Canadian officials are not aware of any new timeline for the trials of two Canadians detained in China, despite reports in China claiming Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig will soon be tried.
In an article published in the Global Times, an English-language paper that effectively functions as a mouthpiece for the Chinese government, a source “close to the matter” is cited saying that the two Canadians have “already been prosecuted.”
“Another source close to the matter told the Global Times previously that due to the COVID-19 epidemic situation, the hearings for both cases have yet to commence, and the court will push forward the trial soon,” the article reads.
Kovrig and Spavor have both been accused of espionage, a crime that is punishable in China by life in prison, with a minimum sentence of 10 years. Chinese courts boast a 99.99 per cent conviction rate, meaning that once a trial is commenced, the odds are not in the two detained Canadians’ favour.
However, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada told Global News that despite the reports from the Global Times, they had not been informed of any change in the timeline of the looming trials.
“We are not aware of any set timeline for the trials. To date, Global Affairs Canada has not been notified of court hearings for Mr. Kovrig or Mr. Spavor,” wrote Christelle Chartrand in an emailed statement.
“Global Affairs Canada continues to monitor these cases closely.”
Global News also contacted Kovrig’s employer, the International Crisis Group, which has been closely monitoring developments in his case. The think tank echoed what Global Affairs had said.
“We have no knowledge of this,” wrote the group’s head of communications, Karim Lebhour, in an email. He went on to pledge a follow-up should any official developments occur.
Spavor and Kovrig were detained in December 2018 in apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver. The arrest was at the behest of the United States, which had requested her extradition.
Since the arrest, Canada-China relations have plunged into a deep freeze.
Beyond the retaliatory detentions of the two Canadians, China also sentenced Canadian Robert Schellenberg to die after a hastily scheduled retrial of his drug smuggling conviction in China — just one month after Meng’s arrest.
The government has repeatedly called for clemency in Schellenberg’s case, but so far it has not been granted.
Canada further infuriated the Chinese government with its recent spearheading of a declaration denouncing state-sponsored arbitrary detention of foreign nationals for political purposes. The Canadian government insisted that the declaration, which had been sponsored by 58 countries in mid-February, was not aimed at any single country.
In an article published in the Global Times, Chinese experts were cited calling the declaration an “ill-considered attack designed to provoke China.”
“As such, China will not be scared and make compromises, Canada’s chosen diplomatic approach has never worked before, and will not achieve any goal in the future, and this very act of Canada will just ‘rebound in the worst possible way,’ (experts) say,” the Global Times article said.
Less than a month later, that same paper published the report that Kovrig and Spavor’s respective trials will get underway “soon.”
Meanwhile, Canada continues to push for the release of Spavor and Kovrig, with Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau stating in February that he hoped the declaration on arbitrary detentions would add to this pressure.
“What we hope this declaration will do is make countries who do use arbitrary detention rethink that as a tool of coercive diplomacy and reconsider that use because it really has no place in the world today,” Garneau said.
“Again, as I’ve said, it goes against human rights. And so what we’re doing with this initial declaration is trying to put pressure on countries that do it and to tell them that this is totally unacceptable and that there are eventually going to be consequences to countries that ignore that.”
Garneau also hinted that Canada isn’t ruling out sanctions as a means of bolstering the declaration, though he did not single out China as a potential recipient of those stronger measures.
“The consultations are just going to be beginning now that we’ve all agreed on the declaration, we will now be working together as to next steps. I gave a hint this morning that we would possibly engage certain international bodies, but that’s just one of the possibilities,” Garneau said when asked about the potential sanctions.
“One of the things we will do for sure is to publicize this as much as possible in order to get an even greater number of countries to join.”
Speaking on March 3, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reiterated that the charges against Spavor and Kovrig are retaliatory in nature.
“It is obvious that the two Michaels were arrested on trumped-up national security charges days after we fulfilled our extradition treaty responsibilities towards our ally, the United States,” Trudeau said.
Following a meeting with Trudeau in late February, U.S. President Joe Biden said the two countries are working together to try to secure the release of the two detained Canadians.
“Human beings are not bartering chips,” Biden said.
“We’re going to work together until we get their safe return.”