A young man holds a sign bearing photographs of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor outside B.C. Supreme Court where Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was attending a hearing, in Vancouver, on Tuesday January 21, 2020. China announced Wednesday that Spavor will have a court hearing Friday and Kovrig will be in court on Monday. The two were arrested in December 2018 shortly after Meng was arrested in Vancouver at the request of the United States. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

Trials for the ‘Two Michaels’ being held in China are set to begin Friday

Two Canadians arrested and jailed over two years ago in China on espionage charges appear set to have their days in court–beginning tomorrow.

Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Michael Spavor, a businessman, were arrested in December 2018.

Their detention came just days after police in Vancouver arrested Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies, at the request of the United States, who said the telecommunications giant had evaded sanctions against Iran.

Relations between Ottawa and Beijing have spiraled downhill ever since–with few indications that any resolution was in sight.

A poll released Tuesday found that more than three-quarters of Canadians said relations between China and Canada cannot improve until Kovrig and Spavor, who have become known as the Two Michaels, are released.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called Beijing’s charges against Kovrig and Spavor “trumped up” in an effort to apply political pressure on Canada to release Meng.

On Wednesday evening, there was movement.

The new Biden administration in Washington has given new momentum to the effort to free Canadians Michael Kovrig, left, and Michael Spavor, shown in these 2018 images from video, from detention in China. (THE CANADIAN Press, The Associated Press)

Saying Canada wanted immediate access to Spavor and Kovrig, Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau announced that the Canadian Embassy in Beijing had been notified earlier in the day that Spavor’s court hearing will take place Friday and Kovrig’s will take place Monday.

“Canadian officials are seeking continued consular access to Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig, in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the China-Canada Consular Agreement, and have also requested to attend the proceedings,” Mr. Garneau said in a statement.

“The arbitrary detention of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor is a top priority for the government of Canada and we continue to work tirelessly to secure their immediate release,” Garneau said.

“We believe these detentions are arbitrary, and remain deeply troubled by the lack of transparency surrounding these proceedings.

“Canadian officials will continue to provide consular support to these men and their families during this unacceptable ordeal.”

Garneau’s announcement came as U.S. and Chinese officials were set to meet today in Alaska–a meeting that Canadian officials are hoping may open the door to the release of Kovrig and Spavor.

Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou leaves her home with a security guard in Vancouver the day after she was released on $10 million bail in December 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that China planned to use the meeting to ask the U.S. to lift sanctions imposed by the Trump administration on certain Chinese nationals and entities, including Huawei.

The newspaper also reported that China will propose a meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on the margins of next month’s global conference in Lisbon on climate change.

At his virtual summit with Trudeau in February, Biden indicated that he was ready to help Canada secure the release of the two Canadians. 

“Human beings are not bartering chips,” said Biden, who did elaborate on how he would help.

“We’re going to work together to get their safe return. Canada and the United States will stand together against abuse of universal rights and democratic freedoms.” 

Meanwhile Meng’s hearings continue in Vancouver.

Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou will be in B.C. Supreme Court hearings until mid-May. A decision on extradition is not expected until later this year. (CBC/Ben Nelms)

She has denied the U.S. charges and is fighting extradition. 

The hearings are expected to conclude in May, but appeals could extend the process for years.

Trials in China, meanwhile are regularly completed in a single day and result in conviction nearly 100 per cent of the time.

Kovrig and Spavor each face a maximum penalty of life in prison.

With files from CBC News (Peter Zimonjic, Earvin Solitario, Vassy Kapelos) The Canadian Press·(James McCarten), Reuters (Steve Scherer, Tony Munroe), Associated Press (Rob Gillies)

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