Toronto: Canada is working “very actively” to bring home two of its citizens charged with spying in China, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said. Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were detained in China in December 2018 but were only charged on Friday. Their arrests came just days after Meng Wanzhou – an executive of the Chinese giant Huawei – was detained in Vancouver, at the request of the US. China denies that the arrests were in retaliation for Ms Meng’s detention. Mr Trudeau said he was “concerned and disappointed” by the charges against Mr Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Mr Spavor, a businessman, calling their detention “arbitrary”. Canadian officials were using both private and public tactics “to make sure we have a positive outcome”, he added at a press conference on Friday. Mr Kovrig and Mr Spavor have been charged with “spying on national secrets” and providing intelligence for “outside entities”. Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said she was “heartbroken and really angry” when she heard the pair had been charged, adding that Canada “will not rest” until they come home. The men are “very brave Canadians who are behaving with incredible decency and incredible courage” and are in very difficult circumstances “through no fault of their own”, she said. China’s court system is completely controlled by the Communist Party and has an almost 100% conviction rate once defendants are charged, notes the BBC’s Stephen McDonell in Beijing. The Chinese government has not explicitly linked the cases of the two Canadians with Meng Wanzhou but it has dropped heavy hints that there is a connection, he explains. At the Chinese foreign ministry’s regular press briefings, spokespeople routinely mention the fate of the Canadians and that of the daughter of Huawei’s founder in the same response. Mr Kovrig and Mr Spavor could face 10 years in prison if found guilty of violating Article 111 of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China. The Canadian prime minister also said he continued to highlight to China that the Canadian judicial system is independent and Mr Trudeau’s government cannot interfere with their decisions about Ms Meng.
Canada’s concern for “the Two Michaels”
In Canada, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig are now frequently referred to simply as “the Two Michaels”. It’s an indication of how closely followed their detention has been in Canada. They are undoubtedly the most high-profile Canadian citizens being held abroad. Their cases are raised by Canadian officials and in the media almost every time Meng Wanzhou’s trial makes news. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has become increasingly blunt about their cases as months pass, now openly suggesting their arrest was a tit-for-tat reaction by Beijing to Canada’s arrest of Ms Meng. Since their detention, Canada has pressed many of its allies to speak in support of Mr Spavor and Mr Kovrig, including Australia, France, Germany, Spain, the UK, the US, the EU, and the G7. News they have been charged comes amid an ongoing deterioration in how Canadians view China. Polls suggest Canadians are increasingly concerned about human rights in that country and sceptical about any potential Huawei involvement in Canada’s 5G network.