Michael Spavor, at right, with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (Photo: Facebook/Michael Spavor).

Canada ignored the lifeline China threw us last spring, when a Chinese court adjourned the trial of Michael Spavor without a verdict. 

The implication at the time was clear: Let Meng Wanzhou go and we’ll give Mr. Spavor and Michael Kovrig back.

Meng Wanzhou (Photo: Huawei Technologies).

Pleading not very persuasively that our hands were tied by the rule of law, the Canadian government passed on that opportunity and left the two Michaels sitting in jail on espionage charges. 

They have now been stuck there for 975 days, since they were arrested on espionage charges days after Ms. Meng, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., was detained at Vancouver airport in December 2018 at the behest of U.S. authorities.

It is widely believed, probably correctly, that the two Michaels were arrested in a tit-for-tat strategy to put pressure on Canada to release Ms. Meng, a high-profile Chinese high-technology executive with close ties to the country’s government.

So, yesterday, with Ms. Meng’s extradition hearing still grinding on in Vancouver, a Chinese court found Mr. Spavor guilty of spying and sentenced him to 11 years in prison. 

This is harsh, although it is worth remembering that the last Canadian found guilty on similar charges, by a Canadian court, was sentenced to 20 years, and released on parole after five.

No verdict has yet been announced in the case of Mr. Kovrig. But another Canadian citizen, Robert Schellenberg, faces a death penalty after being found guilty of drug trafficking. This too is seen as part of the Chinese Government’s campaign to press Canada to free Ms. Meng. 

The Chinese court said yesterday that Mr. Spavor would be deported, but didn’t make it clear if that would be now or later. The prevailing opinion on this side of the Pacific seems to be that this will depend on Ms. Meng’s fate in Vancouver.

Michael Kovrig (Photo: International Crisis Group).

So the door remains open a crack for Canada’s leaders to act in the interests of Canada’s citizens and let Ms. Meng go. 

The narrative widely accepted in Canada is that because of our commitment to the rule of law our country had no choice but to go along with the U.S. extradition request, even though holding Ms. Meng is obviously not in Canada’s interest.

Still, as has been said here before, out of the 300,000 or so Canadians residing in China, the authorities there picked two with the kind of backgrounds, jobs and contacts that could plausibly facilitate activities of the sort the Chinese accused them of conducting.

Mr. Spavor ran “an international non-governmental organization that facilitates sport, culture, tourism and business exchanges with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” He is said to have been close to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, with whom he has often been photographed. 

Mr. Kovrig is a former Canadian diplomat who works for a non-governmental organization that vaguely describes itself as “an independent organization working to prevent wars and shape policies that will build a more peaceful world.”

Ms. Meng, meanwhile, has remained under house arrest in Vancouver ever since her arrest while the Canadian court ponders at excruciating length whether she should be extradited to the United States for supposedly ignoring American sanctions against Iran, even though Canada and other Western countries had not enacted similar sanctions.

If she is extradited, Ms. Meng will be tried on Trumped up fraud charges levelled by the previous Republican Party administration as a trade negotiations tool. Donald Trump himself publicly admitted as much when he was still president of the United States. 

Unfortunately for Canada and its citizens in China, the current Democratic Party administration has seen fit to continue the U.S. effort to take Ms. Meng from her current comfortable imprisonment and deliver her into the American penal Gulag as part of its performative New Cold War with China.

Meanwhile, Canadian federal politicians of all parties, like the proverbial deer in the headlights, watch the drama unfold and seem incapable of doing anything useful, although the always belligerent Conservatives are noisier about it.

While Mr. Spavor’s verdict was being delivered in China, a Canadian government lawyer was urging the judge in Vancouver to demonstrate due deference to the government of the superpower next door. Notwithstanding all the shenanigans and legal shortcuts by U.S. officials raised by Ms. Meng’s lawyers, he argued, “the court has to be circumspect in impugning the good faith of our extradition partners.”

Given their record so far, though, it seems likely our politicians’ paralytic inability to act in the country’s interests will persist.

We earn no respect and no consideration for such servility to the United States. And that, obviously, is true whether a Democrat or a Republican resides in the White House.

