Canada ‘will be there’ to help two Michaels after their detention in China: Trudeau

Canada 'will be there' to help two Michaels after their detention in China: Trudeau © Provided by The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is pushing back on the notion that Canada’s willingness to help two citizens who were detained in China is an acknowledgement they engaged in espionage on Ottawa’s behalf.

The federal government will be there to help Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor rebuild their lives after they were arbitrarily imprisoned in China for three years, Trudeau said Thursday.

Canada has assisted Kovrig and Spavor from the beginning because China chose to use them as pawns in geopolitical games, Trudeau told a news conference in Toronto.

“We’ve been there to support the two Michaels, who went through unimaginable difficulties, being arbitrarily detained by China,” he said. “We will continue to be there to support them.”

He said China arrested the Canadians for political reasons, adding there was “absolutely no justification, no reason, no excuse for them to do that.”

Trudeau’s comments came a day after John Phillips, a lawyer for Spavor, indicated his client had reached a settlement with the federal government over the detention.

Phillips said in an email that the matter between Spavor and the government had been “resolved.”

Trudeau declined to say Thursday whether Ottawa had provided compensation to Kovrig, citing a need for confidentiality.

Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, a senior executive of Chinese firm Huawei Technologies, in December 2018 at the request of the United States, where she faced charges related to American sanctions against Iran.

The move clearly angered Beijing, and Kovrig and Spavor — two Canadians working in China — were arrested soon after on accusations of endangering national security, a move widely seen as retaliation against Ottawa.

Kovrig and Spavor were both convicted of spying in 2021 in closed Chinese courts. Canada and many allies said the process amounted to arbitrary detention on bogus charges in an unaccountable justice system.

The U.S. worked out a deferred prosecution agreement in Meng’s case, allowing for her release, and Beijing permitted the two Michaels, as they came to be known, to fly home in September 2021.

Source: Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press