the founding principles of the United Nations. These Canadian citizens have been arrested and imprisoned arbitrarily as some sort of clumsy attempt to exert political influence on the Canadian government. I have met numerous Chinese business people in a 45-year career in agriculture and have always been impressed by their drive to get ahead and make something of their lives. The arrest of these two Canadian citizens is not the act of a great people.
The Chinese government should release and repatriate these Canadians and let’s all move on to developing a more appropriate relationship between two great countries.
This situation has captured my attention since you were both arrested. Like many Canadians, we feel helpless to change it but please know that you are in our thoughts and we are advocating for your release. This fight with China is so important as we can’t allow other governments to control us and change the world for the worse, but it is not right, you two have been captured and used as pawns.
I hope knowing that the world has not forgotten you both, and citizens are pushing the Canadian, U.S. and Chinese governments to do right by you, gives you strength to stay strong until you are once again free on Canadian soil.
Thinking of you both.
Sincerely and with much admiration,
Hello Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig,
As the 1,000th day of your unjust imprisonment approaches, I am writing to join the many thousands of Canadian who want to tell you that we remember you!
Sometimes, when the cares of everyday life mount up, I stop myself and realize that my troubles are of no consequence compared to those that you carry. In your confinement, I hope that there may also be occasional small joys that brighten your days.
I remember you every day in my prayers along with your families and all those who can play a role in your release.
In friendship and support,
Dear Mr. Spavor,
We never met when I was Canada’s ambassador to China from 2012 to 2016. I am very sad, as very soon you will have spent 1,000 days in a Chinese jail because Chinese leaders were jealous of your access to the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.
I hope your ordeal comes to an end soon and that you will be reunited with your family.
Former ambassador to China
I am dismayed and disheartened by your continuing detention by the Chinese authorities but am hopeful that intense diplomatic efforts currently under way will secure your release in the near future. You are unwitting and unfortunate pawns caught up in an epic geopolitical struggle between an existing and emerging superpower and are suffering immensely as a result. As in all such cases, what you are experiencing is extremely unfair. The conditions under which you are being held sound dismal and soul-crushing, yet it appears that your spirits remain unbroken – this speaks to your strength of character.
As difficult as your struggle has been, it has served to galvanize the world’s attention to the oppressive, authoritarian policies of China’s current administration. So in that way you are serving a greater purpose in raising the awareness of freedom-loving people everywhere to the perils of not standing up to the repression and tyranny engendered by China’s state policies. I send you heartfelt best wishes and the hope, like all Canadians, that you will shortly be living as free men once again.
Dear Michael Spavor,
My family is praying for your safe and immediate release to Canada. As we have watched the news very closely since your imprisonment, we have been praying throughout this time.
Putting prayer into practice, we have e-mailed both our MP Garnett Genuis and MP Marc Garneau to express our concerns, and to urge them to work toward your release and your return to Canada.
We will continue to pray for you. We have also put in our prayer requests for your release and safety to global prayer requests places such as Our Lady of Lourdes in France.
We continue to pray to St. Michael the Archangel to defend and protect you.
Please do not lose hope. There are many average Canadians, such as us, who want to see you back in Canada asap!
Standing in support of you!
Sherwood Park, Alta.
In his letters from his small detention cell in Beijing, Michael Kovrig writes about the books he has read, the smog he is breathing, the rigorous exercise regime he has created and the stoic philosophy that has given him succour. It is only in small ways that he hints at what he has endured in his days of detention.
Dear Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig,
I am writing this letter on the 1,000th day of your imprisonment with the hope that you will receive it and be reminded you are not forgotten.
I, like so many fellow Canadians, want our government to secure your release as soon as possible so that you may be reunited with the people you care about.
Thank goodness for the Canadian free press, social organizations and other groups who ensure your situation remain top of mind.
I hope you receive the books and other items you have requested in your wish lists. I’m sure there are many people who write to you and send you things. However, if I learn through channels that it is possible for an ordinary citizen like myself to send books to you then I surely shall.
I remember while my son was on his combat tour in the Middle East he would call home and all he wanted to hear about was how the garden was doing, news of our dog Jack, and other everyday things that we take for granted. I came to understand that being so far away in an extraordinarily stressful situation, he took pleasure and comfort from hearing about the ordinary. I learned to prattle about baking pies, chasing chipmunks out of my strawberry patch, etc. for as long as he liked.
