Updated Aug 11, 2021 - World

China court sentences Canadian Michael Spavor to 11 years in prison for spying

A protester in 2019 holds photos of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who are being detained by China, outside British Columbia Supreme Court, in Vancouver
A Vancouver Freedom and Democracy for China representative with photos of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig in 2019. Photo: Jason Redmond/AFP/Getty Images

A court in Dandong, China, sentenced Canadian businessman Michael Spavor to 11 years in prison Wednesday after finding him guilty of espionage. Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denounced the sentence as "unacceptable and unjust."

Why it matters: The detention of Spavor, along with former diplomat Michael Kovrig following their 2018 arrests, is widely viewed as retaliatory action by the Chinese government for Canada's detention of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who's accused of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran.

  • The sentencing suggests that a Beijing court is set to find Kovrig guilty in his spying case.
  • It's also likely to increase already strained tensions between the governments of China and Canada.

What they're saying: Trudeau said in a statement that the verdict in Spavor's case "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."

  • "For Mr. Spavor, as well as for Michael Kovrig who has also been arbitrarily detained, our top priority remains securing their immediate release," he added, vowing to work to bring them home.

What to watch: Spavor can appeal the court's decision, but it's rare for such judgments to be overturned in China.

The bottom line: His "fate could rest on deal-making among Beijing, Ottawa and Washington at a time when Beijing's relations with Western powers are particularly tense," the New York Times notes.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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