Secretary of State Antony Blinken listens as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a virtual bilateral meeting with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, in Washington. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Evan Vucci

Secretary of State Antony Blinken listens as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a virtual bilateral meeting with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, in Washington. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Evan Vucci

Trudeau, Blinken tight-lipped on plight of Canadians languishing behind bars in China

The U.S. Secretary of State met virtually with Canada’s Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister

Neither Canada’s prime minister nor the U.S. secretary of state were showing their diplomatic cards Friday as the two countries discussed the plight of two Canadians languishing behind bars in China.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken met virtually with Canadian officials including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau as part of the Biden administration’s post-Trump charm offensive.

The U.S. has a “significant role” to play in helping secure the release of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, said Trudeau, although he refused to elaborate on the details.

“These are processes that are ongoing,” the prime minister told a news conference earlier in the day.

“The United States is taking their role in this very seriously and we look forward to working with them on bringing the two Michaels home as soon as possible.”

Blinken, too, stayed in his diplomatic lane, expressing earnest American harmony with Canada and cheering a multilateral effort to denounce the practice of taking political prisoners.

“We stand in absolute solidarity with Canada in insisting on their immediate and unconditional release,” Blinken said before lavishing praise on the new Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention.

The declaration, a project initiated by former foreign affairs minister François-Philippe Champagne, is from a coalition of more than 50 countries opposed to the state-sponsored political detention of foreign nationals.

Its purpose “is to bring countries together to stand against the arbitrary detention of individuals for political purposes, a practice that we see in a number of countries, including China,” Blinken said.

“I think and I hope that this can grow into something that establishes a new international norm against arbitrary detentions.”

Spavor and Kovrig — the “two Michaels” — were swept up after the RCMP’s arrest in December 2018 of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese tech giant Huawei.

Blinken demurred on the question of whether the U.S. is considering a so-called deferred prosecution agreement — a form of plea deal that could allow Meng to return to China in return for an admission of wrongdoing.

“There are legal questions that are appropriately the province of our Department of Justice,” he said. “They follow the law, they follow the facts and I refer you to them for anything on the legal aspects of this.”

Earlier this week, a Justice Department spokesman confirmed that prosecutors were continuing to seek Meng’s extradition to the U.S., where she is facing fraud charges.

Friday’s meetings, billed as a “virtual visit” — no jet lag, but no frequent-flyer miles either, Blinken joked — follow Trudeau’s own virtual summit this week with President Joe Biden, which produced a “road map” for collaboration on issues like climate change, the economy and COVID-19.

“It’s hard to think of two countries whose destinies are more connected, more intertwined than ours,” Blinken told Garneau as their meeting got underway.

“We know that every single day, the work that we’re doing, and more importantly the deep ties between our people — in virtually every aspect of our societies — are benefiting both countries.”

Garneau returned the compliment, adding that Canada can be more to the U.S. than just a friendly ally.

“I want you to know that you can count on Canada to be by your side,” he said. “And I think that you’ll find that we can be surprisingly helpful to you, while advancing our own objectives.”

That could easily be seen as an oblique reference to Buy American, Biden’s suite of protectionist measures aimed at ensuring that U.S. contractors, suppliers and workers are the primary beneficiaries of American infrastructure projects and federal contract work.

Canadian businesses, employees and contractors depend on that work too, however, and the federal government is pressing hard to ensure that they don’t get shut out of what will surely be a big-budget effort to resurrect the U.S. economy.

On that score, Blinken seemed to suggest that Garneau’s message got through — particularly on the issue of fortifying North American supply chains.

“There’s a lot of opportunity there between the United States and Canada that we intend to pursue,” he said.

“My sense, from the conversations between the two governments, is that there is ample opportunity for us to work together and find ways to benefit each other.”

Efforts to restore ties between the two countries after extensive fraying during the Trump era have been going on all week, albeit virtually.

Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson spoke Wednesday with John Kerry, Biden’s special envoy on climate, to shore up plans for more stringent emissions-reduction targets in advance of a climate summit in April.

And Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Transport Minister Omar Alghabra have committed to tougher vehicle pollution standards, and collaborating on new standards for aircraft and ships.

Justin Trudeau

Just Posted

The first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine dose in Canada is prepared at The Michener Institute in Toronto on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
One death, 39 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

There are 484 active cases of the virus in the region currently

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
65 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Overall, B.C. is seeing a decrease in COVID-19 cases

FILE - In this April 19, 2021, file photo, Keidy Ventura, 17, receives her first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in West New York, N.J. States across the country are dramatically scaling back their COVID-19 vaccine orders as interest in the shots wanes, putting the goal of herd immunity further out of reach. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
5 more deaths, 131 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health over the weekend

Those 18-years and older in high-transmission neighbourhoods can register for the vaccine

A medical worker prepares vials of the COVID-19 vaccines, Chinese Sinopharm, left, Sputnik V, center, and Pfizer at a vaccine centre, in the Usce shopping mall in Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, May 6, 2021. Serbian authorities are looking for incentives for people to boost vaccination that has slowed down in recent weeks amid widespread anti-vaccination and conspiracy theories in the Balkan nation. The government has also promised a payment of around 25 euros to everyone who gets vaccinated by the end of May. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
38 new COVID-19 cases, more than 335k vaccines administered in Interior Health

Interior Health also to start targeted vaccinations in high transmission neighbourhoods

FILE PHOTO
Second doses of COVID-19 vaccine will be available, as AstraZeneca supply runs low: Interior Health

Province expecting large volumes of Pfizer BioNTech as age-based cohort immunization program ramps up

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains in the B.C. legislature, May 13, 2019. (Hansard TV)
VIDEO: B.C. to provide 3 days of sick pay for COVID-19 absences

Province will support employers on cost, labour minister says

BC Housing minister David Eby. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)
Eby jabs back against Penticton mayor’s ad urging BC Premier to intervene in shelter dispute

Eby writes that Penticton’s ‘serious’ social issues won’t improve under leadership of the mayor

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 rate creeps up again, 600 new cases Wednesday

One more death, 423 people in hospital with virus

B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham takes questions in the B.C. legislature in 2017. (Hansard TV)
UPDATE: B.C. will fund another year of fresh fruit, vegetables, milk in schools

John Horgan government working on school meal program

Surrey RCMP is releasing sketches of a suspect in an “indecent act” at the Coyote Creek Elementary playground on April 30, 2021. Police said the suspect was clean-shaven “during some interactions” and on “other occasions had stubble outlining a goatee and mustache.” (Images: Surrey RCMP handout)
Vancouver mayor-elect Kennedy Stewart addresses supporters in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver mayor says there’s no time to redo details of drug decriminalization plan

Kennedy Stewart says a federal election could see the small window of opportunity close on the city’s bid for an exemption from criminal provisions on simple possession of small amounts of drugs

Premier Mike Horgan received his first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. (Facebook/John Horgan)
More than 50% of people eligible in B.C. have received 1st vaccine dose

‘We’ve made extraordinary progress together over the past few weeks,’ says Premier Horgan

Brad MacKenzie, advocacy chair for the ALS Society of B.C., says having research projects in the province allows people here to have access to cutting-edge treatments now being developed. (B.C. government video)
B.C. funds research chair for Lou Gehrig’s disease at UBC

Pandemic has cut off patient access to international projects

Most Read