Family members and friends of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig can finally breathe a sigh of relief as the pair landed safely on Canadian soil for the first time in more than 1,000 days.
The ‘two Michaels’ arrived home on Saturday, shortly before 6 a.m at the Calgary International Airport aboard a Royal Canadian Airforce Challenger aircraft.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau welcomed the two men and embraced them both on the tarmac following their nearly three-year detainment in China.
Kovrig and Spavor were released just hours after the extradition case against Huawei executive Meng Wangzhou was dropped. According to U.S. authorities, Wangzhou reached a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. related to fraud charges against her on Friday and landed back in China on Saturday morning.
The news was extremely welcoming for Matt Burgener, who was a fellow classmate of Spavor at the University of Calgary in the mid 1990s.
“I didn’t think he was going to come home soon, I didn’t have a lot of optimism internally about the situation, it seemed pretty dire so this is a huge relief,” he said.
“He has stood in the face of adversity that he didn’t ask for, he has been brave, and he has been strong, and now he’s home. He deserves a hug, not just from Justin Trudeau, but I hope the guy never has to buy another beer in Canada in his life.”
Those statements were echoed by another fellow classmate of Spavor, Michael Purity, who jumped for joy and broke into a dance when he first heard the news.
“A thousand days – it’s an incredible number of days that you and I have been out enjoying fresh air and freedom and we haven’t had the challenges that Michael has faced by any means,” Purity said.
“It was hard to have a friend of mine, or any Canadian in a traumatic situation that is not just – and now we have justice, so I’m very happy.”
Spavor was originally found guilty of espionage and sentenced to 11 years in prison and deportation by a Chinese court in August. The trial for Kovrig concluded in March, but he had not yet been sentenced.
Michael Kovrig (left) and Michael Spavor (right) are seen in this composite image.
KOVRIG’S FORMER ROCK BAND REACTS TO HIS RELEASE
Michael Kovrig, a Canadian-Hungarian former diplomat was once a lead vocalist for a Budapest-based rock band called ‘Bankrupt’ from 1996 to 1999.
The band put out an ad in the newspaper during Kovrig’s time in Hungary seeking an English-speaking singer, which led them to meeting up.
The band’s current lead vocalist and bass player, Balasz Sarkadi remembers Kovrig as a kind-hearted man who would even reunite and sing a few songs with the band during his visits back to Hungary.
Bankrupt did what it could to support Kovrig by writing and releasing a song called ‘Plane to Toronto’ early this year which saw all proceeds go to Hostage International.
Sarkadi says he was pleasantly surprised that the song’s message of Kovrig safely returning home finally became a reality.
“I wanted to capture that moment when he was on the plane ride home, which is exactly what’s happening right now in these moments,” he said.
“This is the moment we’ve been waiting for and I’m just so very happy that this is happening, we can’t wait to talk to Michael again and discuss everything that’s been going on.”
Meanwhile, Kovrig’s employer, The International Crisis Group is also celebrating the news of his release.
In a statement, the company said in part:
We’re relieved the Government of China has righted this wrong. Crisis Group is hugely grateful to many people who have worked tirelessly in support of Michael. We thank the Canadian Government for securing his release and the resolute efforts of many Canadian officials throughout his detention. Thank you to the many others who have contributed publicly and behind the scenes.
Kovrig’s work colleague, Praveen Madhiraju, added that this moment has been long in the making.
“I think everyone knows just how difficult of a time and the circumstances he was under, but for us and our staff I can honestly say that a day didn’t go by since his detention that a large portion of our staff hasn’t thought about him.”
Kovrig landed in Toronto early Saturday afternoon and reunited with his wife Vina Najbibulla (separated) and his sister, Ariana Botha.
Michael Kovrig, centre, embraces his wife Vina Nadjibulla, left, and sister Ariana Botha after arriving at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntos
CANADIAN PARTY LEADERS RESPOND TO SPAVOR AND KOVRIG’S RETURN HOME
Trudeau first issued the news that Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor left Chinese airspace on Friday evening, confirming to Canadians that their long detention would finally come to an end.
“These two men have gone through an unbelievably difficult ordeal,” he said.
“For the past 1,000 days they have shown strength, perseverance, resilience and grace and we are all inspired by that.”
Conservative Party leader, Erin O’Toole took to Twitter Friday evening as well and issued the following statement.
“Our family shares the elation of millions of Canadians that our citizens are coming home. Thank you to all diplomats involved.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh echoed that sentiment with a social media post of his own.
“Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, Canadians rejoice knowing you’ll be home soon with your friends and families,” Singh said.
“To all the consular officials and diplomats that did their part, thank you.”
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