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

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared last Thursday (Nov. 19). (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
Forty-one positive COVID-19 cases associated with the LNG Canada site outbreak

Thirty-four of the 41 cases remain active, according to Northern Health

Kitimat RCMP are requesting assistance locating 24-year-old Teah Wilken, who was last seen getting on a bus at City Centre Mall in Kitimat around 6:30 p.m. Monday (Nov. 23). Kitimat RCMP Facebook photo.
Kitimat RCMP requesting assistance locating missing woman

Wilken last seen getting on bus at City Centre Mall in Kitimat around 6:30 p.m. Monday (Nov. 23)

Maria Lewis president of the Prince Rupert Royal Canadian Legion accepts a $5,000 donation gifted via an artillery shell from Shawn MacDonald governor of the Prince Rupert Loyal Order of the Moose 1051 on Nov. 13.
Major donation overwhelms Prince Rupert Legion

Prince Rupert Moose Lodge 1051 donates $5,000 to local veterans organization

Air Canada /Jazz flight AC8280 on Nov. 16 from Vancouver to Prince Rupert had a confirmed case of COVID-19, said Air Canada on Nov. 20. (File photo)
Flight into city had confirmed case of COVID-19

Nov. 16 flight from Vancouver to Prince Rupert affected by coronavirus

People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19 cross a street in downtown Vancouver, on Sunday, November 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. reports 17 COVID deaths, 1,933 new cases as hospitalizations surge over the weekend

There are 277 people in hospital, of whom 59 are in ICU or critical care

7-year-old Mackenzie Hodge from Penticton sent a hand-written letter to premiere John Horgan asking if she’d be able to see her elf, Ralph under the new coronavirus restrictions. (John Horgan / Twitter)
Elf on the shelf an acceptable house guest, B.C. premier tells Penticton girl

A 7-year-old from Penticton penned a letter asking if she’d be allowed to see her elf this year

Workers arrive at the Lynn Valley Care Centre seniors home, in North Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday, March 14, 2020. It was the site of Canada’s first COVID-19 outbreak in a long-term care facility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Rapid tests ‘not a panacea’ for care homes, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

B.C. lacks capacity for daily tests of thousands of workers

(Delta Police Department photo)
Cannabis edibles found in Halloween bag lead B.C. police to illegal lab

Delta police arrested a man and a woman while executing a warrant at a residential property Nov. 20

A woman being arrested at a Kelowna Value Village after refusing to wear a mask on Nov. 22.(@Jules50278750/Twitter)
VIDEO: Woman arrested for refusing to wear mask at Kelowna Value Village

RCMP claims the woman was uncooperative with officers, striking them a number of times and screaming

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. Liberal MLA Shirley Bond questions NDP government ministers in the B.C. legislature, Feb. 19, 2020. (Hansard TV)
Cabinet veteran Shirley Bond chosen interim leader of B.C. Liberals

28-member opposition prepares for December legislature session

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, November 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-19: What do rising positivity rates mean for B.C.? It’s not entirely clear

Coronavirus cases are on the rise but the province has not unveiled clear thresholds for further measures

A rider carves a path on Yanks Peak Saturday, Nov. 21. Two men from Prince George went missing on the mountain the next day. One of them, Colin Jalbert, made it back after digging out his sled from four feet under the snow. The other, Mike Harbak, is still missing. Local search and rescue teams went out looking Monday, Nov. 23. (Sam Fait Photo)
‘I could still be the one out there’: Snowmobiler rescued, 1 missing on northern B.C. mountain

As Quesnel search and rescue teams search for the remaining rider, Colin Jalbert is resting at home

Most Read