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Canada has mere hours to free the two Michaels -- but that would take courage

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Prime Minister Trudeau and U.S. President Biden deliver a joint statement. Image credit: Adam Scotti/PMO

News media reported yesterday China has announced the espionage trials of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig will go ahead swiftly tomorrow and next week, leaving official Canada with only a few hours to play the only decent card it holds to free the unfortunate pair.

Unhappily for the two Michaels, as Spavor and Kovrig have come to be known, that would require official Canada to act with boldness and courage.

Releasing Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou from Canadian custody and letting her return to China, which is what would be required, is certainly the last thing many powerful people in our country's police, security, diplomatic and political inner circles want.

So with Spavor expected to go on trial tomorrow in Dandong on the North Korean border, and Kovrig on Monday in Beijing, it's unlikely anything will happen.

Whether the two Michaels are spies as the Chinese government claims or innocent bystanders as Canadians are constantly told by media and government officials, this leaves the pair in a very bad spot.

They are pawns in a great game played by two haughty imperial powers that care little about Canada's interests and even less about a couple of Canadians.

They are unable to count on much help from Canadian officials who have their own agendas, and for whom they may well be more useful as Chinese prisoners than safely home in Canada.

Spavor and Kovrig were arrested by Chinese state security officials in December 2018 soon after Meng was snatched by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police at the behest of U.S. officials during a stopover in Vancouver, where she has a residence.

It seems clear the arrests of the two Canadians were intended by the Chinese government to send a message to Canada to let Meng go, and that Meng in turn was intended as a hostage to press China in the former Trump administration's high-stakes trade negotiations, a gambit in former U.S. president Donald Trump's ultimately unsuccessful election campaign.

Meng was chosen for her role because as a senior executive of a huge and successful Chinese high technology company with ties to the Chinese government, she made an excellent bargaining chip. Trump publicly admitted as much. Conveniently for the Americans, she was a resident of Canada.

The U.S. authorities obviously correctly concluded that their Canadian counterparts would meekly comply with the dubious scheme to arrest her during a stopover in Vancouver for supposedly ignoring U.S. sanctions against Iran, even though Canada and other Western countries had not enacted such sanctions.

Given the conduct and openly expressed intentions of the Trump administration, it has always been absurd to claim, as Canada has continually since Meng's arrest, that our hands are tied by the rule of law.

Meanwhile, with thousands of Canadians in China to choose from, the Chinese government picked the two Michaels for some reason, possibly because they had the kind of resumes that would send a more pointed message to Ottawa than a mere diplomatic note, something that would be understood behind closed doors in Canada's capital.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has described the charges against the men as "trumped up."

The charges against Meng were undeniably Trumped up -- and are apparently still useful to the U.S. administration of President Joseph Biden.

It's generally agreed the timing now of the two Michaels' trials -- the outcome of which we are constantly reminded by Canadian media are a foregone conclusion -- was intended by China to send a message to the Biden administration, which will commence its first talks with senior Chinese officials in Alaska today.

Rather than cut the Gordian knot and simply let Meng go, the Trudeau government has placed all its chips on a timid bet the United States will spring the two Michaels without us having to defy the American imperium.

Anything's possible, but the chances of this succeeding seem slim. Surely our American cousins would rather have a couple of Canadians in jail than some of their own. The same thing may suit China, because the stakes are lower.

It's clear, moreover, that the Biden administration has its own reasons for hanging onto Meng, which presumably have even less to do with sanctions against Iran, which President Biden has said he would like to remove, than his predecessor's did.

If Canada won't act on behalf of its own citizens, who have already spent 830 days in jail, it's unlikely China will release them any time soon, even if they get what they want from their talks with the United States.

In the current epoch, it would appear, pride goeth before someone else's destruction.

Canada has less than a day to do the right thing. Fortis Fortuna adiuvat.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.

Image credit: Adam Scotti/PMO

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