So in hopes that it might offer a little vision of home, here is a “prattle” just for you:
It’s been a hot summer on the west coast this year with drought and lots of forest fires to contend with. Here on the east coast (where I live), we have had more temperate weather. I’ve never seen the roses and peonies put on such a prolific, beautiful show.
We live on the banks of the Petitcodiac River just outside of Moncton, New Brunswick. The river empties into the beautiful Bay of Fundy with its mighty tides. When the tides change in the Bay, a wave will travel against the flow all the way up the river. Sometimes the wave will be high enough to surf on. Other times it’s low enough for a duck to step over (I’ve witnessed this).
On our property, we have an eagle’s nest nearby, atop a giant pine tree. The nest has been there for at least 25 years and is over 10 feet wide. The eagles produce one or two babies every spring and we watch the parents teach them to fly and to fish in the river. Sometimes we’ll find fresh fish amongst our apple trees dropped by one of the babies who lost their grip.
When our field golden, Buddy, was a pup, we would often see the eagles circling above him as he toddled through the grass. I’m sure they thought a fat puppy would make an excellent meal.
In our garden, we have several raised garden beds for growing vegetables. We grow exactly what you might expect: carrots, beans, lettuce, radishes, peas, celery, asparagus, as well as strawberries, blueberries, black currants and elderberries.
Buddy is old enough to nose through the blueberry bushes to find the ripe berries. I wondered where the ripe blueberries were going and thought the crows might be the culprits. I would not have believed it was the dog until witnessing him delicately plucking blueberries off the branches.
Every year there is an epic battle between myself and the chipmunks who love strawberries. They will pick only the largest and perfectly ripe berries to take a bite out of, then leave them along the edge of the bed. Mid-season you can find rows of picked strawberries, each with just one bite taken. One day, I lay in wait with my camera and zoom lens to catch the chipmunks in the act. They had more patience than I, so when I got up and walked out of the garden gate, they marched right back in to continue their berry thieving.
The summer solstice is a very special time by the river. It’s when the fireflies are at their peak. When it’s fully dark, walking through the marsh grasses is like being transported to fairyland: thousands of blinking lights on the paths, amongst the bushes, trees and in the air. It’s so beautiful. On a clear night, it looks like the stars have descended from the heavens.
A few days ago, we took our boat from Shediac to Charlottetown, PEI. We left early because usually that’s when the winds are low. We picked a beautiful day to cross the Northumberland Strait – the water was like glass all the way to the island. Nothing but seabirds, dolphins and the occasional seal to keep us company.
When we arrived at the Charlottetown marina, we made our way to the upper deck of the marina café to enjoy fresh mussels and clams.
I remember one year we arrived in PEI only to be told they were completely out of seafood AND potatoes. How an island that grows so many potatoes and has mussels all around their shore could run out is perplexing … which is why I never forgot it.
This July 1, we chose not celebrate Canada Day. Like so many Canadians we were too saddened by the news of yet another mass burial site found near an Indigenous residential school to consider waving flags and setting off fireworks. It just seemed disrespectful. I’m glad the truth is finally coming out about the treatment of these families. Without knowing the truth, how can we move forward as a nation?
Next weekend is the annual National Parks BioBlitz! I will be diligently wandering about our property with a camera, photographing bugs, plants and critters. The photos get uploaded to the iNaturalist website where they are categorized, labelled and their location noted. I believe our biologists want to identify what lives where and if there are invasive species we should be concerned about.
All along the river there are so many lovely plants such as lilies, bogweed, bullrushes and wild roses. It’s such a pleasure to see it come to life each spring, flower and grow, then change to shades of gold and red in the fall.
Well, that’s all the prattle for now. You are in our thoughts and we pray for your health and safety.
With best regards,
The magnetic signs on the Ram pickup that travels the roads of St. Marys and beyond is an extension of our efforts to put pressure on for the release of Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig.
St. Marys, Ont.
As a Chinese Canadian, I feel ashamed of my original country. Both of you must have initially loved or appreciated Chinese culture, the people or its country, otherwise you wouldn’t decide to live there. Unfortunately, its dictatorship has treated you so badly in return. They just make use of you as their bargaining chips or hostages.
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