Global Affairs Canada (GAC) is dismissing the idea that formerly imprisoned Canadian Michael Kovrig was involved in espionage after a recent report alleged the nature of his work in China led to the detention of fellow citizen Michael Spavor.
On Saturday, the Globe and Mail reported that Spavor, who along with Kovrig was jailed in China for nearly three years, is seeking a multimillion-dollar settlement from Ottawa.
Citing two unnamed sources, the Globe reports that Spavor alleges he was detained because he “unwittingly” provided intelligence on North Korea to Canada.
The sources told the Globe that Spavor’s lawyer, John K. Phillips, alleges his client was arrested by China because of information he shared with Kovrig, which was later passed on to the Canadian government and its Five Eyes partners, without Spavor’s knowledge, as part of Kovrig’s diplomatic duties with the Foreign Affairs department’s Global Security Reporting Program.
In a statement to CTV News, GAC spokesperson Pierre Cuguen said, “China’s arbitrary detention of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig was unjust and unacceptable.”
“As the PM noted in 2021, China’s conviction of Michael Spavor on charges of espionage were unfounded, and came after a trial that did not satisfy even the minimum standards required by international law,” Cuguen said.
“Perpetuating the notion that either Michael was involved in espionage is only perpetuating a false narrative under which they were detained by China.”
GAC appears to have provided much of the same statement to the Globe in response to its reporting. The statement did not mention the reported settlement that Spavor is allegedly seeking.
“These two men went through an unbelievably difficult ordeal and every day of their arbitrary detention showed strength, perseverance, resilience and grace. They inspired all of Canada and as a country, we breathed a collective sigh of relief when they returned home,” Cuguen said.
“Since their release from arbitrary detention, the Government of Canada has remained committed to supporting them both to rebuild their lives following this difficult ordeal. Both men are free to speak about their experience of their arbitrary detention in China. Due to privacy considerations, no further information can be disclosed.”
Kovrig and Spavor, often referred to as “the two Michaels,” were arrested in December 2018 on allegations of espionage, a move considered to be retaliation for the detention of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, daughter of the tech giant’s founder, in Canada on a U.S. extradition request.
China released the two men in September 2021, on the same day that the U.S. Justice Department reached a deal to resolve Meng’s criminal charges.