Canadian citizens detained in China formally charged with espionage

Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor – detained in China since 2018 after the arrest of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. CFO Meng Wanzhou – have been formally charged with espionage in Chinese courts.

Many observers expected the move after B.C. Supreme Court said in late March that Canadian crown counsel met the requirement of double criminality in the Meng extradition case, dealing the first major blow to the Huawei executive’s bid to avoid being extradited to the United States.

The changes were confirmed by statements by China’s Supreme People’s Procuratorate on Friday, and it places both Canadians in a legal system with a 99% conviction rate. Kovrig will face trial in Beijing, while Spavor’s proceedings will take place in the northeastern Chinese city of Dandong.

Federal foreign affairs minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said in a statement that Ottawa is calling for the release of the two men who are “arbitrarily detained.”

Former Canadian ambassador to China David Mulroney, a vocal critic of Beijing (as well as of Ottawa’s foreign policy on that front) the last few years, tweeted that the news comes at a very challenging moment – just as Canada lost its bid to join the United Nations Security Council.

“On Friday, we were reminded that we haven’t yet come up with a foreign policy capable of warding off real threats and protecting real interests,” Mulroney said in his posts. “Apparently, the world has decided that it doesn’t need more Canada. But we’re all getting more China, whether we like it or not.”

University of Ottawa scholar Margaret McCuaig-Johnston said while Canada may be limited in what it can do, sitting still is no longer an option.

“It’s now time to name Chinese officials under our Magnitsky legislation,” she said in a tweet, referring to regulations that allow Ottawa to sanction human-rights offenders by freezing their assets and banning them from entry. “We should try to get other countries to join us in that. One has to wonder if they [Kovrig and Spavor] would have been charged if we were a fellow member of the Security Council.”