Trudeau says he's 'disappointed' by China's charges on Michael Kovrig, Michael Spavor

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Monthy consular visits for Kovrig and Spavor have also been suspended since the coronavirus outbreak began in China, over concerns over poor health, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in April.

Their detention is widely understood as an attempt to pressure Canada to release Meng, chief financial officer at Chinese tech giant Huawei.

Trudeau called it a very hard time for the two Canadians and their families. "Over the past years, we've had a number of successes in liberating Canadians", he said at a press conference in Chelsea, Que.

Chinese prosecutors said on Friday (June 19) that they have charged two detained Canadian men with espionage.

"Using arbitrary detention as a tool to achieve political goals, worldwide or domestic, is something that is of concern not just to Canada but to all our allies, who have been highlighting that this is not acceptable behaviour in the global community because they are all anxious about China engaging in the same kinds of pressure tactics with them", he said.

Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat working for a think tank, and Michael Spavor, a consultant specializing in humanitarian exchanges with North Korea, have been formally charged with espionage by the Chinese justice system.

The charges against Spavor and Kovrig were announced Friday by China's highest prosecutor's office in brief social media posts. CCTV, a state-owned broadcaster controlled by the Communist regime in Beijing, read the charges live in a national broadcast.

Under that article, a conviction can carry a sentence of from 10 years to life imprisonment.

"We will not, and must not, and can not interfere in the independence of our judiciary in this country", Trudeau said.

Canada has called the arrests "arbitrary".

The pair were originally detained in 2018, shortly after Canada arrested Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. warrant.

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The US wants Meng extradited to face trial on charges related to Huawei's alleged violations of US sanctions against Iran.

China has denied any explicit link between her case and the lengthy detention of the two Canadian men, but outside experts see them as tied and Chinese diplomats have strongly implied a connection.

China has repeatedly called for Meng's release, and has warned Canada it could face consequences for aiding the United States in her case. Meng's attorneys had argued that Canada could not extradite her to the US if her actions were not criminal under Canadian law.

"They have made a decision to add pressure on the Canadian government by formally proceeding with this trial", he said in an interview with CBC News.

Professor Ryan Mitchell, a law expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the long period of detention was "probably meant to help coerce a "voluntary" confession out of one or both of the two Canadians".

He said, to this point, Canada has followed a policy of "appeasement" with China that has proven fruitless. "I'd argue nothing", Saint-Jacques said.

He said now is the time for Canada to take a firmer political line with China to protect its interests.

The former ambassador said Canada should move its trade away from China to other Asian nations and step up inspections of Chinese exports.

"We should look at everything in China and see where we can be less forthcoming than what we have been up to now", he said.

He said Canadian authorities should jail Chinese spies and work with allies to "tarnish the reputation" of China.

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