Michael Kovrig (left) and Michael Spavor, the two Canadians detained in China, are shown in these 2018 images taken from video. Canadian prisoner Michael Kovrig is trying to hold on to a sense of humour as he and fellow countryman Michael Spavor approach one year in solitary confinement in China, says Kovrig’s current boss. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP

Michael Kovrig (left) and Michael Spavor, the two Canadians detained in China, are shown in these 2018 images taken from video. Canadian prisoner Michael Kovrig is trying to hold on to a sense of humour as he and fellow countryman Michael Spavor approach one year in solitary confinement in China, says Kovrig’s current boss. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP

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

Their detention is widely viewed as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Chinese high-tech scion Meng Wanzhou

Canadian prisoner Michael Kovrig is trying to hold on to a sense of humour as he and fellow countryman Michael Spavor approach one year in solitary confinement in China, says Kovrig’s current boss.

Kovrig, a diplomat on leave who was working with the International Crisis Group, and Spavor, an entrepreneur, have been imprisoned in China since Dec. 10, 2018. Their detention is widely viewed as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Chinese high-tech scion Meng Wanzhou on Dec. 1, 2018.

Meng, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies, was arrested at the request of the United States, which wants her extradited to face fraud charges for allegedly violating sanctions against Iran.

The incident triggered a diplomatic meltdown between Canada and China, that has also led to the People’s Republic banning some Canadian agricultural products, including canola.

Meng is out on bail and living in a luxury Vancouver home, as her extradition hearing remains before a British Columbia court.

On the one-year anniversary of her arrest, Huawei posted a message from Meng in which she described feeling tormented and helpless, amid long periods of reading novels and oil painting, while watching the dense forests outside her window change to crimson.

READ MORE: New foreign minister presses for Canadian detainees with China counterpart

Robert Malley, the president of the Washington-based Crisis Group, said he wishes Meng no ill-will but that there’s no comparison between how she and Kovrig and Spavor are being treated.

Kovrig and Spavor have been allowed approximately one consular visit per month by Canadian diplomats. But they have been denied access to lawyers, and all others.

Malley said he hopes Kovrig can at least receive a bit better treatment from their Chinese jailers. And he said that wish extends to Spavor, who has no connection to his organization. The Crisis Group has focused exclusively on the case of Kovrig, who was a specialist on China for the think-tank, and had conducted high-level interviews with Chinese officials over numerous visits.

“I don’t think anyone is expecting they will improve to the point that Ms. Meng is experiencing,” he said. “That would probably be an unrealistic expectation. But at least that he be treated fairly and that he have access to family members, to lawyers, to others and that he could live a little bit more normally than he is today.”

Malley said Kovrig is showing uncommon resilience as he lives in isolation, deprived of contact from his loved ones.

“All of that, obviously, would be taxing on anyone. I do have to say that the way Michael is reacting is nothing short of extraordinary. Maintaining his sense of humour, his sense of perspective, his desire to remain interested in things that are going on around the world.”

Malley offered no other details.

China accuses the two men of spying, while the Canadian government has branded their detentions as arbitrary. There appears to be little movement in the stalemate. China’s new ambassador recently held firm to his country’s hardline position, saying the tension between the two countries could be easily dealt with if Canada simply released Meng.

READ MORE: Huawei’s Meng ‘no longer fears unknown’ despite ‘torment, struggle’ of last year

Malley, who previously served on former U.S. President Barack Obama’s national security council, said Kovrig’s fate is wrapped up in events outside his and Canada’s control.

China and the Trump administration are embroiled in an acrimonious trade negotiation and the U.S. has also banned Huawei from supplying the equipment for its next generation 5G wireless network. The U.S. views the technology as an extension of Chinese military intelligence — an allegation the company denies as baseless.

Canada hasn’t decided whether to allow Huawei to be its 5G supplier, but it is under pressure from the U.S. to block the company. Doing so could anger China even further.

Malley said he always viewed Kovrig winning his freedom as “a function of other factors — the relationship between Canada and the U.S. and China — and that is something that is not under our control.”

“Did I think a year ago, Michael would still be behind bars? Probably not. Again, it’s something that is so much in the hands of the Chinese authorities based on their assessment of how best they assess the relationship with the United States in particular, and the question of Huawei and their CFO.”

On Friday, Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole accused the Trudeau government of achieving “zero progress” on winning the release of Kovrig and Spavor as their one-year anniversary approached.

Asked to assess the government’s efforts, Malley replied:

“They have tried everything they can to get him out. I can’t ask for more.”

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The South Surrey ‘Underground House’ includes skylights and just one side ‘window’ – this glass door that leads out to a patio. (Contributed photo)
South Surrey ‘underground house’ set to go up for sale

‘Unassuming’ John Kay-designed home include skylights, just one window

Langley RCMP attended a three-car collision on Saturday, Nov. 28 on 200th Street at 72nd Avenue. They have launched an impaired driving investigation. (Black Press Media files)
Langley driver goes into wrong lane, ends up hitting Jetta, Hummer and median

Saturday’s crash was on the first weekend of the CounterAttack campaign to catch impaired drivers

Langley RCMP attended a multi-vehicle collision Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020 that left one driver with serious injuries, according to police. (Black Press Media file)
Woman left with serious injuries after head-on vehicle collision in Langley

Abbotsford man is co-operative with officer, RCMP say

R.E. Mountain Secondary was issued a COVID-19 exposure alert on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 by the Langley School District. (Langley School District)
R.E. Mountain issued COVID exposure alert, again

Individual with novel coronavirus was at the school on four separate days

A bus shelter in White Rock is emblazoned with an ad from B.C.’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. (Black Press Media files)
VIDEO: ‘Am I racist?’ campaign asks British Columbians to confront their unconscious biases

Signs asking British Columbians to think about racial injustice have been put up across the province

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond speaks to a reporter in Vancouver on November 13, 2015. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
No evidence that B.C. ER staff played blood alcohol level game, but Indigenous racism widespread

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond releases findings of independent investigation

(Dave Landine/Facebook)
VIDEO: Dashcam captures head-on crash between snowplow and truck on northern B.C. highway

Driver posted to social media that he walked away largely unscathed

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Menno Place. (Google Street View image.)
B.C. care home looks to hire residents’ family members amid COVID-19-related staff shortage

Family would get paid as temporary workers, while having chance to see loved ones while wearing PPE

B.C. Finance Minister Carole James and Premier John Horgan announce $5 billion emergency fund for COVID-19 unemployment and other relief, B.C. legislature, March 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
Carole James stays on to advise B.C. Premier John Horgan

Retired finance minister to earn a dollar a year

A pedestrian makes their way through the snow in downtown Ottawa on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Wild winter, drastic swings in store for Canada this year: Weather Network

In British Columbia and the Prairies, forecasters are calling for above-average snowfall levels

NDP Leader John Horgan, left, speaks as local candidate Ravi Kahlon listens during a campaign stop at Kahlon’s home in North Delta, B.C., on April 18, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Most Read