China court hearings for Canadians accused of spying

Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig face alleged espionage charges, Canada’s Foreign Ministry reveals

Michael Spavor’s closely-watched trial in China ended without a verdict in Dandong on Friday. Later, the court confirmed it would set a new date for the verdict.

He is one of two Canadian citizens facing charges of alleged espionage.

In a statement issued on Thursday, Canada’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau said the country’s embassy in Beijing had been “notified” that the “court hearing of Michael Kovrig” was “scheduled for March 22.”

Spavor and Kovrig have been detained in prison for more than two years, following the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of Huawei’s founder Ren Zhengfei, at Vancouver International Airport.

“We believe these detentions are arbitrary and remain deeply troubled by the lack of transparency surrounding these proceedings,” Garneau said.

The facts:

  • Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat, worked for the International Crisis Group.
  • He is accused of “stealing sensitive information and intelligence through contacts in China since 2017.”
  • Businessman Spavor is accused of providing intelligence to Kovrig.
  • They have been held in poor conditions, according to family members and denied outside contact.
  • In comparison Meng, the chief financial officer of Chinese tech giant Huawei, has been held under house arrest in Vancouver for the past two years.
  • She is fighting extradition from Canada to the United States, where she would face alleged fraud charges.

What was said: “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. Canadian officials will continue to provide consular support to these men and their families during this unacceptable ordeal,” Minister for Foreign Affairs Garneau said in a statement.

Reaction to the news: “Human beings are not bartering chips. We’re going to work together until we get their safe return,” US President Joe Biden said after talking to Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau via video link last month as reported by the Reuters news agency.

Delve deeper: China has a conviction rate of 99%. Public and media access is routinely denied in sensitive cases such as “espionage.” The Chinese judiciary lacks independence and is just the legal arm of the ruling Communist Party. Compared to the way Meng has been treated, the Chinese system borders on the barbaric. She has a team of lawyers and her case has been reported in detail across global media outlets.

Life of luxury: “Meng has been leading a cushy life in her gated, seven-bedroom mansion in Vancouver, out on US$8 million in bail and awaiting the outcome of her extradition hearing … [She] receives regular private painting lessons and massages at the mansion. She has gone on private shopping sprees at stores reserved for her and her entourage, albeit with a GPS tracker on her left ankle. She spent Christmas Day at a restaurant that opened just for her, her husband, her two children and 10 other guests,” Dan Bilefsky, the Canada correspondent for The New York Times, reported in January.

China Factor comment: Fears are growing that Kovrig and Spavor will end up being used as disposable pawns in Beijing’s geopolitical chess game.