TORONTO — Canada said Thursday that its consular officials have not received permission to attend the trials of two Canadians who were arrested in China two years ago in a move widely viewed as a pressure tactic over Canada’s detention of an executive at Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.
Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Michael Spavor, an entrepreneur, were arrested in December 2018, days after Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was detained in Vancouver, British Columbia. The U.S. wants her extradited to face fraud charges related to her company’s dealings with Iran.
Kovrig and Spavor face spying accusations, and the Canadian Embassy in Beijing has been notified that court hearings for the two are scheduled to take place Friday and Monday.
“The official notification received from Chinese authorities indicated that these trials are closed to both the public and the media. Despite several official requests to Chinese authorities, Canadian officials have not yet received permission to attend the trials,” Global Affairs spokesperson Christelle Chartrand said.
“We remain deeply troubled by the lack of transparency surrounding these proceedings.”
China has demanded Meng’s immediate and unconditional release, saying the U.S. engineered her detention as part of a drive to contain China’s growing rise. Canadian authorities say Kovrig and Spavor were arbitrarily arrested to put pressure on Ottawa and say they should be released without charge.
Meng, the daughter of the founder of Huawei, remains free on bail and living in a mansion in Canada while her case winds its way through the courts. Little information has been released about the charges against Kovrig and Spavor, or their conditions in detention, although the ruling Communist Party newspaper Global Times this week said the pair were allegedly part of a conspiracy to steal Chinese state secrets.
Meng’s arrest enraged Beijing, which has also retaliated by restricting various Canadian exports, including canola oil seed, and handed death sentences to another four Canadians convicted of drug smuggling.
The legal tussle is expected to be raised at a meeting later Thursday in Alaska between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and top Chinese diplomats. Blinken has pledged “absolute solidarity” with Canada in calling for Kovrig and Spavor to be freed.
Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, called the upcoming trials a “very worrisome development.”
“The sentence will be dictated by the Communist Party of China. It becomes a lot more complicated to extract them from China,” Saint-Jacques said.
Rob Gillies, The Associated Press