Canada needs to keep Kovrig, Spavor at forefront of China relations, former detainee says
“At every meeting with Chinese officials, at every opportunity, even internationally, they have to keep it in the forefront,” Kevin Garratt told Mercedes Stephenson on The West Block.
“I didn’t know, really, what was going on for those two years. I was told oh, the government’s treating it very important. They’re trying to raise it at the highest levels, but I never really knew what was going on.
“But I would hope in this case, with the two Michaels, they are keeping it in the forefront, keeping it in the news and keeping it in front of every Chinese delegation or Chinese official that they meet.”
WATCH: Canadians once detained in China speak about their horrifying ordeal
Kevin Garratt and his wife Julia Garratt were detained by Chinese officials in August 2014 on spying allegations after living in the country for more than 30 years. Julia would spend six months in detention while Kevin wouldn’t be free for many months later.
Kovrig and Spavor were detained on Dec. 10, shortly after Chinese tech company Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver on an extradition request from the United States. She was later granted bail and is now awaiting further court proceedings.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said Thursday that Kovrig and Spavor have now been officially arrested on suspicion of gathering and stealing state secrets for “foreign forces.”
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the government is “deeply concerned” about China’s latest move.
“It’s part of the process,” Garratt said of the official charges being laid against Kovrig and Spavor. “They’re not in more jeopardy. They’re in a different location, still being detained, still can’t do anything. But now they should be able to see a lawyer. But for me, I didn’t see a lawyer ‘till almost one year into our ordeal. So, it still might be some time before they can actually get access to a lawyer.”
WATCH: ‘We are so, so grateful’: Kevin Garratt thanks PM, government on safe return to Canada (2016)
He went on to explain that while things were a little easier for him because he spoke Chinese, though he was still left in the dark about what would happen to him for several months.
“There’s still so many uncertainties and that’s really the biggest problem is you don’t know what’s going to happen and you’ll be waiting months and months and months and not knowing anything,” Garratt said.
He explained that he spent his first six months of detention in residential surveillance, during which time guards monitored him 24/7. Afterwards, he was moved to a prison where he shared a cell with a rotating cast of 14 strangers for almost 19 months.
Other than the embassy visit once a month, Garratt never left his cell.
“There’s absolutely no privacy and you get very little space to move around,” he said.
WATCH: China formally arrests Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor for ‘spying’
“You basically have your little wooden bed that you’re on, a very thin cotton pad and it’s incredibly uncomfortable, and you don’t really know what’s going on with the other people around you. Some would be murderers, some would be petty thieves. There’d be drug addicts, there’d be policemen, there’d be all sorts of people that will pass through that cell and, you know, some of them are just not nice.”
He went on to stress the importance of regular consular visits for the detainees.
“So, if they can bring messages from their family, that’s incredibly good, incredibly important, but, you know, one thing that one of the consular officials said to me each time she left was, I hope I don’t see you again. And that just spoke to me like I hope so, too, because that just instilled hope in me.”
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