Canadians send Christmas cards to the ‘Two Michaels’ in China

People are writing, posting online, and then snail-mailing Christmas cards containing wishes of support and comfort to Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, known as the ‘Two Michaels.’

They were jailed, and later charged with spying, in China in December 2018, after Canada arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wangzhou at the request of a U.S. extradition warrant.

Here, in Vancouver — where the Meng trial continues and the Chinese tech executive lives with bail conditions, but is free to roam a large area in the city — card writers are considering two options.

One, known by #freechinahostages, was started in the U.K. by former diplomat Charles Parton.

It’s seeking cards be sent to Chinese consulates and embassies to express “disquiet and disgust” with Beijing’s jailing of the two Michaels. It’s asking cards be sent to the Chinese consulate at 3380 Granville Street, Vancouver, B.C., V6H 3K3 or its embassy at 515 St Patrick, Ottawa, Ontario, K1N 5H3.

“If there are hundreds or thousands, maybe many thousands of people who are sending cards, (Beijing doesn’t) want that kind of attention,” said Abbotsford-based Kevin Garratt, who was jailed in China for 19 months, starting in August 2014, at the same detention centre where Spavor is currently being held.

He is part of a small group of Canadians, including long time China watcher, Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, encouraging people to be part of Parton’s campaign.

The other effort, widely circulated among associations of Canadians with diplomatic, business, academic and other ties to China, asks for cards to be sent directly to detention centres in China, addressed to Michael Kovrig, Beijing No. 1 Detention Centre, 501 Dougezhuang County, Chaoyang District, Beijing, 100021, CHINA and Michael Spavor, Dandong Detention Centre, Jingu Village, Zhenxing District, Dandong, Liaoning Province, 118000, CHINA.

Vancouver-based Louis Huang of the Vancouver Society of Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights in China gathered in person with some 20 or so active members to write Christmas cards to the Two Michaels last year. This year, they will do so each on their own.

They are vocal about Beijing’s attempts to influence Canadian institutions, but Huang hopes card writers will distinguish between China, the country, and ordinary Chinese people versus the political state and government.

“It’s a very important point especially during these pandemic times,” when Chinese-Canadians have experienced spikes in racism, he said.

Vancouver-based Fenella Sun of Canadians Friends of Hong Kong suggests envelopes with the addresses translated into Chinese for a higher chance of them reaching the Two Michaels, something that Garratt, from his own experience, doubted would happen.

Card-writing campaigns take large numbers and a “huge amount of organizing and dedication,” said Jonathan Manthorpe, author of Claws of the Panda: Beijing’s Campaign of Influence and Intimidation in Canada.

“If you don’t get the big numbers, then whichever petty despot is the target of the campaign figures they have nothing to worry about and carries on,” said Manthorpe, a former Vancouver Sun columnist. “That’s the risk here, especially when making the PRC ambassador in Ottawa and the consul general in Vancouver the main targets.”

He will be sending cards directly to the prisons.

“For me, the important message is to get through directly to them, if possible, and tell them they have not been forgotten, and that many of us in Canada are doing what we can day-by-day to get them home.”

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