One man’s stand for de­tained Cana­di­ans

National Post (National Edition) - - Front Page - MEA­GAN CAMP­BELL

TORONTO • Lorne Hicks, 76, is a re­tired teacher who reads books, babysits his grand­chil­dren and tries to stay away from but­ter tarts and protests.

Since De­cem­ber, he has fol­lowed the story of two Cana­di­ans de­tained in China, Michael Spa­vor and Michael Kovrig. In June, he read re­ports that Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties con­fis­cated Kovrig’s read­ing glasses.

“I couldn’t imag­ine my day with­out read­ing, and I thought of this poor guy sit­ting in a prison or a de­ten­tion cen­tre in China with­out his read­ing glasses,” Hicks said Wed­nes­day. “I thought there’s just some­thing out­ra­geous about that and in­hu­mane.”

Hicks pur­chased Bris­tol board at Sta­ples, made a picket sign and drove to Toronto with his part­ner from their home an hour north, on Lake Sim­coe.

On Wed­nes­day, the 213th day of the men’s de­tain­ment, he paced for two hours out­side the Chi­nese con­sulate.

“The ma­jor in­tent is, if some­how these two guys, Kovrig and Spa­vor, these two gen­tle­men, can be made aware that there are at least some peo­ple that are protest­ing, that might en­cour­age them to feel bet­ter, re­al­ize there’s some­one out there,” Hicks said.

The one-man protest comes the day after Canada’s for­mer am­bas­sador to China, John Mc­Cal­lum, ig­nored the plight of the hostages in an in­ter­view with the South China Morn­ing Post, in­stead mak­ing the case for the Trudeau Lib­er­als’ re-elec­tion in the fall.

He said China’s de­ci­sion to cut trade with Canada was only help­ing the Con­ser­va­tives who are “much less friendly to China than the Lib­er­als.”

“I hope and I don’t see any rea­son why things will get worse; it would be nice if things will get bet­ter be­tween now and (Canada’s fed­eral) elec­tion (in Oc­to­ber),” he said.

Kovrig, a for­mer diplo­mat, and Spa­vor, a busi­ness­man, were liv­ing in China when au­thor­i­ties de­tained them in De­cem­ber 2018 and later ac­cused them of steal­ing state se­crets. The ar­rests came days after Canada ar­rested Meng Wanzhou, a Huawei ex­ec­u­tive, on a war­rant from the United States, which ac­cuses her of vi­o­lat­ing U.S. sanc­tions against Iran.

Cana­dian of­fi­cials have been able to visit the men nearly 10 times since the ar­rests, says Global Af­fairs Canada, and sources fa­mil­iar with the sit­u­a­tion said in De­cem­ber Kovrig was be­ing held in a cell with lights on 24 hours per day.

In late June, Hicks read an ar­ti­cle about the case by Na­tional Post columnist Andrew Coyne, who wrote that the pres­sure on the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment is less­ened by the “con­spic­u­ous fail­ure of other Cana­di­ans to give a damn.” Hicks de­cided to give one.

In Jan­uary, more than 100 aca­demics and for­mer diplo­mats wrote an open let­ter to the Chi­nese pres­i­dent call­ing for the men’s re­lease. Hicks is the first protester mak­ing this de­mand at the Chi­nese con­sulate in Toronto, says a 50-year-old busi­ness­man who lives be­side the con­sulate, even though the site of­ten at­tracts other pro­test­ers, in­clud­ing peo­ple who stand against China’s treat­ment of Ti­betans and mem­bers of the Uighur and Falun Gong mi­nori­ties.

“I’m kind of per­plexed also,” said Brian Gold, a friend of Spa­vor who wrote an op-ed about the case for iPol­i­tics. “There was sort of an ex­pec­ta­tion that there might be more fol­low-up in­ter­est,” he said.

He read one ar­ti­cle urg­ing Cana­di­ans to “not for­get the Michaels,” he said, “yet that’s what’s hap­pen­ing.”

On Wed­nes­day, Hicks learned to lock his wrist and pump a picket sign. He de­cided to pace the length of the con­sulate’s hedge (“I will walk there, and then I will walk back,” he fig­ured). He would not chant — “def­i­nitely not” — and would not block any drive­ways. “That’s ver­boten,” he ex­plained, hav­ing re­searched his Char­ter right to peace­ful assem­bly.

He nod­ded to a mail­man, skate­boarder and 24-year-old woman who in­stalls furniture for a liv­ing. He re­ceived honks from three taxis and stares from Uber driv­ers, dog-walk­ers and peo­ple vis­it­ing the con­sulate deal with their pass­ports and pen­sion cheques.

One pedes­trian, Des­tiny Dob­son, a house­keeper, was in a rush to clean a home with her 11-year-old son. She had been fol­low­ing the de­ten­tion case.

“I think if it’s not in Canada, we give it five min­utes, and we move on,” she said.

“I don’t have a horn, but ‘ honk, honk, honk.’”

Hicks will re­turn to the con­sulate on St. Ge­orge Street on Thurs­day morn­ing at noon for a sec­ond shift. He hopes he will not have to march alone. “There may not be an­other per­son who, I don’t know, sees me with the sign (and says), ‘Look at that old goat. I’m go­ing to go make up a sign and join him,’” he said. “I just don’t know, but I’m go­ing to do it any­way.”

J.P. MOCZUL­SKI / POST­MEDIA

Stand­ing out­side the Chi­nese con­sulate in Toronto, Lorne Hicks protests the im­pris­on­ment, in China, of two Cana­di­ans.

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