After shadowy trials, what awaits Canada’s 'two Michaels'?

Police vehicles exit the Intermediate People's Court where Michael Spavor, a Canadian detained by China in December 2018 on suspicion of espionage, stood trial, in Dandong, Liaoning province, China March 19, 2021.

After closed-door trials involving the two Canadians believed to be detained by China in retaliation for the arrest in Vancouver of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, no verdict has been released by state authorities. But if the fate of other detained Westerners is any guide, the future for Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor likely depends on how useful their continued imprisonment is to Beijing.

It’s virtually guaranteed that both men, who were arrested in 2018 on espionage charges, will be found guilty, as Chinese courts return a guilty verdict in more than 99 per cent of cases. As Guy Saint-Jacques, former Canadian ambassador to China, explained it in media interviews week, the two Canadians have “

no chance, because it’s all preordained by the Communist party


Saint-Jacques also said it was no coincidence that the trials of the two men were scheduled just as the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden prepared to have its first face-to-face summit with Chinese officials in Alaska.

Kovrig and Spavor lived 1,000 km apart at the time of their arrest, and despite having met on brief occasions they were not in regular contact. Although Chinese authorities have never asserted that their cases are connected, both Canadians just happened to be arrested within hours of one another, and to have their cases tried in the same week.

China has also insisted that the detention of Spavor and Kovrig is not connected to the arrest of Meng, who was taken into custody by RCMP in Vancouver on an international warrant issued by the United States. Nevertheless, in a June statement senior Chinese government spokesman Zhao Lijian


that if Canada stopped Meng’s extradition proceedings it “could open up space for resolution to [sic] the situation of the two Canadians.”

The case that most closely parallels “the two Michaels” is that of Kevin Garratt, a coffee shop operator in the Chinese city of Dandong who was detained along with his wife Julia on espionage charges in 2014. Their detention followed closely on the arrest in Richmond, B.C., of Su Bin, a Chinese national wanted by the United States for the alleged theft of military secrets.

 Kevin and Julia Garratt embrace at Vancouver airport following his return to Canada.

Julia was soon freed on bail but Kevin would spend two years in pre-trial detention before he was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison. Despite this, he was soon freed and deported to Canada after a series of high-level negotiations and returned to Canada just before a visit to Ottawa by Chinese Premier Li Keqian.

Then-foreign affairs minister Stéphane Dion

told reporters at the time

that Canada did not offer any political concessions in exchange for Garratt’s sudden freedom. Nevertheless, Garratt’s release coincided with the beginning of

high-level negotiations between Canada and China

regarding a possible extradition treaty that would allow Beijing to prosecute alleged economic fugitives on Canadian soil.

More importantly, while Garratt was in Chinese custody Su Bin took a surprise plea deal with the United States, ending his Canadian extradition hearings. “Beijing was stuck with a weak case of espionage against the Garratts and little bargaining leverage to get much of anything out of Ottawa,” was how the Garratts’ Beijing-based lawyer, James Zimmerman, would explain the case to the

New York Times


 Canadian Embassy Charge d’Affaires Jim Nickel (L) and United States Embassy Acting Deputy Chief of Mission William Klein (C) and other diplomats speak to the media as they arrive to request entry to the trial for Canadian Michael Kovrig on March 22, 2021 at a court in Beijing, China.

Critically, in the case of Kovrig and Spavor, Meng is still in Vancouver under house arrest at a luxury mansion as her extradition proceedings drag on. For as long as that case remains unresolved, observers say that any hope of the two Michaels sharing Kevin Garratt’s fate ultimately rests on what Canada and the U.S. can obtain at the negotiating table.

“I think until Meng Wanzhou is figured out, it’ll probably keep going,” Garratt

told Maclean’s

last week.

Fortunately, neither Kovrig or Spavor faced charges that could net them execution; the Chinese penalty for espionage ranges from 10 years to life imprisonment.

The story has been far different for Canadians convicted of drug offences in the People’s Republic of China in recent months. In August, Ye Jianhui became the

fourth Canadian

in two years to be sentenced to death in China for narcotics offences.

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Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques