Who are Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor?
Chinese prosecutors said Friday they would formally bring espionage charges against two Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, in cases widely seen as retribution for Canada’s role in helping U.S. law enforcement pursue senior Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.
The announcement by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate almost certainly foreshadows lengthy prison sentences for Spavor, a businessman on the China-North Korea border, and Kovrig, a former diplomat who worked as a researcher in Beijing for the International Crisis Group.
But who are the two Canadians who’ve been “arbitrarily” detained by the Chinese, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau put it?
At the time of his arrest, Kovrig worked full-time for the International Crisis Group in North East Asia, working from Hong Kong to defuse any tensions between China and nearby states, and to give a fresh, independent appraisal of China’s growing role in the world, according the the organizations website.
Before his arrest, he reported on China’s role in global affairs, such as the country’s growing presence in Africa and its relationship with North Korea, Global News reported . On social media, he would frequently comment on China’s foreign policy and on Huawei.
He had previously worked for Global Affairs Canada as the country’s ambassador to China, stationed between Beijing and Hong Kong from 2012 to 2016.
In 2016, he worked as the political lead for Trudeau’s visit to Hong Kong.
Kovrig was the first of the two Michaels to be arbitrarily detained by Chinese authorities. Though he was a former ambassador to China, he had no diplomatic immunity at the time of his arrest because he was on leave without pay.
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Spavor, 44, is a businessman with deep ties to North Korea. He is the founder of a Paektu Cultural Exchange, focused on opening up international ties with the insular country. The website for the organization says it is “a non-profit social enterprise” dedicated to cross-cultural exchanges, trade, and investment between North Korea and “international organizations, businesses, and individuals to promote greater peace, friendship, and understanding.” Based in China and Canada, Paektu promotes travel to North Korea, including a five-day trip to Pyongyang for 2019 New Year celebrations with visits to hot springs and the de-militarized zone.
Spavor has been photographed several times with Kim Jong Un and is one of only a handful of Westerners to meet the leader. In one Instagram post, Spavor is seen with Kim in a 2013 photo, sharing Long Island Iced Teas on the North Korea dicatator’s private yacht in Wonsan, North Korea. Other photos show him with both Kim Jong Un and NBA player Dennis Rodman. The Associated Press reports Spavor was a key player in bringing Rodman to North Korea in 2013. Spavor is one of the few Westerners to travel extensively in North Korea.
As an organization promoting closer ties to North Korea, Paektu Cultural Exchange has come under fire given the regime’s human rights abuses.
Neither the Chinese or Canadian government has provided great detail about the conditions under which the “two Michaels” are being kept. Each has been allowed regular consular visits about once a month, but so far, neither man has been allowed contact with their family, or access to a lawyer.
It came to light at the end of 2018 the two had been kept in cells with the lights on all day and all night; both were continuously subjected to interrogation at least three times a day.
Here is a timeline of the Meng Wanzhou case, and rising tension between Canada and China.
Aug. 22: A New York court issues a warrant for the arrest of Huawei Technologies chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou.
Dec. 1: Canadian authorities arrest Meng at Vancouver’s airport after an extradition request from the Americans. The news becomes public on Dec. 5.
Dec. 6: China demands Canada release Meng and “immediately correct the mistake” officials made in arresting her. The Chinese say they were not briefed on the reasons for Meng’s arrest. In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Meng’s case is part of an independent legal process with no outside political influence.
Dec. 7: Meng appears in a Vancouver court, where allegations of fraud are laid out. The U.S. alleges Meng misled American banks in a bid to get around American sanctions on Iran.
Dec. 8: Canada’s ambassador to China, John McCallum, is summoned to a meeting with China’s assistant foreign minister so the country can register complaints about Meng’s arrest.
Dec. 9: China summons the American ambassador to China to lodge similar complaints about Meng’s case and demand the U.S. rescind the order for her arrest.
Dec. 10: Chinese authorities arrest two Canadian men. Michael Kovrig, who was on leave from Global Affairs Canada, and entrepreneur Michael Spavor. Kovrig’s arrest becomes public on Dec. 11. Spavor’s becomes public on Dec. 12.
Dec. 11: Meng is released on $10 million bail. U.S. President Donald Trump tells Reuters that he would “certainly intervene” in Meng’s case “if I thought it was necessary” to help forge a trade deal with China.
