Families mark 1,000 days since China’s detention of Canadians Spavor, Kovrig


The families of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor organized a march on Sunday to mark 1,000 days of the two men’s detention in China.

Supporters of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor take part in a march in Ottawa on Sept. 5, 2021, marking 1,000 days since the two men were detained in China on charges of espionage. (Lars Hagberg/AFP/Getty Images)

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, are marking the event with a march in Ottawa this morning.

The march left from Windsor Park and will end in Major’s Hill Park, and those who join the walk are 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

Canadians Kovrig and Spavor detained in China for 1,000 days

Michael Kovrig’s former wife, Vina Nadjibulla, calls for a solution to ‘end the injustice’ as his and Michael Spavor’s friends, families and supporters march in Ottawa calling for their freedom. 7:04

‘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 said.

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 and Michael Kovrig power has shown, and that they draw inspiration from that and finally come up with the actions that will get them home.”

The former wife of Michael Kovrig, Vina Nadjibulla, speaks to supporters of Kovrig and Michael Spavor as demonstrators gather ahead of a march in Ottawa. (Lars Hagberg/AFP/Getty Images)

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.”

The Chinese government has countered by arguing that Meng’s arrest was itself politically motivated.

WATCH | O’Toole discusses detention of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig

Conservative leader is asked about Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig as the two men mark 1,000 days in Chinese detention

Erin O’Toole spoke with reporters in downtown Montreal on Friday, the morning after the French-language debate on the TVA network 1:49

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, taking a harder line on Canada’s relationship with China, has criticized the government’s approach to the issue.

O’Toole raised the possibility of a boycott of next year’s winter games in Beijing and urged the Canadian government to work more closely with its allies on the issue.

NDP 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 Sunday.

WATCH | Singh says government should continue to apply pressure to ‘secure the release of our fellow Canadians’

Singh says government should continue to apply pressure to ‘secure the release of our fellow Canadians’

On day 1,000 of the detention of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig in China, NPD Leader Jagmeet Singh says the government should continue to apply pressure on China to secure their release. 0:36

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