The West Block — Episode 24, Season 9

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Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020, with Mercedes Stephenson – Feb 16, 2020


Episode 24, Season 9

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Host: Mercedes Stephenson

Guests: Minister Marc Miller, Independent MP Jody Wilson-Raybould,

U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Richard Mills

Journalist Panel: John Ivison, David Akin

Location: Ottawa

Protester: “They will never agree to a pipeline.”

Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister: “We recognize the important democratic right, and we will always defend it, a peaceful protest. But we’re also a country of rule of law.”

François Légault, Quebec Premier: “We have many goods. We’re a bit nervous about getting them in the next few weeks.” 

Marc Garneau, Transport Minister: “It’s up to the provinces to make those injunctions effective by taking action.

Protester: “Basically, the Indigenous fight for justice is overlapping with environmentalism.

Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister: “It is very important for all people in Canada to be able to go about their rightful and legitimate business.

It’s Sunday, February 16th. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.

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Mercedes Stephenson: The protest supporting the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs are threatening economic paralysis from coast to coast to coast, with rail lines blockaded, ministers’ offices occupied, and traffic hauled with no end in sight.

Some Indigenous Canadians are accusing the Trudeau government of being insincere in their commitment to reconciliation, while many other Canadians are demanding the government takes action to end the blockades.

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller met with the Mohawk Nation yesterday and he joins me now. Thank you for joining us this morning.

Marc Miller, Indigenous Services Minister: Hi Mercedes.

Mercedes Stephenson: You had a chance to sit down with the Mohawk chiefs, can you tell me what the moderate progress was you achieved in that meeting, because that’s how you’ve described it.

Marc Miller, Indigenous Services Minister: Well first, Mercedes, what’s become obvious in this situation is we’ve gone from zero to rhetoric and vitriol without even actually talking to the people that are standing out on rail lines, spending days on end fighting in support for the Wet’suwet’en people. And so yesterday was an opportunity to stand there in all honesty, in peace, looking for a dialogue and a discussion with people that haven’t been heard, in some cases, for centuries. So I’ve been told not to go there, I’ve been told I shouldn’t engage. But as a nation, we need to think of who we are and what we stand for, and for me, that means engaging peacefully with people that may not share the same opinion as us, view, and talk openly and honestly. They were very suspicious of me going in there. They thought it was perhaps, a trick. It wasn’t. I went in there knowing that mistakes might be made, things said, but this was an opportunity to show a little bit of trust, talk to people who are very fearful standing out there feeling targeted by the entire country. So I went in and we had a discussion for about eight or nine hours. We ate and we talked, we laughed. There were a lot of tears that were shed, and we talked about some of the challenges. What was clear at the end of meeting was there was a bit of confidence that was built and that there are a number of actions I needed to go back and talk to the prime minister about.

Mercedes Stephenson: But what are some of those actions?

Marc Miller, Indigenous Services Minister: One, keeping the dialogue open and ensuring that this situation remains peaceful and respectful. It hasn’t felt respectful up to now. Yesterday was an effort to put in a bit of respect. But clearly, there’s some effort to do in British Columbia on our part, to get out there and continue that dialogue with hereditary chiefs, regardless of their views and hope that we can come to some peaceful solution. And that’s what we’ve got to do. I came out of that meeting thinking who are we as a country? Do we repeat the errors of the past? Thirty years ago, police went in guns blazing in Oka and someone died. So that shouldn’t be lost on anyone that’s telling us to go in there and impose law and order. These situations have all started with injunctions and court orders, and you can take whatever view you want on that particular — those particular injunctions that are enforced, but we also have to look at ourselves as Canadians and say do we use every peaceful method to resolve this situation? And that’s the path that I prefer. It’s frustrating to many. I have received many e-mails, calls, discussions about how people are suffering, the economy’s suffering. There are fuel shortages that are imminent and that weighs heavily on my mind. But I also say to myself, these issues are not going away anywhere soon unless we do this the right way. And yesterday was a small attempt to do so, but I’ve undertaken to open that dialogue. I’ve briefed the prime minister before and after the meeting and this is something that is fluid and is moving on an hourly basis, but we remain committed and engaged to resolve this in a peaceful way.

