Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday said he is “disappointed” in China’s decision to formally lay charges against Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, two Canadians who have been detained for well over a year on allegations of espionage.
Speaking to the media, Trudeau said he is continuing to work with the Chinese government to send the “two Michaels home.”
Chinese prosecutors said Friday that Kovrig was charged on suspicion of spying for state secrets and intelligence. Spavor was charged on suspicion of spying for a foreign entity and illegally providing state secrets.
Both men have been held in China since December 2018.
Trudeau was asked whether or not Canada has been “too soft” on China and should take a stronger negotiation tactic.
The prime minister replied that Canada is using the “appropriate tactics and actions” in order to bring the two men back.
“In the case of the two Michaels, I can say that we are using a wide range of public and private measures to ensure that everything is being done to get these Michaels home,” Trudeau said. He added that “we do expect both Michaels will come back.”
In a press release, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer criticized Trudeau’s efforts to try and release the two men.
“It’s been 18 months since Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were arbitrarily and unlawfully detained by the Chinese government. During this time, Justin Trudeau has done nothing to stand up against the People’s Republic of China’s actions.
“This case should be being dealt with at the highest levels. But Justin Trudeau has repeatedly refused to intervene,” Scheer stated.
At the press conference,, Trudeau was asked if he considered Spavor and Kovrig hostages. But the prime minister did not answer.
He said Chinese authorities have directly linked the case of the two detained Canadians to the judicial proceedings of Meng Wanzhou, a top executive at Chinese tech giant Huawei.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland on Friday said she was “very angry” to learn about China’s decisions.
“Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are two very great Canadians who are behaving incredibly decent in the difficult circumstances that they have been placed in and absolutely at no fault of their own,” she said.
“We will not rest until they are able to come home.”
Beijing has threatened retaliation and a worsening of relations with Canada if Meng isn’t released from house arrest in Vancouver. However, despite Trudeau’s remarks Friday, the Chinese government has also maintained the arrests of Kovrig and Spavor are unrelated to Meng’s case.
Meng, the daughter of Huawei’s founder, was arrested in Vancouver at the request of U.S. authorities who want her on fraud charges, which she and the company have denied.
Extradition hearings are ongoing in B.C. Supreme Court after a judge rejected the first set of arguments from Meng’s lawyers late last month.
Kovrig is an ex-diplomat who was working for the International Crisis Group, and Spavor is an entrepreneur who did business in North Korea.
They have been in Chinese prisons since they were arrested nine days after Meng’s arrest.
— With a file from the Canadian Press