By letting Ms. Meng go, not only could we do some good for the two Michaels and the hapless Mr. Schellenberg, but perhaps even the other 120 or so Canadians imprisoned in China, who for some reason our government is less enthusiastic about repatriating.

No good at all will come for Canada or its citizens from our continued participation in the U.S. legal charade to use Ms. Meng as a pawn in its campaign to prove to a rising China it’s still the biggest dog on the global block.

Join the Conversation


  1. Unfortunately, the Canadian government does whatever the American government wants them to do. This has been the reality for decades. The words in the song, American Woman, by The Guess Who, would be good if the politicians in America, heeded the message in that song. Also, in China, or in any other country on earth, people must abide by their laws. If anyone breaks those rules, they will be punished according to the laws of the land. It doesn’t matter if they are a citizen, or not. I wouldn’t doubt that some screenplay writer would make a movie about the Ms. Meng ordeal. What goes on in international politics is very intriguing.

  2. Rule of Law?

    The greatest capitalist country on earth using economic sanctions as a cudgel on anyone who doesn’t fall in line. Sanctions, read a blockade, used to be considered an act of war. Meng is being held for doing business with an independent Iran and breaking the arbitrary and probably illegal US of A sanctions. They should of arrested her not us.

    ” When law can do no right, Let it be lawful that law bar no wrong”

    The American Ambassador’s wife who couldn’t get what side of the road to drive on in England and killed a London resident and then left the scene and then the country. Pass.

    The American Navy Seals convicted of war crimes ( murder ). Pass.

    CIA using state sanctioned torture on detainees. Pass.

    Assasinating US of A citizens overseas with Hellfire missiles along with any innocents in the vicinity. Pass.

    I ask you, isn’t Justice one of the most important aspects of the ” Rule of Law “. You can’t pick and choose where and when to apply the laws and who is going to be above the law. We are in a real mess, caught between two super powers that are cheating in a rigged game and we’re trying to be honest. We are the only one’s trying to uphold the rule of law.

    Meng should’nt have been arrested. When she was arrested she should have had a expedited extradition hearing and sent on her way. Now the court shoud dismiss the case ( jurisdiction ) and release her.

  3. Some people are of the opinion that our extradition treaties and “the rule of law” were cobbled together by a coalition of legal and political hacks to satisfy the wishes of the donor classes wanting to rewrite the rules to keep things in their favour but they’re wrong. These are sacred texts handed down to us by no less than the Man Upstairs Himself and I have the video evidence to prove it.


  4. You get the feeling the new boss is the same as the old boss, or the boss never changed just the front man. Assange is also still being persecuted for committing the crime of true journalism. The US is still using drones in 3rd world African countries, Syrian oil is still being stolen, Iraq is still basically occupied, Afghanistan is still a mess, and children are still in cages at the southern US border. But the mean tweets are gone…

  5. Thank you for your insights, DC. Oddly the Canadian media is not reporting one element of this case that seems to be common elsewhere, an alleged connection between the “two Michaels”. Today’s Guardian says that in March “China’s state media tabloid, the Global Times, said Spavor – who lived near the North Korean border and arranged cultural exchanges – was accused of supplying intelligence to Kovrig, a former diplomat turned analyst for the International Crisis Group. Canadian authorities have said the charges are baseless.” Perhaps the Canadian government has asked our media outlets not to report the alleged connection between the “two Michaels”. Why would it do that?

  6. Serving the interests of the U.S. State Department has its price and maybe it’s time for PMJT to admit to that.

    Ms. Meng is being held for no other reason than to serve the decidedly imperial interests of Washington, D.C. Of course, Erin O’Toole-time will declare that it’s anti-American to not help the U.S., even if the lives of Canadians are at risk. But then he will also say that Canadians are at risk because of Canada’s bad relationship with China, which is entirely the fault of PMJT… so vote Conservative in the next election and bring Jason Kenney’s ‘Miracle on the Prairies’ to the rest of Canada.

