At Michael Kovrig's Trial, The World Had Canada's Back

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

It was a symbolic gesture. Everyone knew the trial wasn’t legitimate; nobody expected they’d be invited inside. China’s conviction rate is 99.9 per cent, and closed trials are common, especially for detained foreigners. Kevin Garratt, a Canadian who lived in China for 30 years before being arbitrarily detained and put on trial, told Maclean’s his trial involved three judges, two prosecutors, an interpreter, a camera operator and his attorney, with whom he wasn’t allowed to speak. “It was very confusing, what I could and couldn’t do,” Garratt said. “Mostly I couldn’t do anything.”

Nonetheless, Canada couldn’t let Kovrig—or Michael Spavor, tried days earlier— stand trial without a protest. That so many nations showed up was a promising, if muted, show of support. Some diplomats, standing outside the courthouse, refused to identify themselves or speak to the media.

ishonest No.231 - Pigmentation & Blemishes

No.231 - Pigmentation & Blemishes

“It was easy for them to show up,” says Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China. In diplomacy, written statements are more powerful than silent protests. Besides, “we have to be realistic about how much international support we can rally,” he adds. “If countries are asked to choose between Canada and China, China is a lot more influential.”


Spain has been stubbornly neutral on China in several controversial areas and Spain’s largest telecom has invited Huawei to help build its 5G network—although it has regretted that decision in the last couple years. Luis Melgar Valero, the Spanish embassy’s first secretary, represented his country at Kovrig’s trial, though he and his embassy declined to comment for this story.

The United States

The U.S. has been vocal on the two Michaels. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have both said that “human beings are not bartering chips,” referring to the two Michaels’ detention as revenge for Canada arresting Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou. William Klein, the acting deputy chief of mission of the U.S. embassy in China, told reporters outside the Beijing courtroom that “the United States will treat these two individuals as if they were American citizens.”

New Zealand

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has shifted her government away from Chinese reliance after evidence came to light of Chinese Communist Party interference in political parties, universities and local governments. In a statement to Maclean’s, New Zealand said its presence outside Kovrig’s trial was “consistent with New Zealand’s strong interest in the principles at stake in this case.”

The Netherlands

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