In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, Kevin Garratt — who faced the same court process during his own two-year arbitrary detention in China — said the lack of transparency combined with threats of execution was one of the most challenging parts of his ordeal.
“I sort of had in the back of my mind that I would be convicted. I didn’t really fully grasp that at the time — I went in with hope,” said Garratt, who said he was threatened with execution “many times” during interrogation.
“And I thought, well, they could do that … even in the trial itself, it’s really excruciating — painful –because you’re not knowing what’s going on. For months and months, you had no information.”
“That’s the biggest thing really is just no knowledge, no information. You’re in a vacuum. You don’t know what’s happening in the outside world.”
Kevin Garratt and his wife Julia were detained in China in 2014 in a case with several parallels to the detentions of Kovrig and Spavor. The latter pair were detained just days after Canadian authorities arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou at the behest of American authorities.
Meng and her company face dozens of charges related to allegations of corporate espionage and skirting sanctions on Iran, and she is currently out on bail living in her Vancouver mansion.
China has both repeatedly and directly linked the detentions of the two Michaels with the arrest of Meng, while also insisting that the cases are unrelated.
The Garratts were taken prisoner and accused of spying shortly after Canadian authorities arrested a Chinese national called Su Bin in July 2014. Su, who had been working in Canada, was wanted by U.S. authorities on allegations of stealing military fighter jet data and sending it to China.
Su ultimately cut a deal with U.S. authorities, waiving extradition and agreeing to plead guilty. He was sentenced to 46 months in prison.
While Julia Garratt was released from prison after six months, Kevin Garratt was detained for two years. During that time, he faced a trial and a five-month wait before learning he had been convicted, followed by a sentence of six years in prison in fall 2016.
However, two days after issuing the sentence, Chinese officials deported him back to Canada.
“I would hope that something very similar would happen for both the Michaels. I can’t predict that — there’s no way I can because it’s really up to the political situation. I think part of it is up to what happens with Meng Wanzhou here in Canada and if she gets extradited to the U.S.,” said Garratt.
He said he is glad to see the Canadian government along with allies like the U.S. under President Joe Biden speaking out strongly against the detentions, and said it is important that that pressure continue both publicly and privately without backing officials in Beijing into a corner.
“I think there’s a balance. We can’t try to bully China because they will just get their backs up,” he said.
“But I think there has to be pressure in front and also behind the scenes.”
For now, Garratt said he hopes Kovrig and Spavor feel the support that he did from seeing diplomats and supporters gathered outside the courthouses as they head in for trial.
Canadian officials and supporters are barred from being in the courtroom, just as they were in Garratts’ case. But he said the sight of them on the street through the tinted windows of his prison vehicle gave him hope.
“I was able to glimpse them both going in and coming out of the court building. So although they couldn’t see me because the windows of the police van were tinted, I could see them, and that was a huge encouragement,” Garratt said.
“What I’ve seen on the news is that the same thing happened with Michael Spavor. There was a contingent of diplomats and media outside.”
“They all waved to him and that would be a huge encouragement.”