Friend of detained Calgarian calls for his release from China
CALGARY -- A friend of Michael Spavor says he wants the detained Calgarian to be released before tensions between Canada and China escalate further.
Relations between the two countries have worsened over the last week, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau resists calls to free Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou. Experts believe doing so could secure the release of two Canadians prisoners.
One of those Canadians, Spavor, was born in Calgary and received a degree from the University of Calgary.
Michael Purity, who attended university with Spavor, says his friend was a kind person who was passionate about teaching.
“Michael Spavor gets along with everyone,” Purity said.
Both Spavor and Michael Kovrig were arrested separately in the days following Meng's arrest. Both men had been held in China without charges from December 2018 until last week, when they were formally charged with espionage.
Purity says that doesn’t line up with the Calgarian he knew.
“He is now being charged with a crime that doesn’t seem to fit the bill in any way based on his history as a person,” Purity said. “This has nothing to do with them (Spavor and Kovrig). (It’s) a political machine that is bigger than both of them.”
Purity spoke to CTV News at length about Spavor, recalling his time spent in South Korea and eventually North Korea, working for a non-profit and teaching English.
Purity says he would see Spavor during visits to Calgary.
But bringing Spavor home once again is a situation that has grown more complicated this week.
Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa on Thursday that he wouldn’t give in to the mounting pressure surrounding Meng’s case.
"If countries around the world, including China, realize that by arbitrarily arresting random Canadians, they can get what they want out of Canada politically – well, that makes an awful lot of Canadians who travel around the world vulnerable to that kind of pressure."
The Prime Minister’s remarks come one day after a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry said that Canada halting its attempt to extradite Meng could affect the fates of Spavor and Kovrig.
On Wednesday, a group of prominent former Canadian politicians and diplomats wrote Trudeau saying that "the time is past due" for Canada to halt the process in order to get "the two Michaels" released.
"We believe [Kovrig and Spavor] will remain in their Chinese prison cells until Meng is free to return to China," they wrote in the letter, which was obtained by CTV News.
The group said releasing Meng would not only free Kovrig and Spavor from "grave risk" and the high likelihood of being convicted, but also allow Canada to re-establish a policy regarding China free of the current dispute.
Purity said Thursday he agrees that action needs to be taken.
“We really need the Canadian government and the American government to both realize that you have an innocent man behind bars right now due to an international situation that has nothing to do with him,” he said.
Trudeau told reporters he "deeply disagree[d]" with the letter, arguing that giving in to China would make future arrests of Canadians more likely.
"We cannot allow political pressures or random arrests of Canadian citizens to influence the functioning of our justice system,” Trudeau said.