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Michael Kovrig (left) and Michael Spavor, the two Canadians detained in China, are shown in these 2018 images taken from video.The Associated Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, reacting to Beijing’s formal arrest of two Canadians accused of violating national security, says China’s behaviour is increasingly at odds with that of democratic countries around the world.

China first detained Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat who has been accused of gathering state secrets and intelligence for overseas entities, and Michael Spavor, an entrepreneur who helped people travel to North Korea, only days after Canada arrested Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. executive Meng Wanzhou at the Vancouver airport in December, on an extradition request from the United States.

Their detention is widely seen as retribution by China for acting on the U.S. extradition request. Canada and the United States have an extradition treaty that sets the rules for matters such as the arrest of Ms. Meng.

Canada has publicly condemned China’s treatment of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor.

“One of the things we see increasingly around the world is that the Chinese government is not following the rules and principles that the large majority of democracies follow,” Mr. Trudeau said Thursday. He is in Paris for international meetings on combatting online hate speech, disinformation and election interference campaigns.

“We will consistently and always stand up for Canadians, particularly these Canadians who have been arbitrarily detained," he said. "We will also make it very clear we are not going to change our values or our systems, including the independence of our justice system, because China disagrees with our approach.”

The arrest of Ms. Meng set off an escalating crisis between Canada and China; Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor have been held incommunicado for months, without access to family or lawyers.

The two men were arrested “recently,” said China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang. He would not comment on where the men are being held or whether they have been provided access to a lawyer.

The men have “been officially arrested” for state secrets-related crimes, Mr. Lu said. However, he said they have been “accused” of wrongdoing rather than formally indicted. The offences he described are, in the most serious of cases, punishable by death.

“All of the measures we have taken with the two Canadian citizens … are lawful, and the prosecutorial department’s decision to arrest them is also lawful,” Mr. Lu said.

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The Canadian government has repeatedly criticized China for its treatment of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor.

“Canada strongly condemns their arbitrary arrest as we condemned their arbitrary detention on Dec. 10,” Global Affairs Canada said in an earlier statement. “We reiterate our demand that China immediately release Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor.” And at a news conference Thursday, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale added that no evidence has been produced to indicate any validity to allegations made against them.

At the same time, the arrest of the two men moves them out of residential surveillance at a designated location, a process under which Chinese authorities can hold detainees for up to six months without charges in psychologically punishing conditions. Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor were arrested ahead of that six-month deadline, which was June 10.

Both men are now being held in a formal detention centre, which is more akin to a jail, according to two people familiar with their situation, who were granted anonymity by The Globe and Mail because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

That may provide them with what could be considered a modest improvement in living conditions. They had previously been “held in virtual solitary confinement,” said Gordon Houlden, a former Canadian diplomat who is director of the China Institute at the University of Alberta.

In residential surveillance, Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor were interrogated up to eight hours a day and held in rooms with 24-hour lighting. They were not allowed to go outdoors, kept in a room where they could not see daylight and refused access to a lawyer or family. They were granted monthly 30-minute consular visits with diplomats, the most recent of which took place this week.

Ms. Meng lives in a multimillion-dollar home in Vancouver and is free to move about the city until an 11 p.m. curfew. Ms. Meng recently wrote, in an open letter to Huawei employees, that “despite restrictions on my permitted range of movement, the colour and scope of my heart have never been so rich and broad.”

The treatment of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor has not been “in any way reciprocal,” Mr. Houlden said. Human-rights advocates describe the methods used by Chinese authorities in residential surveillance as a form of torture.

Chinese law allows people in detention access to lawyers, although that right can be refused for months.

Mr. Lu, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said on Thursday that “there is no need to worry about” the treatment of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor. “From the very beginning of this case their legal rights have been fully secured.”

He rebuked the Canadian government for its statement on their arrest. “We hope Canada will not make irresponsible remarks on China’s own legal construction and handling of cases,” he said.

“At a minimum it shows progression of the case,” said Margaret Lewis, a China legal scholar at Seton Hall University School of Law, though she added deadlines can be malleable.

The formal arrest of the two Canadians also creates new complications for Ottawa’s efforts to lobby for their release. “It will get more complicated to get them out as the Chinese will say they cannot interfere in the legal process,” said Guy Saint-Jacques, Canada’s former ambassador to China.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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