TORONTO (AP) — The Canadian government confirmed Wednesday that China will soon begin trials for two Canadians who were arrested two years ago in apparent retaliation for Canada’s detention of a senior executive for Chinese communications giant Huawei Technologies.
Foreign Minister Marc Garneau said the Canadian Embassy in Beijing has been notified that court hearings for Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig are scheduled to take place Friday and Monday. Spavor’s court hearing will take place Friday and Kovrig’s will happen Monday.
“The arbitrary detention of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor is a top priority for the Government of Canada and we continue to work tirelessly to secure their immediate release,” Garneau said in a statement.
“We believe these detentions are arbitrary, and remain deeply troubled by the lack of transparency surrounding these proceedings.”
The Global Times reported last week that the two men would “soon be tried” after they were charged with “crimes undermining China’s national security” in June 2020.
Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Spavor, an entrepreneur, were arrested in December 2018, days after Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was detained at the airport in Vancouver, British Columbia. The U.S. wants her extradited to face fraud charges.
China has revealed few details of the charges against the two, and Canadian diplomats allowed occasional visits have said little other than to call for them to be released.
The Global Times said Kovrig was “accused of having used an ordinary passport and business visa to enter China to steal sensitive information and intelligence through contacts in China since 2017, while Spavor was accused of being a key source of intelligence for Kovrig.”
Meng, who remains free on bail in Vancouver, is the daughter of the founder of Huawei, which China’s government has promoted around the world as one of its national champions. Her arrest enraged Beijing, which sees the U.S. case as a political move designed to prevent China’s rise, and it sent China-Canada relations into a tailspin.
China has also retaliated by placing restrictions on various Canadian exports to China, including canola oil seed and handed death sentences to four Canadians convicted of drug smuggling.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan’s are set to meet Thursday with their Chinese counterparts on Thursday in Alaska. Blinken has pledged “absolute solidarity” with Canada.
“The Chinese in my view wanted to send a very clear message on the eve of this first to face meeting in Alaska that if the Americans want to help the Canadians they have to make concessions and they have to make sure Mrs. Meng will be returned to China,” said Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China.
“It’s a very worrisome development. We know things are preordained in China. Once you are formally charged in China you are found guilty 99.2% of the time. This a highly political case. The sentence will be dictated by the communist party of China. It becomes a lot more complicated to extract them from China.”