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

Forty-two residential properties in Oak Bay were assessed the speculation and vacancy tax in 2019 for a total of $693,000. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
74 Oak Bay property owners paid $693,000 in spec tax

42 properties were assessed with the SVT in 2019

Sipili Molia, regional kettle manager, shows off the Salvation Army’s new contactless donation system for the 2020 Christmas Kettle Campaign. (Black Press Media file photo)
Greater Victoria raises record-breaking $350,000 for Salvation Army

The charity says it’s seen an increase in need since COVID-19 hit

Staff at Artemis Place Secondary were shocked to find that one of the student-built greenhouses on the campus was stolen overnight on Jan. 11. (Artemis Place Society/Facebook)
Saanich school hopes to catch greenhouse thief red-handed

Student-built greenhouses stolen from Artemis Place Secondary on Jan. 11

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada said a lack of experienced crew members and the inability to detect navigational errors is what led to a Sooke search and rescue boat running aground in February 2019. (Twitter / @VicJRCC_CCCOS)
TSB: Sooke search and rescue boat crash caused by ‘misinterpretation of navigational information’

Crew members were lacking experience and unable to detect navigational errors

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
536 COVID cases, 7 deaths reported as B.C. find its first case of South African variant

Henry said 69,746 people have received their first dose of the COVID vaccine.

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Jan. 12

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

50 km/hr speed limit sign.
POLL: What do you think the speed limit should be on residential streets without a centre line?

Traffic on side streets around Greater Victoria could soon be travelling at… Continue reading

Seiners fill the waters between Comox and Nanoose Bay during roe herring fishery. file photo, Pacific Wild
Quota debate heats up on the eve of Vancouver Island herring fishery

Industry and conservationists weigh in how much catch should be allowed as DFO decision coming soon

This weekend Amy Pye is holding a virtual book launch for her latest children’s book, <em>Bruce the Silly Goose</em>. (Photo courtesy Amy Pye)
Victoria writer and illustrator pens children’s book about COVID-19 safety

Amy Pye to hold online book launch for ‘Bruce the Silly Goose’

Luke Marston works on the seawolf mask for Canucks goalie Braden Holtby. (Mike Wavrecan photo)
B.C. Coast Salish artist designs new mask for Canucks goalie

Braden Holtby’s new mask features artwork by Luke Marston inspired by the legend of the seawolf

Alan Davidson was sentenced to almost six years for abusing seven boys in the late 1970s and early 1990s. (Canadian Press file)
Full parole granted to former Mountie, sports coach convicted of sex abuse of boys

Alan Davidson convicted of abusing boys in B.C. and Saskatchewan in late ’70s, early ’90s

The first COVID-19 vaccine arrives in B.C. in temperature-controlled containers, Dec. 13, 2020. (B.C. government)
More vaccine arrives as B.C. struggles with remote COVID-19 cases

Long-term care homes remain focus for public health

Most Read