Two Canadians Detained in China Formally Arrested, Charged With Spying

Two Canadians Detained in China Formally Arrested, Charged With Spying
Canadians Michael Spavor (L) and Michael Kovrig have been detained in China since shortly after Canada arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver in December 2018. (AP Photo)
Margaret Wollensak

Chinese authorities have formally arrested two Canadians after detaining them for five months without access to lawyers, a move that will likely exacerbate tensions between Ottawa and Beijing.

Global Affairs Canada confirmed early Thursday morning that Chinese authorities had formally placed Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor under arrest.

According to news reports, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson told a press conference on Thursday that Spavor is charged with stealing state secrets and providing them to overseas forces, while Kovrig is charged with gathering state secrets.

Canada condemned the arrest of the men and called for their release.

"Canada strongly condemns their arbitrary arrest as we condemned their arbitrary detention," Brittany Fletcher, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, said in a statement.

"We reiterate our demand that China immediately release Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor."

Kovrig is a former Canadian diplomat who now works for the International Crisis Group, a think tank that, according to its website, focuses on preventing and resolving deadly conflict.

Spavor is a businessman who has worked extensively in North Korea.

Both Canadians were separately detained in China on Dec. 10, 2018. Canadian consular officials in China have been able to visit Kovrig and Spavor seven times each, the most recent visits taking place earlier this week. However, neither of the men have been allowed access to lawyers or family while detained.

According to the Globe and Mail, the men had been held in what essentially amounted to solitary confinement and "were interrogated up to eight hours a day and held in rooms with 24-hour lighting." The two have reportedly now been moved to a formal detention centre.

Their detention last December is widely seen as retaliation by the Chinese regime for the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver by Canadian officials on behalf of the United States on Dec. 1, 2018.

U.S. authorities want Meng extradited to the United States to face charges of fraud, alleging that she and Huawei attempted to circumvent U.S. sanctions on Iran in their business dealings with U.S. banks, with Meng herself is accused of making misleading statements to banks. Both Huawei and Meng deny the allegations.

Meng's extradition proceedings are an ongoing process, with her next court appearance scheduled for September.

Unlike Kovrig and Spavor, who have not had access to lawyers or family, Meng has been out on $10-million bail for the past five months, living in one of her Vancouver homes and free to travel in the city during the day. Last week, she was granted permission to move to one of her homes in a more upscale area of the city.

In the months since her arrest, Ottawa and Beijing have been at increasing odds with one another.

After the arrest of Kovrig and Spavor, another Canadian detained in China, Robert Schellenberg, was recently sentenced to death for his involvement in a drug case, an escalation of his previous 15-year jail term. He is appealing his case.

The Chinese regime has also blocked imports from two major Canadian canola exporters, while other Canadian commodities are reportedly facing obstacles or delays in trade with China.