The Current

Trudeau and Biden did not discuss 'specifics' of freeing '2 Michaels' detained in China: Minister Marc Garneau

Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau says no firm details or commitment to secure freedom for two Canadians detained in China were discussed at Tuesday's meeting between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden.

Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor detained in China since Dec. 2018

A young man holds a sign bearing photographs of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor outside B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, where Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was attending a hearing, on January 21, 2020. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Story Transcript

Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau says that the U.S. has an essential role to play in freeing two Canadians detained in China, but that no firm details or commitment were discussed at Tuesday's meeting between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden.

"We did not discuss specifics about it, but the president indicated very clearly that he understood how important this was to Canada," said Garneau, who was at the virtual bilateral leaders' meeting Tuesday, the first since Biden took office.

Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were detained in December 2018, shortly after Huawei telecom executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested by Canadian officials in Vancouver, on a U.S. extradition request. Meng faces fraud related to the violation of Iran sanctions, while Kovrig and Spavor were subsequently accused by Beijing of stealing state secrets.

Garneau said that at Tuesday's meeting, Trudeau told Biden that Canada respects its legal obligations, "but that this had been a very painful experience up to now, and we in Canada were very concerned."

"And I believe the president was seized with this," Garneau told The Current's Matt Galloway.

Biden calls for release of Kovrig, Spavor

2 years ago
Duration 8:08
For the first time, U.S. President Joe Biden has publically called on China to release Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, two Canadians detained in December 2018. "Human beings are not bartering chips," Biden said.

Following the meeting, Biden said that "human beings are not bartering chips."

"We're going to work together to get their safe return. Canada and the United States will stand together against abuse of universal rights and democratic freedoms," he told reporters.

China maintains that the two men are held on suspicion of engaging in crimes that endanger China's national security.

Garneau said he believes the U.S. has an essential role to play in securing freedom for the two men.

"It's all interrelated. We, of course, respected our treaty obligations and detained Meng Wanzhou," he said.

"That, of course, was because of our relationship with the United States, so, yes, they play a part." 

Michael Kovrig’s family hopes new U.S. president brings urgency to detention in China

2 years ago
Duration 2:11
As Canadian officials were allowed a consular visit to Michael Spavor, one of two Canadians detained in China. Michael Kovrig's family is hopeful the new U.S. president will lead to a renewed sense of urgency in the two men's cases.

Two years on, unanswered questions

Vassy Kapelos, host of the CBC's Power & Politics, said Biden's direct reference to the two Michaels was significant, but there are still unanswered questions.

If Canada is committed to letting the court case against Meng play out, does that mean "maybe the deal has to be struck on the U.S. side, or the Justice Department has to drop its case?" she told Galloway.

"Does it mean that the president brings it up with his Chinese counterpart?" she asked.

"What exactly does Canada want from the United States in this instance and what is the United States prepared to do?" 

Emily Rauhala, foreign affairs correspondent for the Washington Post, said the lack of detailed discussion struck her "as quite odd and revealing."

"It has been going on for two years, and yet, two years in — more than two years in — they're not talking specifics even behind closed doors," she said.

Overall, Rauhala thought the meeting between the two leaders tried to steer clear of more contentious issues.

"We didn't see Buy America directly addressed; we didn't see the question of vaccines coming from the U.S. to Canada," she said.

"I think the goal was setting a new tone, moving forward, and signalling, frankly, that — despite the fact that they were all gathered virtually, wearing masks, in the middle of the pandemic — that things are moving forward."

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Paul MacInnis and Lindsay Rempel.

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