A one-year anniversary passed Dec. 10, but it isn’t one that was being celebrated — least of all by the two Canadians to whom the milestone applied.
Last Tuesday marked one year since Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were detained in China in what had all the appearances of retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou, a top executive with Chinese technology giant Huawei, on an extradition request from the United States.
It has surely been a long and trying year for the two Canadians who have reportedly been kept in constant bright light with no access to their families or to legal counsel. Meanwhile, Meng has been out on bail and living in the extravagance of her Vancouver home.
Besides detaining the two Michaels, who were officially arrested in May, China also lashed back at Canada economically by blocking canola and pork shipments, demonstrating their willingness to play hardball to get what they want, which is Meng’s release.
Last Tuesday, China announced that the two men’s cases have been transferred “for investigation and prosecution” on allegations of national security violations. A statement from the Chinese embassy in Ottawa defended the incarceration of the Canadians and also reiterated demands that Meng be released, an indication that the two situations are connected and, as such, the Canadians’ arrest was clearly retaliatory.
While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne continue to insist that securing the freedom of Kovrig and Spavor is a “top priority,” there seems to have been little progress made in that regard. Surely there’s more that can be done.
Last week, in an article in the Ottawa Citizen, Peter Lamont and David Kilgour offered a possible solution to the dilemma. Lamont is a retired military judge and former federal prosecutor with experience in extraditions while Kilgour served as a prosecutor during the 1970s and as Secretary of State in the Asia-Pacific region from 2002-03.
They suggested that the Canadian government should attempt to negotiate a deal between the United States Attorney and the Chinese government which would allow Huawei to plead guilty to charges in New York in exchange for dropping the charges against Meng. That would effectively end the extradition case against her in Canada and would open the door for China to release Kovrig and Spavor.
It sounds like a reasonable proposal, and one the federal government should strongly consider. Canada’s leaders can’t continue to allow two Canadians to remain unjustly imprisoned in a case of obvious bullying. It’s noble of Canada to want to avoid caving in to China’s demands regarding Meng, but Kovrig and Spavor — and their loved ones — shouldn’t have to pay the price for this diplomatic standoff.
Let’s hope there isn’t a second anniversary to this tragic saga.