Michael Kovrig, one or two Canadians detained in China for almost three years, has called on a judge to avoid imposing a lengthy prison sentence on a former RCMP intelligence official found guilty of leaking secrets.
In a letter of support filed with the court and shared with journalists, Kovrig describes himself as a former acquaintance of Cameron Ortis, whose sentencing hearing took place Thursday in Ottawa.
Ortis was found guilty of six charges last November, including four counts of violating Canada’s secrets act. Last fall, Crown prosecutors successfully argued that Ortis used his position within the RCMP — leading a unit that had access to Canadian and allied intelligence — to leak sensitive information to police targets in early 2015.
On Thursday morning, the Crown side argued Ortis should serve 28 years behind bars, minus time served.
The defence argued Ortis faced hardships during the three years he spent in custody waiting for the start of the trial and shouldn’t serve more time.
In a Dec. 9 letter, Kovrig, a former diplomat, wrote that while he was surprised by the court case, he is only weighing in on the issue of sentencing.
“Having spent over 1,000 days in solitary confinement and then a Chinese detention centre, I can attest with passion how viscerally awful confinement of any kind is for any human being. I don’t think that anyone who hasn’t experienced long-term confinement can truly appreciate the excruciating toll it takes on a person,” he wrote.
“The mental awfulness is even more acute for an individual such as Cameron, blessed as he is with high intelligence and a curious mind — someone used to doing relevant, impactful, intellectually demanding work.”
Kovrig urged the judge to think “creatively” as he considers a sentence.
“Cameron has extensive talents that could again be put to work constructively in service of his country. Leaving him to rot in a prison cell for the sake of deterrence and retribution strikes me as a waste of a valuable resource and an exercise in gratuitous cruelty,” wrote Kovrig.
Ortis needs ‘our mercy’: Kovrig
He suggested more restorative means of justice, “such as requiring specialized types of community service.”
“In the rising geopolitical storm engulfing our country, we need more people like Cameron Ortis to serve and protect Canada. The scale of the challenges we face are such that we can’t afford to waste his talent and energy,” Kovrig wrote.
“We need his hard work, and he needs our mercy.”
In her statement, Crown prosecutor Judy Kliewer suggested the conditions Ortis has experienced pre-trial are not comparable to detention in China.
Kovrig and Michael Spavor, often referred to as “the two Michaels,” were arrested in December 2018 on allegations of espionage, a move widely considered to be retaliation for the detention of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Canada on a U.S. extradition request.
China released the two men in September 2021, on the same day that the U.S. Justice Department reached a deal to resolve Meng’s criminal charges.
Kovrig’s letter is just one of 26 letters sent to the judge supporting Ortis, according to materials provided to the media.
It’s not clear how much weight any of the letters will carry.
Justice Robert Maranger will deliver his sentencing decision on Feb. 7.