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Friday, October 22, 2021

‘Take time’: Former detainee offers advice on moving forward to Spavor, Kovrig

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TORONTO — A B.C. man who was detained in China in 2014, says it took him more than a year to feel normal again after he was released, but it may take Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor even longer to readjust to life in Canada.

Kevin Garratt told CTV News Channel that when he was released after spending 775 days in detention, he was in a state of shock.

“When I boarded the plane… I almost wanted to cry and I probably did. But it was just such a shock to be there. I [could] hardly believe I was actually on the plane leaving because it had been so, so long,” Garratt said in an interview Saturday.

Garratt and his wife Julia had lived in China for 30 years, running a coffee shop and doing humanitarian work, when they were arrested and accused of spying by Chinese authorities on Aug. 4, 2014.

Julia would spend six months in jail followed by months of house arrest, while Kevin was incarcerated for more than two years. The couple eventually returned to Canada in 2017.

Kovrig and Spavor returned to Canada early Saturday morning after spending more than 1,000 days in Chinese custody on espionage charges that were widely viewed as a retaliatory response to Canada’s December 2018 arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. warrant related to the company’s business dealings in Iran.

China has consistently denied that the cases were in any way connected.

On Friday, a B.C. judge discharged the extradition matter against Meng after U.S. Justice Department officials reached a deal to resolve the criminal charges against her, allowing Meng to enter into a deferred prosecution agreement and leave Canada, under certain terms.

Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. told CTV’s Question Period on Sunday that the Chinese government initiated the dialogue to release Kovrig and Spavor, noting that the U.S. did not make the freedom of the two Canadians a condition of the deferred prosecution agreement reached with Meng.

However, China’s Foreign Ministry said Monday that the two Canadians were released on bail for health reasons.

Both of the Canadians stood trial in China, and Spavor had been handed down an 11-year sentence, while Kovrig had yet to be sentenced before their release.

In an emailed statement to CTVNews.ca, Global Affairs Canada maintained that Kovrig and Spavor are innocent.

“As we have said from the beginning, Michael Kovrig’s and Michael Spavor’s detention, and the treatment they were subjected to up until their departure from China, was arbitrary,” read the statement.

Garratt was relieved to hear the news of the two Michaels being released, but said it also reminded him of his own time in detention.

“It brought back those horrible memories again, and I just thought, ‘not again’,” he said. “I know what they’re going through exactly, I know really how they’re feeling.”

Garratt, who was detained in the same prison as Spavor, described the facility as “horrible” with lights being kept on 24/7 and rarely ever being able to leave the cell. However, Garratt said he kept up routines such as walking around his cell, reading and writing, to pass the time.

“I know the monotony, the boring. I know the pain of not knowing and not hearing from people. I know all that, I know the monotony of the food, and just being in that cell day in and day out, and I understand, I feel for them deeply,” Garratt said.

He acknowledged that it is easy to “lose heart and feel despair” in that situation, but what helped Garratt make it through, he says, was the thousands of Canadians supporting him back home.

“Those once a month consular visits for 30 minutes, they just said, ‘lots of people are concerned, many people are praying for you, we’re getting lots of letters’ — those kinds of things encouraged me and helped me a great deal,” he explained.

If he could speak to the two Michaels personally, Garratt said he would say “first, have a good cup of coffee and welcome home, but also take time.”

As the two Michaels readjust back to life in Canada, Garratt suggests they “don’t rush into anything” they’re not ready for, including getting back to work.

Garratt advises the Canadians also spend as much time as they can with family and friends “just doing normal things” such as going for a walk in a park or having dinner together. He added that this helped him “the most” upon his return to Canada.

“Those are things they haven’t been able to do for over 1,000 days, and that’s what they need to do, and it’s going to take time to get back into ‘a normal life’ and a normal routine and I hope they’re afforded that,” Garratt said.

Global Affairs Canada told CTVNews.ca on Monday that it is “aware of approximately 115 Canadians currently in custody in Greater China” — at least four of whom have been sentenced to death. In an emailed statement, the agency said the number is “subject to change on a daily basis” while the most common charges these Canadians face are drug-related and fraud.

In a travel advisory last updated on Sept. 16, the Government of Canada warned Canadians travelling to China to “exercise a high degree of caution” due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws.

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