  7. “In 1999, the Extradition Act was amended to include a specific provision that provides the federal minister of justice the power to intervene in an extradition at any point in the judicial phase.”
    When Trump offered to use the Ms. Meng-gate scandal as a political bargaining tool in the U.S.’s trade relation negotiations with China, was the minute that Canada should have intervened and let Ms. Meng go. Even Canada’s pork and canola export markets with China were jeopardized with the U.S. probably picking up the slack. Trump crossed the line, and Canada let it go? It just goes to show that unfriendly U.S. actions such as this, speak louder than words.

  8. I suppose Canada’s position here is like the old saying – between a rock and a hard place. Both China and the US are important countries we want to get along with. However, if forced to choose, I expect we will generally choose the later, particularly now that the odious Trump is no longer in power.

    I sense China like most large countries is somewhat insular and preoccupied with its own internal affairs. It is trying to become a global political force to match its growing economic power, but with mixed results. In particular, arresting and holding these Canadians for so long is a big PR mistake. The US and Russia can also be insular at times and don’t always get international relations right either, but they have many more years experience as global powers and tend to temper their mistakes. Perhaps some of China’s recent assertive approach arose in response to Trump, but he is gone now, and the US has a much friendlier face to win over allies.

    I think O’Toole over reacted with his Olympic boycott, I am not sure what that would accomplish. He also didn’t seem to either be able to clearly blame this situation on our present government or offer a viable alternative. If this is how he takes advantage of a crisis facing the Liberals, then his Conservative party is in real trouble. However, he did bring up a valid concerns about Canadians being afraid to go to China. No doubt many others in the west are reluctant after this too.

    China needs the west as a market for its goods, and we need someone to make them inexpensively, so perhaps there will be no cold war right away. However, there are various other countries that can make things at a low cost. If business people from the west become reluctant to travel to China or do business there, because of arbitrary or harsh measures, they will look elsewhere.

    So, it might just be in China’s best interest to just expel Spavor now to end this and be magnanimous. Yes, perhaps they would give up a bit of leverage, but it hasn’t worked for them so far, has it? The US is already turning against them and trying to rally others, do they want Canada and the rest of the west to do so also?

  9. I see a lot written about Michael Spavor and how it is connected with Meng Wanzhou.
    First of all a man like Michael Spavor that has access to the upper echelons of North Korea and enjoys a laugh as per your photo with such a dictator, how do we know that he is actually not involved in what the Chinese are accusing him of?
    I think that again we are behaving as if the whole world is wrong and our people are being treated unfairly. I am very much sorry about their situation but until we know the details I think all of this is just more of the same attitude we had when we accused South Africa of apartheid when at home we were allowing people to get rid of our indigenous people.
    I do not even know if Meng Wanzhou is detained for a real reason. Do you? She was detained by a lunatic like Trump and she has been under house arrest for 2 years and the case has moved glacially without us really knowing if that was a case imagined by the Trump administration or not.
    Anyway unless you do have any real information I do not I am concerned with us vilifying other countries justice system when we really do not know the truth. Furthermore it is not as if our justice system is perfect at all. After all if you do have a lot of money you rarely go to jail in this country so what is the morals or ethics we have in pointing fingers.
    To be honest I do not trust their justice system and I barely trust ours.
    I am sorry for the people involved in this but maybe if they do not trust the Chinese system in general because it barely follows the rule of law, they should not be doing whatever is that they are doing there. Stay home after all there is a lot they can do here for peace and justice. Our indigenous people can tell you all about that.

  10. Of course, the possibility exists that the three Canadians mentioned here are actually guilty as charged. For some reason such as this possibility, nothing is ever admitted nor mentioned by our side, to whom these men are apparently angels targeted by those super-bully Chinese just for spite. I mean, the two Michaels have job titles about as bogus as can be imagined. Who pays these gents to flit about and be genial? What value do they give in return for service and who comes up with the bucks to finance them? They don’t seem to be business jobs. Perhaps they are borderline spies that normally the Chinese authorities would tolerate as relatively harmless until the bigger chips are down, like Meng’s detention. The drug dealer, well, who knows?

