The Sunday Edition

Michael's Essay on two Canadians held in Chinese prison

"In less than four weeks it will be a full year since Chinese authorities arrested two Canadians and threw them in jail. On December 18 last year, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were arrested on charges of ‘endangering state security.’ A full year, and it is as though they have ceased to exist. Or have been transported to some remote island beyond the reach of humans.”
Michael Spavor, left, and former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig, right, were taken into custody almost a year ago. (Associated Press/International Crisis Group/Canadian Press)
Listen4:03

In less than four weeks, it will be a full year since Chinese authorities arrested two Canadians and threw them in jail.

On December 18 last year, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were arrested on charges of "endangering state security."

A full year, and it is as though they have ceased to exist. Or have been transported to some remote island beyond the reach of humans.

If you were creating a list of imagined horrors, it would be difficult to come up with something more frightening than a year in a Chinese prison cell.

It is not surprising that their prison conditions are horrifying. The light in their cells is on 24 hours a day. They are subject to six to eight hours of interrogation a day. They reportedly are not allowed outdoors.

A man holds a sign calling for China to release political activist Wang Bingzhang and former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig, who was arrested in China, at the B.C. Supreme Court bail hearing of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver, B.C. on 11, 2018. (Lindsey Wason/Reuters)

The government has criticized their arrest in not exactly blistering language: "arbitrary, unacceptable, deeply concerned."

Their situation did come up during a leaders debate in the October election.

Who are these two Canadians anyway?

Michael Spavor was born in Calgary. He has a degree from the University of Calgary and studied political science at Kangwon National University in South Korea.

He is fluent in Korean and French and has worked in North Korea on cultural exchange issues. He has strong personal ties with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Michael Kovrig is a former Canadian diplomat  who was working with the International Crisis Group when he was arrested.

The IRC is a non-profit NGO that was established in 1995. Its purpose is to try to diffuse volatile international tensions before they become a danger. One of its founders is George Soros.

Mr. Kovrig had been working with Chinese authorities for a decade, speaking at various conferences and meetings with Chinese government officials and academics in an effort to de-escalate any tensions between China and its neighbours.

He has often been a guest on Chinese television.

People who know both men are at a loss to explain why they are in prison.

It is hardly a coincidence that the men were detained shortly after the arrest of the Huawei corporation's chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.

Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, arriving at a parole office, in Vancouver on Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

We don't know if the request to extradite Ms. Meng came from the Oval Office or the US Department of Justice.

Canada followed the law and made the arrest.

And nothing has happened. Donald Trump has either forgotten all about Ms. Meng or doesn't want to infuriate the Chinese beyond the tariff war.

Ms. Meng is living in one of her luxurious houses in Vancouver.

Meng Wanzhou has two homes in Vancouver, including this $15 million mansion in Shaughnessy. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are living, if you want to call it that, in a Chinese prison.

The first duty of a government is to protect its citizens. I can't help but wonder if the government is doing enough for these two men.

I know Canada is caught inadvertently between Donald Trump and the Chinese, but there are options even though the government in Beijing is notoriously un-susceptible to political pressure from the outside.

Meng Wanzhou, deputy chairwoman and CFO of Huawei, is wanted by the United States for allegedly contravening U.S. trade sanctions against Iran. (Marcos Brindicci/Reuters, fensifuwu.com)

Justin Trudeau could refuse to ratify the revised NAFTA agreement until the American president drops his extradition request.

Ottawa could recall its newly appointed ambassador to China and perhaps cancel the visas for students who want to study here.

Undoubtedly Ottawa is trying back channel diplomacy to get the two men released. Or at least brought to trial with appropriate and effect defence counsel.

The foreign affairs department has appealed to some of our allies to help out.

The Chinese government should either try the two men or kick them out of the country.

Next month will be their second Christmas in their cells.

Click 'listen' above to hear Michael's essay.

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