Trials for Canadians Kovrig, Spavor to begin in China this week

WATCH: Michael Kovrig’s wife says she hopes Biden’s ‘powerful’ words will lead to action

The court proceedings for two Canadian men, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, detained in China are scheduled to begin this week, Canada’s foreign affairs minister has confirmed.

In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Marc Garneau said the Canadian Embassy in Beijing has been notified that the court hearings for Spavor and Kovrig are scheduled to take place on March 19 and March 22, respectively.

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Kovrig and Spavor were arrested in China in 2018 on espionage charges, shortly after Huawei CEO Meng Wanzhou was detained by authorities in British Columbia on an extradition charge from the United States.

Canadian officials have repeatedly called for their release, calling their detention arbitrary.

Garneau said the detention of the two men is “a top priority for the Government of Canada.”

“And we continue to work tirelessly to secure their immediate release,” he said.

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

According to Garneau, Canadian officials are seeking “continued consular access” to the men, and have also requested to attend the court proceedings.

“Canadian officials will continue to provide consular support to these men and their families during this unacceptable ordeal,” the statement read. “Due to the provisions of the Privacy Act, no further information can be disclosed.”

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Kovrig’s wife, Vina Nadjibulla, said the announcement is a “difficult piece of news to process.”

“It’s overwhelming,” she said. “ I keep thinking about Michael and how he must be experiencing this and preparing and making sense of it, preparing for Monday.”

However, Nadjibulla said it is important to stay focused on securing the release of the two men.

“If anything, this underscores the urgency of the issue and that we must do everything possible to bring them home,” she said. “We’re running out of time, the process in China is moving ahead and this is incredibly, incredibly urgent at this stage.”

Nadjibulla said the Canadian government has been offering consular support and has been “working very closely with us throughout this entire process.”

“This is a significant development,” she said. “But it’s something that we’ve been anticipating as much as we’ve hoped to avoid it — it’s been anticipated, and the government continues to offer support and has been in touch throughout the years.”

Nadjibulla said she has not spoken to her husband since the news of his impending trial broke, saying the only communication they have is through consular visits and letters.

She said she is not planning to travel to China for the court proceedings, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and because it will not be an open trial.

Several of Canada’s closest allies have pledged their support and have called on China to release the men.

Last month, U.S. president Joe Biden said the U.S. would work with Canada to secure their safe release, saying “human beings are not bartering chips.”

Biden made the comments after his first bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“Canada and the United States will stand together against abuse of universal rights and democratic freedom,” he said.

The same week, U.S. Secretary of State pledged “absolute solidarity”  with Canada.

Blinken also cheered the Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations, a Canadian initiative comprising a coalition of more than 50 countries opposed to the state-sponsored political detention of foreign nationals.

Speaking at a press conference earlier this month, Trudeau reiterated that the charges against Spavor and Kovrig are retaliatory in nature.

“It is obvious that the two Michaels were arrested on trumped-up national security charges days after we fulfilled our extradition treaty responsibilities towards our ally, the United States,” he said.

-With a file from Global News’ Rachel Gilmore and The Canadian Press

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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