Dec. 12: China’s foreign ministry says it has no information about Kovrig but says the organization he worked with — the International Crisis Group — was not registered in China, making its activities in the country illegal.
Dec. 13: Trump’s trade adviser, Peter Navarro, says the arrests of the two Canadians were plainly a response to Meng’s arrest. China’s foreign ministry says Kovrig and Spavor have been detained on suspicion of “endangering national security.”
Dec. 14: Canadian officials are granted consular access to Kovrig, and McCallum meets with him in Beijing.
Dec. 16: Canadian diplomats in China are granted consular access to Spavor.
Dec. 20: Indictments unsealed in the United States allege two Chinese citizens targeted companies in Canada and around the world as part of a years-long hacking campaign to steal data.
Dec. 21: Kovrig’s employer, the International Crisis Group, says he has not been given access to a lawyer while in custody. A source familiar with the conditions of Kovrig’s detention says he is questioned three times a day and kept in a room with the lights on continuously. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland formally demands both men be let go, calling in a statement “for their immediate release.” Similar statements come out from the United States, Britain and the European Union.
Dec. 24: China’s foreign ministry calls out the U.S., Britain and EU, saying the trio should be condemning Canada for Meng’s arrest.
Jan. 3: At a news conference, China’s prosecutor general Zhang Jun says Kovrig and Spavor “without a doubt” violated Chinese law. He says the investigation is also following the rule of law but doesn’t provide more details about the allegations.
Jan. 7: The Prime Minister’s Office says Trump has affirmed his respect for judicial independence. In a summary of a phone call between Trump and Trudeau, the PMO indicated the leaders discussed the high-profile U.S. extradition request — though Meng was not named — and agreed on the importance of respecting the independence of judges and the rule of law.
Jan. 9: China’s envoy in Ottawa suggests Canada and its Western allies are white supremacists for calling for the release of two Canadians imprisoned last month by his country’s communist government. Ambassador Lu Shaye makes the accusation in an op-ed in the Hill Times.
Jan. 14: Trudeau says he’s very concerned to see China “acting arbitrarily” by applying the death penalty to a Canadian convicted of drug trafficking. He says Canada will do all it can to intervene on Robert Lloyd Schellenberg’s behalf when a court in Dalian in northeastern Liaoning province announced it had given Schellenberg the death penalty after reconsidering his case.
Jan. 15: China expresses its “strong dissatisfaction” with Trudeau over his criticism of Schellenberg’s sentence. Trudeau should “respect the rule of law, respect China’s judicial sovereignty, correct mistakes and stop making irresponsible remarks, a foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying says.
Jan. 16: The U.S. State Department says China’s death sentence against Schellenberg is “politically motivated.” A statement says U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Freeland spoke and “expressed their concerns about the arbitrary detentions and politically motivated sentencing of Canadian nationals.”
Jan. 17: Ambassador Shaye says Canada’s arrest of Meng was an act of “backstabbing” by a friend. Lu warns of “repercussions” if Canada bars the firm from its new 5G network for security reasons, as have three of its intelligence-sharing allies.
Jan. 18: Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says the government’s decision on whether to ban Huawei from being used in Canada’s next generation 5G wireless network will not be influenced by threats of retaliation from China.
Jan. 22: China demands the U.S. drop a request that Canada extradite Meng. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Meng’s case was out of the ordinary and Canada’s extradition treaty with the U.S. infringed on the “safety and legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens.”
Jan. 23: Ambassador McCallum says there are strong legal arguments Meng can make to help her avoid extradition to the United States. Speaking to Chinese reporters a day earlier in the Toronto area, McCallum listed several arguments Meng’s legal team can make in her defence.
Jan. 24: Trudeau dismisses calls to remove McCallum following his comments to Chinese reporters, saying such a change wouldn’t help the two Canadians detained by Chinese authorities get home any sooner. Later, McCallum says he “misspoke” when he suggested detained Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou had a strong case to avoid extradition to the United States.
Jan. 25: McCallum tells StarMetro Vancouver it would be “great for Canada” if the United States drops its extradition request. “We have to make sure that if the U.S. does such a deal, it also includes the release of our two people. And the U.S. is highly aware of that,” he told the Star.
