The comment comes as Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau confirmed on Wednesday that the Canadian Embassy in Beijing has been notified of the court dates for the two Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig.
“We are disappointed to learn of Michael’s pending trial. From the moment he was detained, the political nature of his case has been clear,” said Richard Atwood, interim president of International Crisis Group, in a statement. Kovrig has been working for ICG since 207.
“What happens in the Chinese legal system does not change this. After 830 days imprisoned, Michael should be released immediately so he can return home to his loved ones.”
Spavor’s trial is understood to take place on March 19 and Kovrig’s is believed to be slated for March 22.
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Spavor and Kovrig were detained in December 2018 in apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver. The arrest was at the behest of the United States, which had requested her extradition.
Both Canadians have been accused of espionage, a crime that is punishable in China by life in prison with a minimum sentence of 10 years. Chinese courts boast a 99.99 per cent conviction rate, meaning that once a trial is commenced, the odds are the two being convicted are all but a guarantee.
Speaking to Global News on Wednesday, Kovrig’s wife, Vina Nadjibulla, said the announcement is a “difficult piece of news to process.”
“It’s overwhelming. I keep thinking about Michael and how he must be experiencing this and preparing and making sense of it, preparing for Monday,” Nadjibulla said.
She said the news “underscores the urgency” of the situation and that Canadian officials “must do everything possible to bring them home.”
“We’re running out of time. The process in China is moving ahead and this is incredibly, incredibly urgent at this stage,” Nadjibulla said.
The government has been repeatedly calling for the release of the two detained Canadians since their arbitrary arrest in 2018. However, that push has been hindered by the icy relationship between Canada and China, which hit the deep freeze over the last two years.
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Beyond the retaliatory detentions of the two Canadians, China also sentenced Canadian Robert Schellenberg to die after a hastily scheduled retrial of his drug smuggling conviction in China — just one month after Meng’s arrest.
The government has repeatedly called for clemency in Schellenberg’s case, but so far it has not been granted.
Canada further infuriated the Chinese government with its recent spearheading of a declaration denouncing state-sponsored arbitrary detention of foreign nationals for political purposes.
While the Canadian government insisted the declaration, which had been sponsored by 58 countries in mid-February, was not aimed at any single country, China interpreted the move as an attack.
In an article published in the Global Times, an English-language paper that effectively functions as a mouthpiece for the Chinese government, Chinese experts were cited calling the declaration an “ill-considered attack designed to provoke China.”
“As such, China will not be scared and make compromises, Canada’s chosen diplomatic approach has never worked before, and will not achieve any goal in the future, and this very act of Canada will just ‘rebound in the worst possible way,’ (experts) say,” the Global Times article said.
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Less than a month later, that same paper published the report that Kovrig and Spavor’s respective trials will get underway “soon.”
In his statement announcing those trial dates, Garneau said the arbitrary detentions of the two Canadians remain a “top priority” for the Canadian government.
“We continue to work tirelessly to secure their immediate release,” he said.
— with files from Global News’ Hannah Jackson
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