Michael Spavor granted Canadian consular visit a month after his detention in China

  • Officials had been seeking consular access since his arrest on December 10, the same day as fellow Canadian Michael Kovrig
  • Canadian government says it ‘remains deeply concerned by the arbitrary detention by Chinese authorities of these two Canadians’
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 January, 2019, 12:11pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 January, 2019, 11:16pm

Canadian consular officials visited Michael Spavor on Tuesday nearly one month after the Canadian’s detention in China, according to a statement from Canada’s government.

Spavor and fellow Canadian Michael Kovrig were detained by Chinese authorities in separate incidents on December 10 and accused of endangering national security, nine days after Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Sabrina Meng Wanzhou for possible extradition to the United States.

Canada’s ambassador to China, John McCallum, had visited Spavor on December 16, but Canada had been seeking consular access to him since his arrest. Canadian officials gained access to Kovrig on December 14, four days after his arrest.

“The Canadian government remains deeply concerned by the arbitrary detention by Chinese authorities of these two Canadians since last month and continues to call for their immediate release,” the Canadian government statement read.

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Spavor, who runs a non-profit business focusing on North Korean cultural exchanges in the Chinese city of Dandong, in the northeastern province of Liaoning, was detained by the Liaoning state security bureau. He had been planning to visit Seoul to attend a conference, but did not arrive.

The government statement added that Canadian authorities were continuing to provide consular services to Kovrig and his family. A former diplomat and now adviser to the non-governmental organisation International Crisis Group, Kovrig was arrested in Beijing.

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Governments and human rights organisations around the world have called for the immediate release of the two Canadians. “Canada continues to express its appreciation to those who have spoken in support of these detained individuals and the rule of law, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the EU, the United States and Australia,” the statement read.

It added that consular visits allowed Canadian officials to assess a citizen’s well-being, clarify the nature of the detention with local authorities, provide guidance on the legal process, seek medical attention if needed and allow communication link between a detained person and their family.

Canadian authorities provided consular services to Huawei chief financial officer Meng on the day of her arrest in Vancouver at the behest of the US, which accused her of violating sanctions against Iran by misrepresenting the telecoms giant’s sales to an Iranian telecoms firm via a shell company in Hong Kong.

The outcome of potential proceedings to extradite Meng to the US may affect the fate of Spavor and Kovrig, said Phil Calvert, a former Canadian ambassador and a senior research fellow at the Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives at the University of Victoria in British Columbia.

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“I imagine many people are trying to convince the Chinese government that [detaining the Canadians] cannot have any impact on the process in Canada,” Calvert said.

“But I am not sure how willing the leadership is to accept that fact – if they did, they would release the two Canadians immediately.”

Spavor’s consular visit follows a visit by to China by Canadian officials that began on Saturday. Last week, Canadian politicians in the delegation were criticised after one said the detention of Spavor and Kovrig was “not on the agenda” for their visit.

The primary reason given for the trip was to deepen Canada’s trading relationship with China to reduce Canada’s reliance on the US.

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But member of parliament Michael Cooper, one of five politicians in the delegation, told Canadian media on Monday that he had brought up the issue during the visit.

Calvert said that raising it may not have much impact for the detained pair, but was nonetheless important. “It is good that they raised it because the messages on this have to be constant and consistent,” he said. “Not raising the issue would also send a message to the Chinese side.”