Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig are returning to Canada nearly three years after they were arrested in China, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Friday evening.
“These two men have gone through an unbelievably difficult ordeal,” Trudeau said in Ottawa. “For the past 1,000 days, they have shown strength, perseverance, resilience and grace.”
Spavor and Kovrig boarded their flight about 7:30 p.m. ET, Trudeau said. They are being accompanied by Dominic Barton, Canada’s ambassador to China.
The ‘two Michaels’ were detained in what is widely considered a retaliatory act after the Chinese tech executive Meng Wangzhou was arrested in Vancouver on Dec. 1, 2018, at the request of the U.S. government.
Meng reached a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. government earlier Friday, setting off a quick chain of events that saw her extradition case dropped by a B.C. court and concluded with her departure from the Vancouver airport, also about 7:30 p.m. ET.
China has insisted throughout the legal saga that Spavor and Kovrig were arrested on legitimate grounds, but the timing of their release is sure to bolster Ottawa’s argument that the two men were arbitrarily detained.
Trudeau deflected questions about what the development will mean for the strained relationship between Canada and China. He also did not answer exactly how their release came about.
“There is going to be time for analysis and reflection in the coming days and weeks, but the fact of the matter is, I know Canadians will be incredibly happy to know right now, this Friday night, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are on a plane and they’re coming home,” he told reporters in Parliament’s West Block building.
Spavor, an entrepreneur who worked in North Korea and China, was found guilty of spying and sentenced to 11 years in prison and extradition by a Chinese court in August.
The trial for Kovrig, a diplomat, concluded in March, but he had not yet been sentenced.
Both men were initially detained on Dec. 10, 2018, 10 days after Meng’s arrest in Vancouver.
Source: CBC, September 24, 2021.