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Garneau unsure when Michael Kovrig verdict will come as China sentences 2 Canadians

Click to play video: 'Ottawa pressured to help Canadians detained in China' Ottawa pressured to help Canadians detained in China
WATCH: Ottawa pressured to help Canadians detained in China – Aug 10, 2021

The federal government is not sure when Michael Kovrig — one of the two Michaels detained in China — will learn his fate, Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said Wednesday.

Garneau made the comments to reporters during a news conference after China’s courts earlier this week sentenced two other Canadians, Michael Spavor and Robert Schellenberg.

“We don’t know when the verdict will be rendered regarding Michael Kovrig. We are waiting to see,” he said in French.

“We know that his trial was supposed to happen shortly after Michael Spavor, but it’s the Chinese authorities that will decide when.”

Read more: Canadian Michael Spavor sentenced to 11 years in Chinese prison for espionage

Spavor, an entrepreneur who was detained by Chinese authorities in 2018, was convicted of espionage by a Chinese court and sentenced to 11 years in prison on Wednesday.

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China’s Dandong Intermediate Court said Spavor will be deported, but it’s not clear when, based on a statement on the court’s website. The court also said 50,000 yuan ($9,600) of Spavor’s personal assets will be confiscated.

Click to play video: 'Foreign minister strongly condemns sentencing of Canadian Michael Spavor in Chinese court' Foreign minister strongly condemns sentencing of Canadian Michael Spavor in Chinese court
Foreign minister strongly condemns sentencing of Canadian Michael Spavor in Chinese court – Aug 11, 2021

Espionage is punishable in China by life in prison with a minimum sentence of 10 years.

Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat, was also detained in China in December 2018 and was later charged with espionage.

The two Michaels were detained in apparent retaliation for the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou just days before in Vancouver by RCMP at the behest of American authorities.

Click to play video: 'White House refers questions on Michael Spavor’s sentencing in China to State Department' White House refers questions on Michael Spavor’s sentencing in China to State Department
White House refers questions on Michael Spavor’s sentencing in China to State Department – Aug 11, 2021

Garneau said Wednesday that Canada will appeal the Spavor verdict, and vowed to continue to fight for the release of the two Michaels.

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“We will continue to do it because fundamentally we know that the practice of arbitrary detention with a mocked, sham trial, with absolutely no transparency whatsoever, and a verdict that is completely unjustified, are not acceptable, in terms of international rules-based law,” he said.

While China has denied that the arrests of Kovrig and Spavor arrests were retaliatory measures, officials have suggested that the pair could be released if Wanzhou is allowed to return home to China and the case against her is dropped. Canada has refused to entertain such an exchange.

Read more: China has tied fates of detained Canadians to Meng case, experts warn

Kovrig and Spavor both faced closed-door trials over spying charges in March that ended without verdicts. Canadian officials were barred from attending both trials.

Garneau added Canada is still involved in talks with Washington and Beijing to secure the return of the two Michaels.

“It’s an ongoing process and I know it’s been (going) on for over two and a half years, but it is a process we will not give up on. And we feel it is something that Canada must continue to do,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Chinese court upholds death sentence against B.C. man' Chinese court upholds death sentence against B.C. man
Chinese court upholds death sentence against B.C. man – Aug 10, 2021

Spavor’s verdict comes a day after a Chinese court rejected the appeal in the case of another Canadian, Robert Schellenberg, upholding his death penalty sentence. Canada strongly condemned the “arbitrary” decision by China.

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Schellenberg was detained by Chinese authorities in December 2014 and was formally charged with drug smuggling in January 2015. His initial 15-year verdict on drug smuggling charges was overturned and a death sentence was issued in January 2019 following a retrial.

Read more: Chinese court upholds death sentence for Robert Schellenberg in drug smuggling case

After Monday’s appeal, the Higher People’s Court of Liaoning Province said the sentence was appropriate and the lower court’s procedures were legal. It sent the case to China’s Supreme Court for review.

Speaking to reporters on Monday night, Canada’s Ambassador to China said China’s decision to move forward with verdicts in two court cases involving Canadians this week is no coincidence.

“It is not a coincidence that these are happening right now, while the Wanzhou case is going on in Vancouver,” Dominic Barton told reporters.

Read more: Formal extradition hearing to begin for Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou

Ahead of the Spavor decision, a former Canadian ambassador to China said Beijing wants to press Ottawa to free Wanzhou by giving Spavor a “very harsh sentence.”

“The Chinese government has indicated that there would be no progress as long as Ms. Meng is in Canada,” said Guy Saint-Jaques in an interview with Global News on Tuesday.

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The formal extradition hearing for the Huawei executive accused of fraud in the United States will start Wednesday in British Columbia Supreme Court.

— with files from Global News’ Rachel Gilmore, Reuters, The Associated Press and The Canadian Press

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