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China hands Canadian 11-year jail term, raising Ottawa's ire

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Canadian Ambassador Dominic Barton gives a statement near the Dandong city detention center after attending the guilty verdict hearing on Canadian businessman Michael Spavor for spying charges in the border city of Dandong, in China's northeast Liaoning province on August 11, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

Tensions continue to simmer between Beijing and Ottawa over judicial trials involving the citizens of both countries, as a court in China has handed a lengthy prison term to a Canadian businessman for espionage, triggering an angry response from Canada.

The Liaoning Dandong court on Wednesday found Michael Spavor guilty of espionage and sentenced him to 11 years in jail, confiscation of property, in addition to 50,000 yuan ($7,715) in fines.

Spavor, along with another Canadian citizen and former diplomat Michael Kovrig, were detained in China in 2018.

Spavor "was convicted of espionage and illegally providing state secrets," Dandong city's Intermediate People's Court said in a statement.

"He was sentenced to 11 years in prison."

Kovrig is awaiting his court verdict in the espionage case.

Reacting to the verdict on Wednesday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau criticized Spavor's jail term as "unacceptable and unjust.”

"The verdict for Mr Spavor comes after more than two-and-a-half years of arbitrary detention, a lack of transparency in the legal process, and a trial that did not satisfy even the minimum standards required by international law," Trudeau said.

Canada's ambassador to China, Dominic Barton, who was speaking to reporters via video call from the northeastern city of Dandong, said he had met with Spavor following the verdict, and that Spavor had three messages which he asked to be shared with the outside world, "Thank you for all your support," "I am in good spirits," and "I want to get home."

Barton said he interpreted the ruling to mean that Spavor would be deported after serving his sentence.

He said Spavor and Kovrig were being detained arbitrarily and that Canada would continue to call for their release.

A screen shows Canadian Ambassador Dominic Barton delivering a statement from Dandong via video link at the Canadian embassy in Beijing on August 11, 2021 as Canadian businessman Michael Spavor was sentenced to 11 years after a court found him guilty of spying. (Photo by AFP)

Wednesday's ruling comes hot on the heels of another verdict by the Chinese judicial system on Tuesday which provoked the ire of the Canadian government. 

On Tuesday, a Chinese court rejected an appeal by and upheld a 2019 death penalty against Canadian Robert Lloyd Schellenberg who has been convicted of drug trafficking, following his arrest in 2014.

The court said the facts presented in the earlier trial against Schellenberg were clear and the evidence “reliable and sufficient.”

The cases come amid the background of a trial in Canada involving Chinese top Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou. She was arrested back in 2018 and is awaiting a verdict on possible extradition to the United States over charges of selling goods and thus breaking the sanctions imposed by Washington against Iran.

Lawyers in Canada, representing the chief financial officer of the Chinese telecoms giant, have for years been fighting to convince the court not to extradite Meng to the United States. Both Meng and Huawei have denied any wrongdoing.

Barton reiterated earlier claims by Trudeau that the court proceedings against Canadian citizens were not a coincidence and that Chinese officials had clearly indicated that the court cases were somehow linked to one another.

Beijing, however, denies any link between the Canadians' and Meng’s arrest, pointing to the independence of the judiciary branch of its government.


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