Jan. 26: McCallum resigns as ambassador to China at Trudeau’s request.
Jan. 28: The U.S. Department of Justice formally levels criminal charges against Huawei, two subsidiaries and Meng. The charges, contained in two newly unsealed indictments, allege that Huawei misrepresented its ownership of a Hong Kong-based subsidiary to circumvent American sanctions against Iran. Furthermore, they say Huawei stole telecommunications technology, trade secrets and equipment from U.S. cellphone provider T-Mobile USA. Meng is charged with bank fraud, wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit both. In a statement, Huawei denied committing any of the violations cited in the indictment.
Jan. 29: The Canadian government says it has received a formal request for the extradition of Meng, who appears in a Vancouver court to change the people who are providing her with some of the financial sureties for her release.
March 1: The Justice Department gives the formal go-ahead for the extradition case to proceed.
March 3: Meng’s defence team announces it has filed a notice of civil claim alleging “serious violations” of their client’s constitutional rights.
March 4: China accuses the two detained Canadians of acting together to steal state secrets. Trudeau dismissed the allegation made in Chinese state media, saying: “It is unfortunate that China continues to move forward on these arbitrary detentions.”
March 6: A lawyer for Meng tells a judge the United States bid for extradition raises serious concerns about the political motivations behind the case.
March 14: Huawei pleads not guilty in a New York court to charges accusing it of plotting to violate Iran trade sanctions. Lawyers enter the plea in federal court in Brooklyn, two weeks after Huawei pleaded not guilty to separate federal charges filed in Seattle accusing the company of stealing technology from T-Mobile.
March 22: A judge orders the RCMP to provide copies of the content on seven electronic devices owned by Meng after they were seized when she was arrested. Justice Heather Holmes of the British Columbia Supreme Court says the RCMP must make copies of data on an iPhone, an iPad, a Macbook Air, a Huawei phone, two SIM cards and a flash drive.
March 29: The federal government says it is considering subsidizing farmers hit by China’s $2-billion ban on Canadian canola imports.
April 29: Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says Ottawa needs to treat Chinese imports with the same scrutiny China is showing Canada’s canola shipments.
May 1: The federal government changes a payment program for canola farmers to help those affected by China’s decision to ban the Canadian product.
May 2: China suspends the export permits of two Canadian pork exporters, including Quebec-based Olymel LP, amid growing tensions between the two countries.
May 8: Meng’s defence team tells a judge it plans to argue that she shouldn’t be extradited to the United States because she hasn’t committed fraud under Canadian laws and her arrest was unlawful.
May 9: Canadian diplomats are joined in a Chinese courtroom by American, British, French and German colleagues to watch an appeal in Schellenberg’s case.
May 16: China says it has formally arrested Kovrig and Spavor, bringing them closer to trial on vaguely defined state security charges. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman says they have been arrested for allegedly stealing state secrets. Goodale says the federal government is “deeply concerned” about China’s decision, adding that no evidence has been produced to indicate any validity to allegations made against them.
May 23: China’s ambassador to Canada says the bilateral relationship is at “rock bottom” compared to any time since diplomatic ties were first established decades ago. In prepared text for a speech, Lu Shaye says he’s saddened Canada-China relations are at what he called a “freezing point.”
June 5: Lawyers for the RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency deny allegations that their officers searched Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou’s phones and electronic devices after a border official wrote down her passwords. A joint response filed in court to Meng’s civil lawsuit says a border officer asked Meng for her phone numbers and passwords in case he was required to search the devices for customs or immigration purposes. Meng’s civil lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court alleges “serious violations” of her constitutional rights and accuses officers of detaining and questioning her for three hours before notifying her of her arrest.
June 13: Freeland rejects the purported view of former prime minister Jean Chretien that the extradition request be cancelled to improve relations with China and win the release of Kovrig and Spavor. Freeland said while she respects Chretien, Canada is either a rule of law country or it is not. Chretien’s comments were reported in the Globe and Mail citing anonymous sources.
June 24: Defence lawyers for Meng ask Ottawa to stop the extradition process against their client, saying the request made by the United States was for political purposes, not legitimate law enforcement reasons.