    Our diplomats and “allies” gather and wring hands in despair outside the Chinese courtroom, and I really have no idea if they’re faking it or not. Human rights abuse gets bandied about as all thought is abandoned as to our extremely poor showing in banning First Nations to reserves in the middle of nowhere to rot, their children once forcibly removed to be re-educated as white folk, but treated worse than shabbily in institutions. And yet we bray with fervour and denounce the alleged mistreatment of Uighurs by the Chinese on the slimmest of evidence other than constant repetition so most everyone eventually accepts it as fact. The Chinese are always bad is the constant message — believe anything else and you’re a traitor to the noble white man’s cause.

    Equally, I suspect Meng is guilty as charged under illegal US sanctions laws. But by what right does the US get to sanction Iran? Or Cuba? Or Venezuela? Or Russia? I read a more detailed summary of the prosecution’s arguments to the extradition judge, and he basically said all was well as to the reasons for Meng’s detention, and that the judge shouldn’t feel influenced by the situation. Well, thanks for the tip there, Mr Government Lawyer! Guess she’s headed for the female equivalent of Sing Sing to reflect at length on her supposed sins against the world’s leading democracy, whatever that term amounts to these days.

    I feel like DJC. Release Meng and let the US fight its own illegal battles. They’re on an anti-China jag at the moment, because America somehow strongly feels no one can be allowed to challenge their self-perceived worldwide hegemony and “accepted” rules-based international order which they invented out of thin air, not international law which the US doesn’t follow or accept. I dunno, does Canada make enemies of countries with similar GDPs to ours, just because they might get a leg up on us economically? The paranoia of America has never seemed so obvious to me. Business drives America, so one has to assume the plutocrats feel quite threatened that their gravy train might get interrupted by competition — you know, essentially important things like that. The players in this current drama are just flyspecks in the contrived struggle that has emerged, which seems to be entirely fabricated out of nothing, just because it could be.

    Based on performances in Canada, the UK and the continuing schemozzle that is the USA, the takeover of supreme power by the Chinese leader a few years ago when the new president decided to slip the surly bonds of figurehead status and become the Big Cheese, all I see is politicians at work. And we all know politicians are about as straight as a corkscrew. Look at Alberta’s wanna-be autocrat for a start. I guess what I’m thinking is, all this Meng/Canadian-prisoners nonsense is likely far from the truth, no matter which government representative is moving their lips. I resent both the lack of real clarity presented and the expectation I should be blindly cheering “our side” as if it were the font of eternal truth. Demonstrate such truthful straightforwardness on domestic issues to gain my trust first, before telling me to hate some other country.

  11. I think WikiLeaks revealed the cable from the US embassy in Ottawa to Washington that stated ” Canadian foreign policy is now US foreign policy” or words to that effect .

    It is evident that the US is calling the shots on the Meng case…no Canadian laws were broken so extradition on charges of violating “illegal” US sanctions seems that our justice system is being abused, aided and abetted by lackeys in our Global Affairs department.

    Now having left Afghanistan, but still bombing that country with alacrity, the US is “pivoting towards China”, upholding the “International Rule of Law” principle by sailing carrier battle groups in the South China Sea and exhorting its allies to do the same under the pretext of upholding the “Law of the Sea” convention…one of many treaties the US has signed, but not ratified.

    “Capriciousness about international treaties is an old US tradition. It starts with the country’s very creation: hundreds of treaties signed with Native American tribes that were either broken, or not ratified. Today, the US is one of the countries to have ratified the fewest number of international human rights treaties—of the 18 agreements passed by the UN, America has only ratified five.”

    In the next election my vote will be for a party that stands for an independent foreign policy for Canada.

    Enough of this toadying!

  12. Rule of Law eh? When cyber criminals hack into a company or infrastructure entity a business decision is quickly made to pay the ransom because of the disruption and financial losses. All good now – we can get back to making money and you can get cheap gas for your car again. So who really pays the ransom? The consumer/taxpayer that’s who.

    But when it comes to the welfare of Canadians it’s the Rule of Law b.s.

    “…good faith of our extradition partners.” There’s no good faith there, never has been. DJC is absolutely correct and we need to understand that the USA doesn’t care about Canadians. Do our politicians understand that? It’s continuously demonstrated that the USA only cares about themselves and what we should do for them, haven’t we figured that out?

