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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has suspended indoor dining at restaurants and pubs until at least April 19 in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. sets new COVID-19 daily record with 1,293 cases Thursday

New order allows workplace closures when infections found

The board is planning a 2021 festival no matter the conditions, they are going to make it work! (BCMF directors Buddy Thatcher (from left), Kristen Boulier, Rose Clark, Jeff Gray, Corissa McNeilly and Jayme Kennedy (front), and her hair. (photo submitted)
Bella Coola Music Festival planning on 2021 fest

The BCMF is planning for a 2021 festival on July 17 and 18, however it may look.

The Lost Lake trail is a popular hike for locals and visitors for it's accessibility (Khya Saban photo)
LETTER: Lost Lake trailhead trees shouldn’t be cut down

The area is slated to be cut by the Bella Coola Community Forest

Easter is on Sunday, April 4, 2021. How much do you know about Easter history and traditions? (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: How much do you know about Easter?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz about Easter and its traditions

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

As of Saturday, April 10, people born in 1961 are the latest to be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. (Black Press files)
B.C. residents age 60+ can now register to get their COVID-19 vaccine

Vaccine registration is now open to people born in 1961 or earlier

A new saline gargle test, made in B.C., will soon be replacing COVID-19 nasal swab tests for kids. (PHSA screenshot)
Take-home COVID-19 tests available for some B.C. students who fall ill at school

BC Children’s Hospital plans to provide 1,200 kits to Vancouver district schools this April

Ruming Jiang and his dog Chiu Chiu are doing fine following a brush with hypothermia that saw several people work together to get them out of the Fraser River near Langley’s Derby Reach Park on March 25, 2021 (Special to the Advance Times)
Man finds men who rescued him from drowning in B.C.’s Fraser River

A grateful Ruming Jiang says he will thank them again, this time in person when the pandemic ends

Tyson Ginter, 7, is proud of his latest Hot Wheels he recently received by Quesnel RCMP Const. Matt Joyce. (Photo submitted)
B.C. Mountie handing out toy cars to light up children’s faces

‘A lot of times it will be the only interaction they have with the police,’ says Const. Matt Joyce

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, Friday, January 15, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s ICUs see near-record of COVID-19 patients last week as variant cases double

Last week, Canadian hospitals treated an average of 2,500 patients with COVID-19, daily, up 7% from the previous week

University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
UVic, women’s rowing coach deny former athlete’s allegation of verbal abuse

Lily Copeland alleges coach Barney Williams would stand close to her and speak aggressively in the sauna

Librarian Katie Burns with the Fraser Valley Regional Libraries poses for a photo in Chilliwack on June 18, 2019. Monday, April 12, 2021 is Library Workers’ Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 11 to 17

Library Workers Day, That Sucks! Day, and Wear Your Pyjamas to Work Day are all coming up this week

Most Read