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Grim outlook for 'two Michaels' charged with espionage: former ambassador

Last Updated Jun 19, 2020 at 10:06 am PST

Michael Kovrig (left) and Michael Spavor, the two Canadians detained in China, are shown in these 2018 images taken from video. A powerful Republican senator and Trump ally says China is detaining two Canadians in harsh conditions and U.S. lawmakers won't rest until they are freed. Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, who chairs the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, tells The Canadian Press that Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are being treated worse than Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who is out on bail in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP

Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig likely to face life in prison, says Guy St. Jacques

Fate of Spavor and Korvig likely unknown for quite some time: former ambassador

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered his supports and sympathies to their families

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — The fate of a pair of Canadians now formally charged with espionage in China appears dire, according to a former Canadian ambassador to that country.

Guy St. Jacques said Friday he expects that Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig are virtually assured of conviction, given the conviction rate for anyone facing charges in China is 99 per cent.

He also said they won’t likely know their fate for quite some time, but both will probably be handed life sentences.

“It will take between 18 and 24 months before the sentence is rendered and so we have to brace ourselves for years of more complicated relations with China,” said St. Jacques, ambassador to China from 2012 to 2016.

He said now is the time for Canada to take a firmer political line with China to protect its interests.

Both Spavor and Kovrig have been held in China since late 2018, shortly after the Dec.1 arrest of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou.

“The federal government ought to revise its engagement strategy with China. Up until now it’s been one mainly of appeasement,” he said.

Kovrig and Spavor have been imprisoned since Dec. 10, 2018.

Related article: Two Canadians imprisoned in China since 2018 charged with spying

Prosecutors announced Friday that Kovrig and Spavor had been charged. Kovrig was charged in Beijing on suspicion of spying for state secrets and intelligence. Spavor was charged in Dandong city near the North Korean border on suspicion of spying for a foreign entity and illegally providing state secrets.

Feds pledge support

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered his supports and sympathies Friday to the families of Kovrig and Spavor.

“I’m disappointed with the decision and the next step taken by the Chinese,” he said.

“We have continued to express our disappointment with the Chinese detention of these two Canadians.”

Trudeau added his government will continue to pressure Chinese officials for the release of the two Micheals and continue rallying allies to do the same.

He called their detention “arbitrary.”

Asked if harder tactics will be taken, Trudeau said Canadians don’t always see the work that is done in such cases.

“Over the past years, we’ve had a number of successes in returning Canadians, or liberating Canadians who were in difficulties, and we’ve continued to focus on that,” he added.

“We have an independent judicial system that is going through its rigorous processes in a way that is separate from political interference.”

Trudeau would not say if Kovrig and Spavor are hostages, just that Chinese officials have linked their arrests to the detention of Meng.

According to reports, Kovrig and Spavor have been subject to poor conditions behind bars, possibly even torture. They have had no access to lawyers, their families, or consular officials for months.

-With files from The Associated Press