By: Mike Anderson
While many retirees struggle to find purpose during retirement, that’s not an issue for Lorne Hicks, who’s thrust himself on the world stage with his one-person protest against China’s unlawful detention of two Canadian citizens.
Mr. Hicks, 76, a resident of Keswick, spends on average three days a week standing in front of the Chinese consulate in Toronto, armed with a good pair of running shoes, a homemade protest sign, and his steadfast resolve to highlight the plight of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who have been held in detention in Beijing for more than seven months.
Spavour and Kovrig are collateral damage from Canada’s decision to honour a request from the U.S. State Department to arrest of Meng Wanzhou, 47, a senior executive with Huawei, China’s largest tech giant. Ms. Meng is accused of breaking a U.S. trade embargo against Iran.
While Ms. Meng awaits extradition to the United States, Spavour, a business consultant, and Kovrig, 49, a former diplomat, are being held on trumped-up charges of espionage.
Meanwhile, Ms. Meng is under house arrest in one of her luxurious Vancouver mansions — she has two, worth about $14 million combined.
In contrast, conditions for the two Canadians are considered inhumane. Both men are being held in cells with the lights on 24 hours a day, and have experienced 6 hour-long integration sessions.
To add insult to injury, last month, Kovrig’s jailers confiscated his reading glasses.
Mr. Hicks, a former English teacher, can’t imagine what it would be like not to be able to read.
“It’s intolerable that they took Kovrig’s reading glasses away,” says Mr. Hicks. “There’s just something outrageous and inhumane about that.”
Hicks is under no illusion that his protest will have a direct impact on the ongoing diplomatic negotiations to free the two men. He just wants them to know that someone “gives a damn.”
Mr. Hicks hopes that during one of their monthly Canadian consular visits, someone will tell them that at least one guy is protesting back in Canada.
According to Mr. Hicks, there has been no official Chinese reaction to his protest. But on his first day, the consulate did send out a large man, wearing a T-shirt and a sullen expression, who stood behind him attempting to stare him down. But Mr. Hicks says that didn’t intimidate him.
While no one has joined his protest, Mr. Hicks says he understands that the unlawful detention of these men is not yet a “hot button” issue for most Canadians. “I think people feel kind of impotent,” he says. “That they really can’t change anything.”
But Mr. Hicks does get a lot of honks from passing cars. And many pedestrians have approached him with words of encouragement.
How long will he keep it up? Mr. Hicks says four weeks — in which time, he hopes someone else will join him. But, he says that’s secondary to him. What he really wants is the two Michael’s to know that they are not alone. His message to them: “Stay strong; it will come to an end and let’s hope it’s soon.”