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U.S. administration treating Spavor, Kovrig cases as if they were Americans: Hillman

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    Ottawa, Ontario (CTV Network) — The Canadian ambassador to the U.S. says she’s been reassured by her American colleagues that they are viewing the cases of detained Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig as if the two men were their own citizens.

“Many members of the U.S. administration have said to me that they will be treating the work towards the release of the Michaels as though it was they were American citizens, and that’s a very powerful thing,” said Kristen Hillman in an interview on CTV’s Question Period airing Sunday.

Spavor and Kovrig were detained in China on Dec. 10, 2018 on allegations of state spying, largely seen in the West as retaliation for the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou days prior in Vancouver in connection with a U.S. extradition request.

Spavor appeared in a Chinese court last Friday – a hearing that lasted less than two hours and concluded with no verdict. Canadian consular officials were denied entry and Spavor’s legal counsel wasn’t given access to evidence prior. Kovrig will face his own hearing on Monday, March 22 in Beijing.

Many diplomatic experts and parliamentarians believe their freedom hinges, at least in part, on efforts out of Washington.

Hillman said the status of the two men comes up in almost all conversations with the Biden administration. In terms of how they plan to turn firm words into firm action, Hillman said “as to the specifics of how that’s going to unfold, that’s not really something that I’m going to be able to talk to you about. There are a lot of discussions ongoing, but they are approaching this with the greatest of seriousness.”

She said Canada is working closely will allies around the world to condemn not only the cases of Spavor and Kovrig, but of hostage diplomacy more broadly.

Alongside Canadian embassy officials, representatives from Australia, the U.S., the U.K., France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Germany also showed up to the gates of the Dandong courthouse where Spavor appeared, trying to gain access, but were denied.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau later said he was “very pleased” by their presence, expressing “our global solidarity in this case.” He added that the lack of transparency in the judicial process in China makes it “extremely difficult to make judgments” on the status of the trial and whether it was fair.

In a separate interview on Question Period, Canada’s former ambassador to China Guy Saint-Jacques says Spavor’s hearing stands out as an extraordinary “travesty of justice.”

Saint-Jacques, who was the ambassador during the time that Canadian Kevin Garrett was put before a Chinese court after having been detained for two years, said that trial, although also shrouded in secrecy, lasted an entire day.

“In this case, two hours, clearly is not enough for the judge to review the evidence, plus the evidence was not shared with Michael Spavor nor with his lawyer. So this is all preordained, it’s a sham,” he said in an interview on CTV’s Question Period airing Sunday.

“We know what will be the outcome. I expect we’ll see next week a guilty verdict.”

Kovrig’s wife Vina Nadjibulla echoed this grim sentiment but said her focus remains on her husband’s wellbeing, having spend more than 830 days in prison, and his hopeful release.

“No matter what happens on Monday, Michael’s innocence is not in question. The fact that this is an arbitrary, unjust detention is not going to be in anyway changed and our focus must also not change and remain on the fact we have to find a way to get him home,” she said during an interview on Question Period.

Nadjibulla is pushing for some sort of trilateral compromise between China, the U.S. and Canada.

U.S and Chinese officials gathered in Alaska on Thursday for a two-day summit to discuss the superpowers’ frayed relationship. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan met China’s top two diplomats, State Councilor Wang Yi and Chinese Communist Party foreign affairs chief Yang Jiechi.

Blinken has been vocal about advocating for Spavor and Kovrig’s release.

Trudeau was asked about whether he received confirmation that the issue was discussed at the summit on Friday, to which he responded “I can assure you that the U.S. continues to prioritize this case as it is something that is important not just to us but to them in terms of respect for the rule of law and support of citizens around the world.”

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