Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau says Canada will appeal the 11-year sentence of Canadian Michael Spavor, one of the two men detained in China in what’s widely seen as arbitrary detentions in retaliation to the arrest of a Chinese tech giant in Canada.
Spavor was found guilty of espionage and sentenced to 11 years in prison by a Chinese court Tuesday night, Wednesday morning local time in Dandong, a coastal city near the border with North Korea. He was also convicted of illegally providing state secrets to other countries.
In condemning the case, Garneau said the sentencing lacked fairness and transparency.
“Fundamentally we know that the practice of arbitrary detention with a mock sham trial with absolutely no transparency whatsoever and a verdict that is completely unjustified are not acceptable in terms of international rules-based law,” he said during a press conference Wednesday morning.
Ottawa has called repeatedly on the Chinese government to release Spavor and Michael Kovrig, another Canadian accused of espionage, who were both detained following the arrest of the Chinese business executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver in December, 2018.
Garneau said intense discussions are ongoing with high-level Chinese and American officials to fight for the release of the two men.
He would not go into the specifics of the conversations.
“The discussions, I will say, are with respect to finding a way to secure the release of the two Michaels, and I’ll leave it at that,” he said
The Chinese court also ordered Spavor be deported, although it is not immediately clear whether that will happen before or after the 11-year prison sentence is served.
WATCH | The potential impact of Michael Spavor’s sentence:
The potential impact of Michael Spavor’s sentenceBen Roswell, former diplomat and president of the Canadian International Council, talks about the impact Michael Spavor’s sentencing will have on Michael Kovrig and China’s political positioning with Canada. 2:56
Canadian Ambassador Dominic Barton, who attended Spavor’s hearing, said he believes it will occur after he completes his sentence. Garneau said the government is seeking clarity.
The verdict and sentencing mark a significant new development in Canada’s fraught relationship with China.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the sentence “absolutely unacceptable and unjust.”
“Today’s verdict for Mr. Spavor comes after more than two and a half years of arbitrary detention, a lack of transparency in the legal process and a trial that did not satisfy even the minimum standards required by international law,” Trudeau said in a statement early Wednesday.
Dominic Barton, Canada’s ambassador to China, stands near a barricade tape as he arrives at a detention center to meet Canadian Michael Spavor, in Dandong, China, on Wednesday. A Chinese court has sentenced Spavor to 11 years on spying charges in a case widely viewed as retaliation to the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver. (Associated Press/Ng Han Guan)
The United States also condemned the sentencing.
“The practice of arbitrarily detaining individuals to exercise leverage over foreign governments is completely unacceptable,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
“People should never be used as bargaining chips.”
Spavor was based in China but had extensive links with North Korea in tourism and other commercial ventures that brought him into contact with the isolated communist state’s leadership.
In a statement, Spavor’s family said they disagreed with the charges and said the next step is to “bring Michael home.”
“Michael’s life passion has been to bring different cultures together through tourism and events shared between the Korean peninsula and other countries including China and Canada,” the statement said. “This situation has not dampened but strengthened his passion.”
In this Dec. 19, 2013, file photo, Michael Spavor, center, an entrepreneur, is seen with former NBA star Dennis Rodman, left, on the arrival at the capital airport for a flight to North Korea, in Beijing, China. The Canadian entrepreneur was charged with spying after Canada arrested Meng. (Associated Press/Ng Han Guan/File)
Barton, who visited with Spavor following the verdict, said Spavor had three messages that he asked to be shared with the outside world: “Thank you for all your support,” “I am in good spirits,” and “I want to get home.”
Kovrig’s trial concluded in March but it’s not clear when a verdict in his case will be delivered.
Meng, the chief financial officer of the Chinese telecom giant Huawei, faces possible extradition to the United States for charges linked to violation of sanctions.
Her extradition hearings in Vancouver are currently in their last few weeks in B.C. Supreme Court. A ruling is expected sometime in the next few months.
Spavor’s verdict arrived just over 24 hours after a different Chinese court upheld a death sentence for Robert Schellenberg, a Canadian convicted on charges of drug smuggling.
Garneau said the government is reaching out to Chinese officials to fight for clemency, calling it “arbitrary sentencing.”
Earlier, during a news conference in Shenyang, China, where the Schellenberg verdict was announced, Barton suggested the cases are linked to Meng’s trial.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence these are happening right now while events are going on in Vancouver,” he told reporters Tuesday.
Robert Schellenberg was arrested in 2014 for allegedly playing a central role in a drug smuggling operation. (CCTV/The Associated Press)