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Sloppy or trolling? Canadian spy agency welcomes release of ‘not spies’ from China in exchange for Huawei exec’s freedom


Two Canadian citizens, who were accused by China of going after its military secrets before being released in a prisoner swap, have been “welcomed home” by Canada’s top intelligence agency.

“Welcome home, #Michaels. CSIS joins all Canadians in welcoming you back to Canada,” the country’s Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) tweeted on Friday in English and French, hours after an exchange of detainees between Ottawa and Beijing was announced.

CSIS joins all Canadians in welcoming you back to Canada.

— CSIS Canada (@csiscanada) September 25, 2021

The two individuals in question are Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who were arrested and prosecuted for alleged espionage in China. Their detention closely followed the arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou at the request of the US, and was taken by Canada as an act of retaliation. Washington accused the businesswoman of financial fraud aimed at circumventing US unilateral sanctions on Iran. Both Meng and the two Canadian citizens were released after the US dropped its extradition request.

The development, widely described by the media on both sides as a hostage exchange, was welcomed by many officials in Canada, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who broke the news to his fellow citizens. The CSIS joining in the jubilation, however, seemed a bit on the nose for many commenters. Throughout their detention, Ottawa denied that Kovrig and Spavor had anything to do with intelligence-gathering.

So Canada’s spy agency welcomes the Michaels who the Chinese claimed (and Canada denied) were spying. Don’t we even hide these things anymore?

— Inder Singh (@inderps) September 25, 2021

Good to get one of your fellow spies back eh? 😂

— Jon Benet Rammstein (@JonBeRammstein) September 25, 2021

Spavor worked as a tourism consultant specializing in the organization of tours to North Korea. A Chinese court sentenced him to 11 years in prison in August. Kovrig is a former diplomat and an employee of the International Crisis Group think tank, which counts the Canadian government as one of its top donors. His prosecution in China was cut short by his release.

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The spy agency’s tweets are hardly an admission that the Michaels are who China claimed them to be. Even so, many people said the CSIS should not have commented on their release, considering the optics of the move.

Probably not the best organization to comment on this! @CanadianPM

— Blair (@blair8000a) September 25, 2021

This tweet is not a smart idea. You’ve just linked the Michaels to intelligence gathering.

— K🌏🗳️ (@StraightFromTHM) September 25, 2021

Others seemed to appreciate it though, calling it an excellent example of state trolling.

Maybe, maybe not. Could be trolling or joking. We will never know.

— mary maggie (@mmpquinn) September 25, 2021

First-class trolling

— Amy 😷 (@DameMyniah) September 25, 2021

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