After more than two years in prison, Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are to be tried in China for espionage over the coming week.
“Our embassy in Beijing has been notified that court hearings for Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig are scheduled to take place on March 19 and March 22, respectively,” said Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau in a media statement.
“We believe these detentions are arbitrary and remain deeply troubled by the lack of transparency surrounding these proceedings.”
Kovrig and Spavor were detained in China on Dec. 10, 2018 — nine days after Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies, was arrested while changing planes in Vancouver.
Meng was detained on a U.S. extradition request over allegations she lied to a Hong Kong banker in August 2013 about Huawei’s control of a subsidiary accused of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran.
The arrests of Kovrig and Spavor are widely seen as an act of retaliation by Beijing for Meng’s arrest.
Garneau said ending the “arbitrary detention” of the two Canadians remains a top priority for the Liberal government, and that Ottawa will continue to provide support to the two men during the trial.
“Canadian officials are seeking continued consular access to Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig, in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the China-Canada Consular Agreement, and have also requested to attend the proceedings,” he said.
Watch: Michael Kovrig’s wife: ‘He works to transform anger into determination and grievance into resolve’:
In an interview with CBC News Network’s Power & Politics Michael Kovrig’s wife, Vina Nadjibulla said it is an emotional and difficult day for her and her family.
“We suspected that this day was coming and that it was coming soon,” she said. “But it’s still a lot to take in and it is emotional and hard to fully express what this means.”
Nadjibulla says she still doesn’t know if her husband was informed of his upcoming trial.
“We suspect he might be, and we hope that he is taking this as well as he endured everything else; with an enormous amount of resilience and capacity to remain positive and focused,” she told host Vassy Kapelos.
Trump’s trade remark
The U.S. has staunchly supported Canada in its efforts to free the two Canadians, despite initial comments by former U.S. president Donald Trump that threatened to derail the case against Meng.
Ten days after Meng’s arrest in Canada, Trump was asked if he would allow his government to intervene in the case if it meant the U.S. would get an improved trade deal with China.
“If I think it’s good for what will be the largest trade deal ever made — which is a very important thing — what’s good for national security, I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary,” Trump told the Reuters news agency.
Since Trump’s electoral defeat, U.S. President Joe Biden has affirmed his administration’s support for Canada’s efforts to secure the release of the two men.
“Human beings are not bartering chips,” Biden said during his virtual visit to Ottawa last month. “We’re going to work together to get their safe return. Canada and the United States will stand together against abuse of universal rights and democratic freedoms.”
Watch: Malcolm Turnbull on China’s detainment of Kovrig and Spavor:
Meanwhile, Meng’s extradition hearing continues in a B.C. courtroom continues this week as the Huawei executive maintains her innocence.
Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, told Power & Politics Wednesday that the trial is little more than a political exercise.
“This arrest is obviously an exercise in hostage diplomacy,” Turnbull said. “It was a shocking action, and it’s one that is obviously designed to coerce and intimidate Canada.”
Watch: Guy Saint-Jacques, former Canadian ambassador to China says: ‘We have to brace ourselves for some bad news down the road.’