The two men have been detained in China for the past 18 months, in a move widely seen as retaliation for Canada’s December 2018 arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of U.S. authorities. Meng is facing fraud charges over allegations she violated U.S. sanctions against Iran. Her arrest enraged the Chinese government, which has repeatedly demanded her release.
The charges against Kovrig and Spavor come after Meng lost a first attempt to prevent her extradition to the U.S. in B.C. Supreme Court last month. At the time, the Chinese government warned of “continuous harm to China-Canada relations” if Meng was not returned to China. She continues to be held under house arrest in Vancouver.
“From the very beginning, we have highlighted … that we will not and must not and cannot interfere in the independence of our judiciary in this country. The Chinese authorities have directly linked the cases of the two Michaels to the judicial proceedings against Ms. Meng, which is extremely disappointing,” Trudeau said. “So we will continue to … put pressure on the Chinese government to cease the arbitrary detention of these two Canadian citizens.”
At a press conference later in the day, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said Ottawa continues to push for consular access to Kovrig and Spavor, which has not been granted since mid-January due to the pandemic.
“I was heartbroken and I was really angry when I learned of the latest developments with the two Michaels,” Freeland said. “I want to assure them in the strongest possible terms that we will not rest until they are able to come home.”
Guy Saint-Jacques, who was Canada’s ambassador to China from 2012 to 2016, told POLITICO in an interview Friday that the charges were to be expected after the B.C. court’s decision in May.
“The Chinese know that the extradition process will drag on for years and they wanted to have pressure on the Canadian government,” Saint-Jacques said, adding that it will now be “almost impossible” to get Kovrig and Spavor back to Canada, as China will say it can’t intervene in a legal process.
“There is no fair trial in China — you are found guilty 99.9 percent of the time,” he said. “We know that the minimum sentence will be 10 years and it could be up to a life sentence. We have to brace ourselves for years of difficult relations and I think it’s time for the Canadian government to completely reassess its engagement strategy with China, because so far it has been one of appeasement and it has done nothing.”
David Mulroney, Canada’s ambassador to China from 2009 to 2012, made a similar argument on Twitter.
“It’s late, but not too late to end the no longer polite fiction that China is a reliable host and that we need not worry about the safety of our citizens there,” he said. “Cutting back would also signal that we are finally prepared to see China as it really is.”
In a statement Friday, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer accused Trudeau of “weak leadership and [a] naïve approach to Beijing” in the wake of the charges being laid.
“While in prison, these two Canadians have been subject to near…