Aug. 20: Court documents released ahead of Meng’s extradition hearing suggest a Canadian border official questioned her about her business before the RCMP arrested her. The nearly 1,100 pages of material released by the court were collected by Meng’s defence team.
Aug. 21: Meng’s lawyers allege Canadian officials acted as “agents” of American law enforcement while she was detained at Vancouver’s airport for three hours ahead of her arrest. In court documents, they point to handwritten notes by Canadian officers indicating Meng’s electronics were collected in anticipation of a request from the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States.
Sept. 4. Business consultant Dominic Barton is named as Canada’s new ambassador to China.
Sept. 23: The Crown says Canadian officials followed the law when they detained Meng and the defence has no proof to substantiate its “conspiracy theory” that she was illegally arrested. The Attorney General of Canada says in court documents that there’s no evidence to suggest that the RCMP or the FBI asked border agents to elicit information from Meng during the detainment.
Sept. 24: A lawyer for Meng says there was nothing “routine” about the way she was questioned by border officials before she was read her rights and informed of her arrest as Meng’s defence team asks the B.C. Supreme Court to compel the release of further documents to support its arguments ahead of her extradition hearing in January.
Oct. 1: A Crown prosecutor tells a judge Canadian border guards mistakenly gave the RCMP passcodes to electronic devices belonging to Meng when she was questioned at the Vancouver airport. The Crown says when the border agency realized it had made a mistake, it told the RCMP the codes could not be used or shared because they’d been obtained during a border examination.
Oct. 29: The federal government says Canada’s new ambassador to China has met with Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.
Oct. 31: In documents, Meng’s lawyers maintain there is an “air of reality” to an allegation the RCMP illegally shared details of her electronic devices with the FBI, despite new affidavits from the Mounties denying the claim.
Nov. 5. A Chinese ban on the import of Canadian pork and beef products estimated to have cost farmers almost $100 million is lifted.
Nov. 24: Canada’s new foreign affairs minister spends an hour in talks with his Chinese counterpart over the fate of Kovrig and Spavor. Francois-Philippe Champagne spoke with China’s Wang Yi a day earlier at a G20 meeting of foreign ministers in Japan.
Nov. 28: Lawyers for Meng say the United States is “dressing up” its complaint that she violated sanctions as a case of fraud as they ask the B.C. Supreme Court to decline her extradition. In court documents released, Meng’s legal team says the alleged misrepresentation does not amount to fraud and the transactions processed by HSBC were not illegal in Canada.
Dec. 2: Meng says she has experienced feelings of helplessness, torment and struggle since being arrested, but no longer fears the unknown. In a post on the Chinese telecom company’s website, Meng says she has passed the time on bail in one of her homes in Vancouver reading books, chatting with colleagues and painting.
Dec. 10: Justice Minister David Lametti says he is troubled that Kovrig and Spavor have been denied access to lawyers as they face trials where convictions are virtually assured. Meanwhile, Meng wins an application in the B.C. Supreme Court for more documents to be disclosed as she alleges there was an abuse of process during her arrest.
Jan. 23: A lawyer for Meng argues the extradition case against her is a test of whether courts will reject foreign charges that run contrary to Canadian values as a hearing wrapped up in the B.C. Supreme Court. The hearing focused on the legal test of double criminality. Crown counsel Robert Frater says the judge does not necessarily need to consider American sanctions law for the allegations to amount to fraud in Canada.
March 13: Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chinese Embassy in Canada says Kovrig has been allowed to have a telephone conversation with his father, who is very ill. The embassy says in a statement that they allowed the call for humanitarian reasons, and it also says Kovrig and fellow detainee Michael Spavor are being given better food to strengthen their immunity against the novel coronavirus.
May 27: Holmes rules against Meng on the double-criminality argument. The B.C. Supreme Court judge says the allegations against Meng could constitute a crime in Canada.
June 15: Lawyers for Meng accuse authorities in the United States of misleading the B.C. Supreme Court judge presiding over the extradition case. Meng’s defence team says it is seeking a stay in the proceedings arguing that U.S. case records are “grossly inaccurate and based on deliberate and/or reckless misstatements of fact and material omissions, thereby constituting a serious abuse of the extradition process.”
June 19: China charges Kovrig and Spavor with spying. 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.