Michael Spavor: Trudeau hits out at ‘unacceptable’ verdict as China convicts Canadian businessman of spying

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File Image: Canadian businessman Michael Spavor arriving at the Beijing International Airport after a trip to North Korea on 13 January 2014 (Reuters)
File Image: Canadian businessman Michael Spavor arriving at the Beijing International Airport after a trip to North Korea on 13 January 2014 (Reuters)

Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau has hit out at China for convicting Canadian citizen Michael Spavor on charges of espionage, calling his sentencing “absolutely unacceptable and unjust”.

Mr Trudeau’s statement was issued shortly after a court in China sentenced the Canadian businessman to 11 years of imprisonment on charges of spying on Wednesday morning.

"For the crime of spying and illegal provision of state secrets abroad [Spavor] has been sentenced to 11 years in jail, confiscation of 50,000 yuan (£5,578) worth of personal property and deportation," the Dandong court was quoted as saying by BBC News.

The imprisonment has been linked to the extradition battle involving Meng Wanzhao, an executive at tech giant Huawei who was arrested in Canada in December 2018. Canada believes China is using cases involving Spavor and other Canadian nationals to pressure the Canadian government over her arrest.

A court in Canada will hear final arguments in Ms Meng’s case in the coming few weeks and make a decision on whether to hand her over to the US on the possible violation of economic sanctions against Iran. Ms Meng has claimed her innocence.

China detained Spavor and his fellow Canadian Michael Kovrig in 2018, days after Canada arrested the Huawei executive at Vancouver International Airport on a warrant from the United States.

Both Spavor and Kovrig were subsequently charged with espionage. While the Dandong court concluded a one-day trial in March and waited till Wednesday to announce the verdict in Spavor’s case, Mr Kovrig is still waiting for the verdict almost five months after the conclusion of his trial.

Slamming the order, Mr Trudeau said: “The verdict for Mr Spavor comes after more than two and a half years of arbitrary detention, a lack of transparency in the legal process, and a trial that did not satisfy even the minimum standards required by international law.

“For Mr Spavor, as well as for Michael Kovrig who has also been arbitrarily detained, our top priority remains securing their immediate release. We will continue working around the clock to bring them home as soon as possible.”

Mr Trudeau also assured continued consular assistance to Spavor and his family and added that “we (the Canadian government) will not rest until they are safely brought home”.

Canadian Ambassador Dominic Barton gets into a car near the Dandong city detention center after attending the guilty verdict hearing on Canadian businessman Michael Spavor on spying charges in the border city of Dandong, in China's northeast Liaoning province on 11 August 2021 (AFP via Getty Images)
Canadian Ambassador Dominic Barton gets into a car near the Dandong city detention center after attending the guilty verdict hearing on Canadian businessman Michael Spavor on spying charges in the border city of Dandong, in China's northeast Liaoning province on 11 August 2021 (AFP via Getty Images)

Canada’s ambassador to China, Dominic Barton, was at the detention centre in northeastern China where the verdict was delivered. In a video address to diplomats and journalists, Mr Barton said that Spavor had three messages that he wants to share with world: "Thank you for all your support", "I am in good spirits," and "I want to get home."

He added that Spavor will be deported on the completion of his sentence.

China has a conviction rate of well over 99 per cent and the transparency of trials in sensitive cases is typically limited. Spavor’s family said in a statement in March that the charges against him are vague and have never actually been made public. They said that he had granted only limited access to his Chinese defence counsel.

Since Ms Meng’s arrest, at least four Canadians have been sentenced to death over drug charges. These include Robert Schellenberg, Fan Wei, Ye Jianhui and Xu Weihong.

The communist state has, however, rejected the allegations of the arrests and sentencing being linked to Ms Meng’s case in Canada – though it had warned of unspecified consequences if were to be charged.

Additional reporting by agencies

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