  13. So, Canada is applying US law (sanctions on Iran) on Canadian soil in-spite of the fact Canada does not have sanctions against Iran. That application of foreign laws in a sovereign nation which does not have the same law is called ‘extraterritoriality.’ The fact it is being used on a Chinese national makes it doubly vile since the Chinese were subject to British law on their own soil for so long.

    This is a disgraceful capitulation by Ottawa and has ruined a trusted relationship with China going back to Canadian medics on the Long March in the 1920s to the Wheat Board (led by Alberta farmers) breaking the American food embargo against China in the 1950s.

    As has been said in another context, “this is worse than a crime, it is a mistake.”

  14. Neither of the two countries that are squeezing Canada in an undiplomatic vise are without reproach in this affair. The United States had no right demanding the arrest and extradition of Ms Meng in the first place; the “Trumped”-up fraud charges don’t meet the smell test. The Hairpiece That Walks Like a Man foolishly outed himself on the politicization of this entire process when he suggested that his Administration might drop the charges if China bent to his will on trade. On top of that, Ms Meng was only transiently on Canadian soil, being in Vancouver airport just to change planes. It’s not like she was some violent terrorist or serial killer on the lam: Canada had no business acceding to the US request to arrest her under those circumstances, given that what she is charged with is arguably not illegal in Canada.

    On the other hand, China has ruthlessly overreacted. While Meng Wanzhou enjoys her “bird in a gilded cage” house arrest in a luxurious Vancouver-area mansion, the two Michaels & Mr Schellenberg have to endure the most difficult conditions imaginable, held incommunicado & in solitary confinement, with the threat of execution hanging over Mr Schellenberg’s head as a further exacerbation of the nightmare.

    If Canada springs Ms Meng, not only does it risk offending the Excited States, it risks further encouraging China to continue its policy of hostage diplomacy. If Canada commits her to the US for trial, the two Michaels may never be seen on free soil again, and Schellenberg will get a pistol bullet to the back of the head. About the only way out is if the court in BC refuses to grant extradition & frees Meng by judicial process, without deferring to the Justice Minister’s discretion in law — not a likely prospect, from what I’ve read. Such an outcome would allow the government to continue to trumpet Canada’s “rule of law”, hopefully keep US displeasure at bay, and still get Ms Meng back to China.

    It’s too bad, though, that so many Canadians — including Alberta farmers & ranchers — earn income from trade with China, because nothing would make me happier than to simply:
    – declare that we will neither buy from nor sell to China
    – close our embassy in Beijing & issue a Global Affairs travel advisory to all Canadians in China to get our ASAP
    – & expel China’s embassy staff & any agents of the Chinese government or State-owned enterprises from Canada

    While I agree that the detention of Ms Meng is inappropriate, there is no valid equivalence between her situation & that of the Canadians being arbitrarily held in China. They are hostages, pure & simple, & the only just response to China is to tell their government how odious it really is.

    Finally, we need to do all of this carefully so as not to fuel anti-Chinese or anti-Asian bigotry & racial hatred. The Chinese people did not choose this government, and should not be held accountable for its behaviour.

  15. I am very skeptical that arresting Mrs. Meng was the right thing to do. That said, I am pretty sure that engaging in hostage diplomacy would do nothing more than teach people that if they take Canadians hostage, the government will capitulate to them. Mr. Trudeau has already allowed Canadian citizens to be murdered rather than pay a ransom, I think he should keep to that course. I also think our government should have a travel advisory telling Canadians that if they choose to go to China they are taking their lives into their own hands and Canada will be unable to help them if they are taken hostage by the CPC.

  16. Hi David

    For your reading interest: I just found this story about the HSBC and its role in the US government struggle with Huawei & China.


    Historic Canadian connection, too: Lord Elgin, who, in 1847 as Governor General of Canada initiated Responsible Government, was the same who, in his later appointment as ‘High Commissioner and Plenipotentiary in China and the Far East’ (quite the title!) ordered the looting and razing of the Old Summer Palace in Peking in 1860. This demonstration of British imperial power led to the ceding of Hong Kong and cementing British control of the opium trade in China. HSBC was established in 1865, according to the above article, to help supervise this trade.


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