Friend of Canadian ex-diplomat detained in China describes feeling of ‘helplessness’


CALGARY—When Shaun Driver first heard his friend Michael Spavor had been detained by Chinese authorities, his first reaction was shock — then, a sense of “helplessness.”

“You start to think about what he’s potentially going through, what if anything can be done from the other side of the world to help facilitate the matter,” Driver said.

Driver, a lawyer practising in Vancouver, met Calgary-born Spavor in 2011 on an academic exchange to North Korea. Spavor runs an organization called Paektu Cultural Exchange, which organizes business, cultural and tourism trips to North Korea, and has worked as a consultant in the region for years.

Since then, the two have met a few times and have kept in touch, Driver said. The last time they saw each other was earlier this year, he said, praising Spavor’s compassion and magnetic personality.

“I was always impressed. He fits the ideal of what I think a typical Canadian is,” Driver said. “It’s one that’s inclusive, one that believes if you meet people and you understand people and their differences, you can then start to appreciate how to move forward and find common ground.”

Spavor is the second Canadian detained in China this past week. He was seized on Monday by Chinese authorities in the border city, Dandong. Spavor and diplomat Michael Kovrig were detained amid fallout from efforts by the United States to extradite Meng Wanzhou, a Huawei Technologies executive arrested in Vancouver on Dec. 1.

Canadian officials were able to meet with Kovrig earlier on Friday.

“Canadian consular officials continue to provide consular services to (Kovrig) and his family and will continue to seek further access to Mr. Kovrig. Due to the provisions of the Privacy Act, no further information can be disclosed,” said Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Guillaume Berube in an emailed statement.

“Canada continues to press for consular access to Michael Spavor.”

According to Global Affairs’ statement, Kovrig was detained on Monday before consular access was granted on Friday. The purpose of these meetings is to assess the well-being of Kovrig and Spavor, clarify the nature of their detention while providing guidance on the country’s legal process, and to act as a communication link between them and their loved ones.

Spavor’s biography on Paektu’s website says he’s been organizing specialized visits to North Korea since 2005. This has included academic trips, media groups and even professional athletes and celebrities.

Most notably, Spavor organized former NBA star Dennis Rodman’s trips to meet the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, in 2013 and 2014. Spavor’s bio also touts his high-level contacts with government ministries and organizations in the region.

Before this, Spavor studied international relations at the University of Calgary.

What also impressed Driver about Spavor was how he facilitated connections between people at a grassroots level, regardless of what political divisions existed between their home countries. The thought that Spavor could be detained because of his role surprised Driver.

“How does an individual who could not be associated with being a national security threat for anyone, who’s really just about connecting people, be considered a national security threat?” Driver said.

On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the arrests “unlawful,” also suggesting the U.S. would help work toward their release.

Andrew Jeffrey is a reporter/photographer for StarMetro Calgary. Follow him on Twitter: @andrew_jeffrey


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‘There’s a baby in here’: Couple first to fatal crash site describes rush to save child


The night was still and dark in the aftermath of the fatal head-on collision. 

Then a baby cried out.

It happened last Monday evening on Highway 1 near Tompkins, Sask. A 66-year-old man, identified later as Rick Rosell from Gull Lake, was driving the wrong way down the highway just before the crash. Police say alcohol is believed to have been a factor. Rosell died at the scene. 

Lorretta Hughes and her daughter-in-law Melanie were in the other vehicle. They had been returning home to Shaunavon. Melanie’s infant son Winston was in the back seat. 

Everybody who was on scene is a hero.–  Peter Cain

Peter Cain and his wife Marlene were not far behind the Hughes’ vehicle and ended up being the first to the scene. Marlene immediately phoned 911 as Peter ran out to assess what had happened. 

Peter couldn’t open any of the doors and wondered how to proceed. Then the uncomfortable silence was interrupted by a child’s wail.

Marlene said she was gobsmacked to see her husband dangling out of the wrecked vehicle’s window.

« Once I heard the baby cry, I knew somebody had to do something and I was the only one there so in through the back window I went, » said 68-year-old Peter, who is living with Stage 4 cancer.

A photo from the GoFundMe campaign started in memory of Melanie. This description reads: ‘Hoping to help Justin navigate a new world of single fatherhood after the loss of his wife, an unborn baby, and his mom.’ (GoFundMe ) 

« I’m not actually a hero. I’m not. » 

By that time, truck drivers had stopped at the site and came out to help. 

« I just yelled out, ‘There’s a baby in here,’ » Peter said.

Once he got into the vehicle, he saw a woman’s body laying across the seat. 

« The woman’s arm, her left arm, was across the baby’s chest, » he said.

Cain said he had to lift her arm to access the carseat straps and when he did, the woman took her last breath.

The baby’s seatbelt was stuck on tight. Cain yelled for a flashlight.

A truck driver climbed on top of the vehicle and assisted him through the sunroof with a knife and a flashlight. Cain said he passed the baby up to the driver. 

« There was a lot of people involved and everyone did their part, » said Cain of the rescue efforts.

« He handed the baby to my wife and my wife never let go of him for almost a solid four hours — just kept him in her arms until the father showed up at the hospital «

The baby was howling when Marlene first held him. Looking back days later, her voice wavered as she described his bright, loopy red curls and big blue eyes with long eyelashes.

She drew on her experience as a grandmother, playing children’s music from her IPad, calming him. 

Paramedics soon arrived on site and Marlene accompanied the baby to the hospital, staying until his dad arrived around midnight.

Marlene said she feels grateful that he is surrounded by supportive family and community members in the aftermath of such loss. 

Marlene and Peter Cain were first on scene. The Swift Current couple is adamant they were simply doing what anyone would in that situation. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

Peter had been a longhaul trucker before he retired and this wasn’t the first accident he had come upon, but he said this one was likely the worst.

He said he saw the other car before it burst into flames and noted it « looked like it had already gone through the crusher at a scrap yard. »

« My wife is the hero for taking care of that baby for so long, and the young truck driver he’s a hero. Matter of fact everybody who was on scene is a hero, » he said. 


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