Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor arrive in Canada after nearly 3-year detention in China

Politics·Updated

Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor landed in Canada on Saturday, back home after nearly three years in detention in China.

Michael Kovrig, left, and Michael Spavor, right, were arrested by China in the wake of charges against Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou but are now in Canada.(The Canadian Press, The Associated Press)

Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are back on home soil, almost three years after they were first detained in China.

The two men landed in Calgary shortly before 8 a.m. ET Saturday aboard a Royal Canadian Air Force Challenger aircraft. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was at the airport to welcome the two men, who had flown from China along with ambassador Dominic Barton.

Trudeau announced Friday evening the two were out of Chinese airspace, just hours after Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou had an extradition case against her dropped. Meng reached a deferred prosecution agreement with U.S. authorities related to fraud charges against her on Friday.

"These two men have gone through an unbelievably difficult ordeal," Trudeau said Friday. "For the past 1,000 days, they have shown strength, perseverance, resilience and grace."

Kovrig, a diplomat, and Spavor, an entrepreneur who worked in North Korea and China, were first detained in December 2018 — just after Meng was arrested in Canada on behalf of U.S. authorities. Their detention is widely considered to be a retaliatory action in response to the Huawei executive's arrest.

Chinese authorities had consistently denied that the cases were linked.

Spavor was found guilty of spying and sentenced to 11 years in prison and extradition by a Chinese court in August. The trial for Kovrig concluded in March, but he had not yet been sentenced.

Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou reads a statement outside the B.C. Supreme Court following the conclusion of her extradition hearing.(Ben Nelms/CBC)

Timing shows clear link between cases, experts say

The timing of the releases of Meng, and Spavor and Kovrig, show China clearly saw a connection between the two, several diplomats and foreign policy experts told CBC News.

"China … up until now, has said that there's been no linkage between the two, but by putting them on the plane [Friday night], they've clearly acknowledged that this was hostage-taking," said Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat for more than 30 years.

Robertson told "it really was one for the other" in an exchange that was reminiscent of Cold War swaps.

"The timing, it's totally undeniable that the two Michaels were unjustly detained because of the arrest of Ms. Meng in Vancouver," Lynette Ong, a specialist on China at the Munk School of Global Affairs, told host Chris Hall.

The rapid series of events Friday "was a surprise," said Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, a senior fellow at Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa.

She noted Spavor and Kovrig's detention had already sent a message to other countries "that if they cross China, then Beijing will just pick up a couple of their citizens and hold them hostage.

"And that's a chilling message for other countries to be receiving today."

With files from Nick Boisvert

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Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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