One year after arrests, Canadians held in China set to face trial

Two men have met monthly with consular officials from Canada

Canada’s justice minister says he is troubled that two Canadians detained in China have been denied access to lawyers as they face trials where convictions are virtually assured.

Neither Michael Spavor nor Michael Kovrig has seen a lawyer or family in the year since they were each arrested in what is widely seen as retribution for Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on an extradition request from the United States.

The two men have met monthly with consular officials from Canada, which calls their detentions arbitrary as part of an ongoing push to secure their release.

On his way into this morning’s cabinet meeting — the first anniversary of the detentions — Justice Minister David Lametti says it troubles him that they haven’t had any access to legal counsel.

He says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne “have made it their top priority” to secure the two men’s freedom.

Those efforts were thrown further in doubt today when a Chinese foreign-ministry spokeswoman told reporters in Beijing that Spavor’s and Kovrig’s cases have been handed over “for investigation and prosecution” on national security allegations.

“China’s judicial authorities handle cases in strict accordance with law and protect the two Canadian citizens’ lawful rights,” Hua Chunying said according to an English transcript posted on the ministry’s website.

ALSO READ: Kovrig clings to humour as ‘two Michaels’ near one year in Chinese prison

She said the two men “are in sound condition,” but demurred on questions about their access to lawyers.

Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat, is employed by the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental organization. Spavor is an entrepreneur who specialized in business in North Korea.

In the year since Canada arrested Meng at Vancouver’s airport on Dec. 1, 2018 and China retaliated by detaining Kovrig and Spavor, relations between the two countries have soured. Aside from the arrests, China has also restricted imports of some agricultural products, including canola.

The United States wants Meng extradited to face fraud charges for allegedly violating sanctions against Iran. She remains on bail and living in a luxury Vancouver home, as her extradition hearing remains before a British Columbia court.

Conservatives in the House of Commons are pushing for support to launch a special committee of MPs to probe all aspects of the Canada-China relationship, which would also call Trudeau, Champagne and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair as witnesses.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, in a statement, said the Liberals have shown themselves to be “an unserious government unable to handle this important file,” adding that Trudeau needs to be held to account.

“While in prison, these two Canadians have been subject to near torturous conditions, including the confiscation of Mr. Kovrig’s reading glasses,” the statement said.

“During this time Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government have demonstrated gross incompetence and poor judgement.”

The Canadian Press

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