Canada reaches settlement with Canadian detained in China for nearly three years

Canada's government has reached a settlement with one of two Canadians who were detained in China for nearly three years on national security charges during a diplomatic fight between the two countries

Rob Gillies
Thursday 07 March 2024 03:11 GMT

Canada's government has reached a settlement with one of two Canadians who were detained in China for nearly three years on national security charges during a diplomatic fight between the two countries.

John K. Phillips, a lawyer for Michael Spavor, confirmed Wednesday that a settlement had been concluded, without giving any details.

“I am only able to say that the matter between Mr. Spavor and the government of Canada has been resolved," Phillips said.

The Globe and Mail newspaper, citing an unidentified source, reported earlier Wednesday that Spavor reached a mediated settlement worth about $6 million Canadian (US$4.4 million) after he threatened to sue the government and his fellow prisoner, Michael Kovrig.

Kovrig, who previously acknowledged to the Globe and Mail that he was in talks with Canada over compensation, did not respond to a message seeking comment.

The Globe and Mail reported that Spavor alleged he was arrested because he had given information about North Korea to Kovrig, who worked for the Canadian Embassy in China and passed it on to his government. Kovrig was on leave from the embassy and working for a think tank when he was detained.

Canada's government has long maintained the two men were held to pressure Canada to release a senior executive of Chinese tech firm Huawei Technologies, who had been detained in December 2018 at the request of U.S. authorities who wanted her to face charges in America.

“China’s arbitrary detention of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig was unjust and unacceptable," Global Affairs Canada reiterated in a statement Wednesday.

“While the 1019 days in which they were arbitrarily detained by China will never be erased, the Government of Canada is committed to supporting them in their efforts to turn to a new chapter in their lives based on their individual circumstances and impacts, and in acknowledgement of their ordeal and the suffering caused by their arbitrary detention by China. ”

The department declined to comment further, citing privacy considerations.

Both Spavor and Kovrig were arrested nine days after the Huawei arrest and released the same day in September 2021 that the Huawei executive, Meng Wanzhou, was allowed to return to China, ending her U.S. extradition case.

China has said the two Canadians were suspected of crimes endangering national security.

Spavor worked in China running tours of North Korea along with sports, business and other exchanges through his company, Paektu Cultural Exchange. He has met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and was instrumental in bringing former NBA star Dennis Rodman to the North’s capital, Pyongyang, in 2013.

Kovrig told the Globe and Mail that he acted properly in his dealings with Spavor and followed the “standard of laws, rules and regulations governing diplomats.”

Canada’s intelligence watchdog published a report in December saying a program that has diplomats collect sensitive information abroad isn’t adequately monitored and has at times caused Canada’s allies to confuse diplomats with spies.

The program’s officers are “accredited and declared diplomats” who since 2002 have collected information “overtly, through networks of government and non-governmental contacts,” the report said.

Canada does not have a covert spy agency operating abroad, such as the American CIA, but the information gathered by diplomats is often shared with Canada’s spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Former Canadian ambassador to China, Guy Saint-Jacques, Kovrig’s former boss, said the settlement does not mean Kovrig was a spy.

“A spy would use clandestine approaches as means to get want he wants. In this case it was totally transparent," he said.

Saint-Jacques said Spavor was unique because he was a foreigner who had access to North Korea's leader.

“The federal government probably recognized his way of living. It's impossible now for him to go back and live in China and organize tours in North Korea. This is a major disruption to his lifestyle and work prospects,” Saint-Jacques said.

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