Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor arrive in Canada after 1,020 days in Chinese detention

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A flight carrying Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, two Canadians held captive by Chinese authorities for nearly three years, landed safely on Canadian soil on Saturday morning following the return of senior Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou to China.

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The pair landed at around 5:40 a.m. local time (7:40 a.m.) on their way to Calgary’s international airport, where they were received by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Secretary of State Marc Garneau.

According to reports, he was accompanied by China’s ambassador to Canada, Dominic Barton, who arrived in a Royal Canadian Air Force Challenger jet from Anchorage, Alaska with Kovrig and Spavor.


A CTV video shows Trudeau embracing the couple as they walk on the tarmac.

A Canadian official said Spavor will remain in Calgary, where he lives, while Kovrig is expected to reach Toronto on Saturday afternoon.

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Trudeau flew to Calgary late Friday after a hastily held press conference announcing the pair’s release. Spavor and Kovrig were released by China just hours after Meng struck a deal with US prosecutors, who dropped the extradition warrant and allowed Canada to release them.

This unexpected news ended a nearly three-year hiatus that deeply fractured Canada’s ties with China.

In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou waves as she exits an airplane after arriving at Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, southern China, Saturday, September 25, 2021.

Meng arrived at China’s Shenzhen airport at 10 p.m. local time (10 a.m.) and was greeted by a crowd of citizens who hoisted the flag along with China’s ambassador to Canada, Kang Peiwu.

Taking a bouquet of roses from her husband, she gave a speech to the crowd and thanked her family and the Chinese government for her release.

In Canada, Michaels was celebrated in a row by politicians, friends and family.

“None of this was expected, but there’s no better news,” Kovrig’s sister, Ariana Botha, told reporters at Pearson Airport. “We’re shocked — but it’s the right kind of shock.”

Botha said he received a video call from Kovrig late Friday – the first time in three years he saw his face.

“I didn’t know who was calling, and it was a good thing I answered,” she said. “It was amazing to see his face. He’s a little pale. But it was really cool.”

After nearly three years in Chinese custody, Kovrig is back in Canada. His wife, Veena Nadjibullah, at left, and sister, Ariana Botha, were present to welcome him at Toronto Pearson International Airport. Steve Russell / Toronto Star

“Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are now at home – they, as well as their families, have shown incredible strength, bravery and resilience,” wrote Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland on Twitter shortly after the pair’s arrival.

Kovrig’s employer, International Crisis Group, issued a statement “Thanks to the many people who have worked tirelessly in support of Michael.”

“We would like to express our deep appreciation and appreciation to Michael’s wife Veena Nadjibullah and other members of Michael’s family for their bravery and continued pursuit of their freedom,” the statement said.

“More than two and a half years in prison, Michael has faced tragedy with grit and humanity. Despite suffering injustice and hardship, he remained strong and positive. He maintained his grace and humor throughout his imprisonment, as well as a vigorous exercise routine and voracious appetite for reading and discovery. “

Dan Vron, an old friend of the Sparrows, told Starr that his release is a testament to the close connection between Meng’s extradition charges and Michaels’ fate.

Michael Kovrig, left, and Michael Spavor, right, arrive at Calgary International Airport on Saturday morning.

The couple was taken into custody by the Chinese government shortly after Meng’s arrest in Canada, but insisted they were held on espionage charges. In March, he was prosecuted in a process that Canada and many of its allies called arbitrary and unfair.

“I think it’s fantastic that they are finally at home,” Vron said.

Kovrig’s wife, Veena Nadjibullah, told the star it was going to be “a long way to understand and recover” for her husband.

Canadians were kept in Chinese prisons with lights on for 24 hours.

“He just wants to see the trees and the sunlight and get closer to nature right now,” she said. “They haven’t seen a tree in about three years.”

more to come.

With files from Lex Harvey and Joshua Chong
Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter who covers federal politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @tondamacc
Jacob Lorink is a Toronto-based reporter who covers business for the Star. Reach him via email: [email protected]

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