Alleging Kovrig Was Involved in Gathering Intelligence From Spavor Only Perpetuates Beijing’s ‘False Narrative,’ Ottawa Says

The statement comes after a Nov. 18 Globe and Mail article said Mr. Spavor is seeking a multi-million dollar settlement from the federal government.
Alleging Kovrig Was Involved in Gathering Intelligence From Spavor Only Perpetuates Beijing’s ‘False Narrative,’ Ottawa Says
Michael Spavor (2nd L) and Michael Kovrig (2nd R) receive a standing ovation in the House of Commons prior to U.S. President Joe Biden’s address of Parliament, in Ottawa on March 24, 2023. (The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld)
Omid Ghoreishi

Global Affairs Canada says that suggesting either Michael Kovrig or Michael Spavor was involved in “espionage” will only serve Beijing’s false allegations over their arrests, which occurred after Canada detained Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition request in 2018.

The statement comes after a Nov. 18 Globe and Mail article cited anonymous sources as saying Mr. Spavor is seeking a multimillion-dollar settlement from the federal government, alleging that his detention came as a result of Mr. Kovrig, a former diplomat, gathering intelligence from him to provide to the Canadian government.

“Perpetuating the notion that either Michael was involved in espionage is only perpetuating a false narrative under which they were detained by China,” a spokesperson with Global Affairs Canada told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement.

“China’s arbitrary detention of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig was unjust and unacceptable.”

The department added that due to privacy considerations, it can’t provide further information.

Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor were detained in December 2018, days after Ms. Meng was arrested in Vancouver. Her arrest came at the request of the United States, where she was accused of fraud charges related to violating U.S. sanctions on Iran.

Huawei, a telecom company based in China, was founded by Ms. Meng’s father, a former Chinese military officer, and has close links to the Chinese regime.

China’s arrest of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor, who spent nearly three years in captivity, was on charges of espionage, an allegation that Canada has denied.

The two were released only after Ms. Meng reached a deferred prosecution agreement with U.S. prosecutors in September 2021 and was allowed to leave Canada.

At the time of his arrest, Mr. Kovrig was on a leave of absence from the Canadian foreign service and had no special status. He was employed as a scholar with the think tank the International Crisis Group.

During his time as a diplomat, Mr. Kovrig contributed to the Global Security Reporting Program (GSRP). According to a 2022 parliamentary report, the GSRP is “a specialized diplomatic reporting program whose purpose is to collect information on security and stability in select countries abroad using overt diplomatic means.” The emphasis on “overt” is contrasted with covert operations of intelligence agencies. As well, those involved in the GSRP are not allowed to recruit or run human sources.

Mr. Spavor, who lived near the China-North Korea border in northern China at the time of his arrest, specialized in promoting tourism and investment in North Korea. He has been photographed several times with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and facilitated the friendship between Mr. Kim and former NBA star Dennis Rodman.

The Globe cites its sources as saying that Mr. Spavor is alleging that his arrest came as a result of information he shared with Mr. Kovrig, which the sources say he alleges, unbeknown to him, was passed on to the Canadian government and its Five Eyes allies. The intelligence alliance also includes the United States, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand.

Legal Representation

The Globe reports, citing anonymous sources, that Mr. Spavor is currently negotiating with lawyers for the federal government over the multimillion-dollar settlement request. He is represented by high-profile lawyer John K. Phillips.

Mr. Phillips confirmed to The Epoch Times that his firm has been retained by Mr. Spavor and that they are aware of the Globe article but have no comment at this time.

“We ask that you please respect Mr. Spavor’s privacy,” Mr. Phillips said in an email.

Among Mr. Phillips’s past clients is former Guantanamo Bay inmate Omar Khadr, who reached a $10.5 million settlement with the federal government. He has also acted on behalf of several former CSIS and RCMP employees who alleged mistreatment by the federal agencies.

The Epoch Times contacted Mr. Kovrig for comment.

During his detention in China, Mr. Kovrig was held in solitary confinement for extended periods of time, and lights were kept on in his cell day and night. This can lead to sleep deprivation, which is recognized as a method of torture by human rights organizations.

The arrest of the two Canadians came days after China warned Canada of “dire consequences” for Ms. Meng’s arrest. China also escalated the sentence of Canadian citizen Robert Schellenberg, who had been arrested on drug charges, to the death sentence, and blocked several types of Canadian exports into China.