Michael Spavor, Michael Kovrig Tried in China

Trials held behind closed doors . . .

After more than two years in detention in China, trials for the Canadian ‘Two Michaels’ were held on either side of a US-China summit on the weekend. Businessman Michael Spavor was tried last Friday, while former diplomat Michael Kovrig was tried in Beijing yesterday. Both men were arrested in China in December 2018, shortly after Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver at the request of the United States. Both trials were conducted in secret, with no Canadian or foreign representatives or journalists permitted in the courthouse. Experts say this violates the Canada-China Consular Agreement. Both trials ended with no verdict announced, and no information was made available on the two men's fate.

Canadian ambassador summoned home, absent from trials . . .

In a show of support, diplomats from 26 countries joined their Canadian colleagues in attempting to attend the trials. Absent from the scene was Canadian Ambassador to China Dominic Barton, who had been summoned back to Canada for “strategic consultations” as Canada prepared to impose sanctions on Chinese officials over abuses in Xinjiang. Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau, meanwhile, said he was “deeply troubled by the lack of transparency" surrounding the court proceedings and thanked international partners for their support and solidarity. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also called for Beijing to release the two Michaels, saying they are being used as “bargaining chips.”

What’s next?

With a 99.9 per cent conviction rate in China, both Michaels will most likely be found guilty. But what will come after remains unknown. While some are arguing for a trilateral compromise between the U.S., Canada, and China, nothing assures the release of both men, especially as relations with China worsen, notably over the treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. The current situation is reminiscent of Canadians Kevin and Julia Garrett. The couple was arrested in China in 2014 and held in detention and interrogated on espionage charges. Julia Garrett was released on bail in February 2015 but was unable to return to Canada until the summer of 2016. Kevin Garrett remained in detention for two years. He was tried and found guilty in September 2016, but deported back to Canada immediately following his trial.