OTTAWA: Two Canadians imprisoned in what China's Western critics branded "hostage diplomacy" were headed home Friday after being released, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.
The pair -- former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor -- had "left Chinese airspace, and they're on their way home," he told a news conference in Ottawa.
Their plane was expected to land Saturday in Canada, he said.
The Two Michaels, as they have become known in Canada, had been arrested and imprisoned on espionage charges in the days after Canada detained Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.
The seemingly tit-for-tat arrests soured Canada-China relations.
Earlier, a Canadian judge ended extradition proceedings against Meng and lifted her bail conditions, allowing her to return to China for the first time since her arrest in Vancouver's international airport at the behest of US authorities on December 1, 2018.
The Canadian judge's move followed an agreement she made with the US Justice Department to suspend fraud charges against her.
The United States applauded the two men's release, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying his country was "pleased" by the Chinese move and "stands with the international community in welcoming the decision by People's Republic of China authorities" to free the Canadians.
Both Kovrig and Spavor were put on trial in March of this year. In August, Spavor was sentenced to 11 years in prison, while there had been no decision in Kovrig's case.
Trudeau previously denounced Spavor's sentence as "unacceptable and unjust," and said the charges were "trumped up."
On Friday, he said: "These two men have gone through an unbelievably difficult ordeal.
"For the past 1,000 days, they have shown strength, perseverance, resilience, and grace," he said. "And we are all inspired by that."
Their families at the beginning of September led hundreds of supporters marching 7,000 steps through the Canadian capital -- the same number Kovrig said in letters to his family he walked in his small cell every day -- to bring attention to their detention.
Representatives of 26 countries had also gathered outside the building in Beijing where his closed-door trial was held in March.
Canadian and other diplomats were also barred from attending Spavor's trial in the northern city of Dandong.
The two Canadians had had almost no contact with the outside world since their detention, and virtual consular visits only resumed in October 2020 after a nine-month hiatus that authorities said was due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Beijing had insisted the detention of the two Canadians was lawful, while calling Meng's case "a purely political incident."
Ottawa, meanwhile, had rallied allies, including the United States, to decry what it called China's "arbitrary detention" of its nationals.