China’s decision to move forward with verdicts in two court cases involving Canadians this week is no coincidence, according to Canada’s Ambassador to China.
Speaking to reporters Monday night, Dominic Barton slammed the Chinese court’s decision to uphold the death sentence for Canadian Robert Schellenberg – and insinuated that the timing of the decision is linked to a high-profile case here in Canada.
“It is not a coincidence that these are happening right now, while the case is going on in Vancouver,” Barton said.
Barton was referring to Huawei Executive Meng Wanzhou‘s ongoing court case in Vancouver, where this week her lawyers have been making a final push in their fight against a U.S. extradition request. If Meng is extradited, she will face the U.S. courts over charges linked to alleged sanction violations.
China has made it increasingly clear the two detained Canadians — Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — can expect their cases to move in lockstep with Meng’s case, according to experts.
“If she is turned over to the United States, then they’ll be in China for a very long time,” warned former foreign affairs minister John Manley.
Spavor and Kovrig, often referred to as the Two Michaels, have been detained in China since December 2018. They were thrown in Chinese jail just 10 days after Canada’s arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.
On March 1, 2019, Canada approved the extradition order of Meng to the United States. Just two days afterward, China claimed Kovrig had stolen state secrets.
In mid-May of 2019, China arrested the two men over allegations of espionage — a charge Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly called “trumped-up” and “arbitrary.” China can only hold detainees up to six months before they must be arrested — and that deadline was almost up.
Then, in late May 2020, a Canadian court ruling dealt a major blow to Meng’s legal team and allowed her case to continue moving forward. Less than a month afterward, China formally indicted Spavor and Kovrig.
Now, on the heels of both the progression of Meng’s court case and the decision in China regarding Schellenberg’s fate, Spavor is now reportedly set to face his own verdict this week.
The timeline makes it “difficult to believe” that China wasn’t moving the Canadians’ cases in tandem with the developments in Meng’s extradition trial, Manley said.
“It would be quite a remarkable coincidence if it were they were not related,” he said.
And, in yet another bid to push for Meng’s release, Spavor may find himself hit with a harsh sentence, according to a Canadian ambassador to China.
“The Chinese government wants to add pressure on the Canadian government to free Ms. Meng,” said Guy Saint-Jaques in an interview with Global News.
“I expect that what we will hear tomorrow is that Mr. Spavor is receiving a very harsh sentence. I would guess, at the minimum, a 10-year sentence.”
China’s legal system works very differently than Canada’s, the experts said.
“Chinese law has a flexibility about it that is distinct from our own system,” said Gordon Houlden, who heads the University of Alberta’s China Institute.
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“Our prime minister cannot call the judge in B.C., obviously, and dictate an outcome.”
But that’s exactly what China wants the government to do — and Saint-Jacques says the two detained Canadians can expect to stay in China until that happens.
“The Chinese government has indicated that there would be no progress as long as Ms. Meng is in Canada,” he said.
It’s a situation that feels a bit too familiar for Kevin Garratt, a Canadian who was detained in China for almost two years. He was scooped up by Chinese authorities in apparent retaliation for the Canadian arrest of Su Bin, a Chinese resident working in Canada whose extradition had been requested by the Americans.
He said the Chinese authorities “don’t understand why” Canada can’t interfere with Meng’s extradition case.
In Garratt’s case, he finally saw the other side of his prison cell after Su was extradited and opted not to appeal the decision.
“And so we hope the same thing will happen with the two Michaels and Rob (Schelleberg).”
According to Reuters, China has rejected the suggestion that the cases of the Canadians in China are linked to Meng’s case — though Beijing has warned of unspecified consequences unless Meng was released.
“Schellenberg’s case is of a completely different nature from Meng’s case. Those who link the two together have ulterior motives,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said on Tuesday.
The spokesperson also said the facts were clear in Schellenberg’s case, the evidence “solid and robust” and the “sentencing procedures are lawful.”
Canada’s justice minister, meanwhile, also refused to explicitly comment on any potential linkages between Meng’s case and the detentions in China.
“I never comment publicly on the Meng Wanzhou case because of a potential role that I may play at the end of that process,” said David Lametti, in reference to the fact that as Attorney General, he’d have to sign off on Meng’s extradition.
“What I will say, what I can say, is that we condemn in the strongest possible terms this sentence, this death sentence for Mr. Schellenberg. We continue to seek clemency on his behalf.”
Canada will also continue fighting for Spavor and Kovrig, Lametti added.
“We will also continue to work diligently, all of our colleagues around the table, with every resource that we have at our disposition to work to free Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor … they are trumped-up charges for which there’s absolutely no basis in law.”
— With files from Reuters