It’s been 1,000 days since Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were detained in China.
The families of the men, along with friends and supporters, marked the event with a Sunday morning march in Ottawa.
The march left from Windsor Park and ended in Major’s Hill Park, and those who joined were encouraged to walk 7,000 steps, the same number Michael Kovrig’s former wife, Vina Nadjibulla, says he walks in his cell every day.
Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Spavor, a businessman who arranged travel to North Korea, were both detained in December 2018 following the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver. Meng’s arrest was prompted by a U.S. extradition request, and the ensuing case is awaiting a decision by B.C. Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes.
Both men were charged with espionage. Spavor has been sentenced to 11 years in prison. Michael Kovrig has yet to be sentenced after his trial wrapped in March.
WATCH | Vina Nadjibulla talks about Michael Kovrig, Spavor’s 1,000 days in detention:
‘No surprise’ if Kovrig found guilty: Nadjibulla
Several hundred people gathered at the Ottawa park in the morning, wearing white shirts printed with the slogan “#bringthemhome.” Among the crowd was Nadjibulla, who spoke with CBC’s chief political correspondent for an interview airing Sunday on Rosemary Barton Live. She said she had most recently had news about Michael thanks to a consular visit roughly three weeks ago.
“He’s doing everything possible to stay healthy both mentally and physically. He referred to the experience as a ‘boot camp in forbearance,'” she told Rosemary Barton.
She said there were marches across the world in solidarity that had already started.
Nadjibulla said she had no hope that there would be anything but a guilty verdict in Kovrig’s case. Chinese courts have a conviction rate of more than 99 per cent.
“It’ll be heartbreaking, but we are prepared for that,” she said.
“What I do every day and what I fight for every day is to find a solution to finally bring him home.”
Nadjibulla said the solution needs to be “political and diplomatic.” She said she was heartened by the unity with which Canadians and politicians had condemned her husband’s detention and that she hoped the issue would continue to be a priority after the election.
“I hope the leaders will be inspired by the courage, the incredible dignity that both Michael [Kovrig] and Michael Spavor have shown, and that they draw inspiration from that and finally come up with the actions that will get them home.”
Paul Spavor, Michael Spavor’s brother, was also at the march Sunday morning.
He said communication with Michael is limited to very irregular letters and once-monthly consular visits, and he has not heard from him since just after the sentencing.
“It’s difficult. 1,000 days is a long time, and it wears on us,” he said. He expressed hope there is a solution on the horizon.
Asked about the Canadian government’s response, Paul Spavor said its efforts had been “terrific,” and “we all know it’s not a simple situation, but they’ve all been working very hard.”
He said there was always a concern the issue of his brother’s detainment would be politicized, but he is satisfied with how all parties are treating the issue now.
Icy relationship with China
The Canadian government has denounced the arrests of Kovrig and Spavor as politically motivated.
“The thoughts of all Canadians are with them and their families during this incredibly difficult time,” Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said Sunday during a campaign event in Markham, Ont.
“We will not rest until they are freed and safely home,” Trudeau said, saying he had spoken with the families of the two men.
“I assured them that all Canadians are standing firm with them. We will not back down.”
WATCH | Trudeau comments on detention of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig:
The Chinese government has countered by arguing that Meng’s arrest was itself politically motivated.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, taking a harder line on Canada’s relationship with China, has criticized the government’s approach to the issue.
Speaking to reporters Sunday at a campaign event in Vancouver, O’Toole said that Kovrig and Spavor were being held as “diplomatic pawns” by China and that a Conservative government would take a more “serious approach.”
“I’ve often said China might be much larger in terms of population and economy, but they can learn a lot from us with respect to engagement for human rights, dignity and the rule of law,” he said. He said targeted sanctions, in concert with allies, would help to put pressure on China on a variety of fronts.
WATCH | O’Toole discusses detention of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig:
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh reiterated Sunday his call for the government to “do everything possible,” including working with international allies, to secure the release of the two men.
“A thousand days, I can’t imagine what that’s like for Mr. Kovrig, Mr. Spavor, for their families and loved ones. A thousand days in conditions that have been pretty horrible, not having access to human rights, not having access to the same things that you would expect in a criminal justice system here in Canada,” he told reporters.
WATCH | Singh says government should continue to apply pressure to ‘secure the release of our fellow Canadians’:
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that the U.S. stands with Canada and the international community in calling for China “to release, immediately and unconditionally,” the two men.
“The United States remains deeply troubled by the lack of transparency surrounding these legal proceedings and joins Canada in calling for full consular access to Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig, in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the China-Canada Consular Agreement,” he said in a statement.
“The practice of arbitrarily detaining individuals to exercise leverage over foreign governments is completely unacceptable. People should never be used as bargaining chips.”