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

(Black Press - file photo)
WEATHER: Enjoy the sun today, prepare for a week of rain

Clouds and rain to arrive by evening, Environment Canada forecasts

Chilliwack’s Ryan Wugalter with his kids, three-year-old Mira and 15-month-old Solomon. Wugalter recently released his children’s album Super Giraffe. (Submitted)
Chilliwack father releases children’s album, songs about superhero giraffe and not eating magnets

Inspiration for Ryan Wugalter’s new album ‘Super Giraffe’ came from his two young kids

Two cougar sightings have been called in to the local Conservation Officer Service in 2021 so far. (File photo)
Two wildlife sightings in Memorial Park so far this year: WARP

Two more sightings in Kawkawa Lake area during a quiet winter

Abbotsford’s Kris Collins turned to TikTok out of boredom when the provincial COVID-19 lockdown began in March 2020. She now has over 23 million followers on the video app. Photo: Submitted
Internet famous: Abbotsford’s Kris Collins is a TikTok comedy queen

Collins has found surprise stardom alone with a phone

Dr. Bonnie Henry leaves the podium after talking about the next steps in B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
COVID: 589 new cases in B.C., and 7 new deaths

No new outbreaks being reported Feb. 26

Judith Uwamahoro is Black, approximately 4’7″ tall, 80 pounds and has short black hair and brown eyes. (Surrey RCMP handout)
UPDATED: Lower Mainland 9-year-old located after police make public plea

Judith Uwamahoro went missing Friday at around 4 p.m. in Surrey

Five-year-old Nancy Murphy wears a full mask and face shield as she waits in line for her kindergarten class to enter school during the COVID-19 pandemic on Tuesday, September 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Variant of concern linked to COVID-19 outbreak at three Surrey schools

Cases appear to be linked to community transmissions, but schools will remain open

Nanaimo children’s author and illustrator Lindsay Ford’s latest book is ‘Science Girl.’ (Photo courtesy Lindsay Ford)
B.C. children’s writer encourages girls to pursue the sciences in new book

Lindsay Ford is holding a virtual launch for latest book, ‘Science Girl’

BC Ferries experienced heavy traffic on Feb. 27 following cancellations the day before due to strong winds and adverse weather. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries sailings fill up quickly after Friday cancellations due to high winds

Waits expected on Swartz Bay-Tsawwassen route, Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay route

Pig races at the 145th annual Chilliwack Fair on Aug. 12, 2017. Monday, March 1, 2021 is Pig Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Feb. 28 to March 6

Pig Day, Canadian Bacon Day and Grammar Day are all coming up this week

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from B.C. beach in rescue attempt

Animal dies despite efforts of Nanaimo marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

Doctors and counsellors warn of an increase in panic attacks, anxiety, depression and suicide ideas between ages 10 to 14, in Campbell River. ( Black Press file photo)
Extended pandemic feeding the anxieties of B.C.’s youth

Parents not sure what to do, urged to reach out for help

Kara Sorensen, diagnosed with lung cancer in July, says it’s important for people to view her as healthy and vibrant, rather than sick. (Photo courtesy of Karen Sorensen)
B.C. woman must seek treatment overseas for inoperable lung cancer

Fundraising page launched on Karen Sorensen’s behalf, with a goal of $250,000

Most Read