Mercedes Stephenson: There are Canadians who say look, they want reconciliation, that’s important, but when you’re talking about critical fuel shortages for hospitals, they want the government to take action. Is there a tipping point where the dialogue ends and those injunctions are in enforced?

Marc Miller, Indigenous Services Minister: Well, I don’t have the luxury to deal with ifs. I’m in a present situation that is both volatile and compelling to all Canadians and my job as a leader is the safety and security of everyone. And there are people that are feeling vulnerable. There are women and children, men that are standing out protesting. Their safety is of the utmost importance to me. At the same time, as a lawyer, someone who practised law, the rule of law is also very important. It is critical, it’s defined my career. I also served in the Armed Forces and I know when things go wrong, and I know what we’ve done as a nation in the past and I think we can do things better and move forward. So, this won’t be easy, the discussions need to take place. They need to be open, honest with no duplicity, and we need to come to some resolution that is peaceful. And that’s the advice I’ve given to the prime minister, along with a number of other recommendations that I’m not at liberty to discuss and I will discuss them when I have the opportunity to. But what is clear is that this is a situation that’s moving hour by hour. We remain committed to deploy Minister Bennett to go out to B.C. and continue the discussions with hereditary leadership and other leadership and ensure that we can come to one mind as to something that is very compelling to us as Canadians.

Mercedes Stephenson: When it comes to rule of law, there are some Canadians who are saying why is it not being enforced? And if you talk to some Indigenous groups, they’ll say sovereignty means we are not subject to Canadian law. How do you deal with that? Does that mean that there are some parts of Canada that are subject to Canadian law, courts, police and others that aren’t?

Marc Miller, Indigenous Services Minister:  Well, I want to highlight the fact that proper use of police discretion in de-escalation is a highly important part in these volatile situations. We know our lessons from the past that people can get hurt and in some cases—

Mercedes Stephenson: It sounds to me like you’re very concerned about violence here.

Marc Miller, Indigenous Services Minister: Absolutely. We all should be concerned. These are peaceful people who want a peaceful resolution and we can’t have peaceful resolutions without dialogue. People talk about the rule of law, but the Indigenous people I spoke to yesterday and across the country have too often said that that same rule of law has been used to perpetrate historical injustices. Whether you agree with that or not, that is their point of view and we need to hear it and address it. We have taken too long to address this and we know our lessons from the past—

Mercedes Stephenson: And including your government.

Marc Miller, Indigenous Services Minister: Whether we talk about Ipperwash or Oka, these are challenges that we can do better at addressing in a more expedient fashion. And I say to Canadians, let’s learn from our lessons in the past. Do we live in fear and ignorance, which is probably our biggest challenge? Or do we entertain dialogue with those who don’t necessarily agree with us? And I believe as Canadians, and we can be shining examples to ourselves but also to the world, as to how we engage and dialogue. And I believe there’s a way forward and I remain resolutely committed to it.

Mercedes Stephenson: What about the Indigenous Canadians who in the case of the Coastal Gaslink LNG line are in the majority who say we want this pipeline?

Marc Miller, Indigenous Services Minister: Again, those voices can be discarded. Non-Indigenous Canadians have different points of view. We can’t assume that every Indigenous person has the exact same point of view. I think that’s a preconception that we often have—

Mercedes Stephenson: Does that mean it has to be unanimous consent then? I guess that’s what I’m wondering. If you have the majority of Indigenous nations on that line saying yes, we want it to go ahead and ones saying no, or certain people on one saying no, does consent mean veto?

Marc Miller, Indigenous Services Minister: There are two directly interrelated issues in here and that is some people with a view on the Coastal Gaslink itself, and there are people with views on heredity title and entitled to land. Those issues are sometimes distinct and sometimes interrelated. I often feel that they’ve gotten confused. But you can’t get through that cloud of confusion and misinformation until you actually sit down and you talk to people. The understanding that I have of Wet’suwet’en hereditary leadership is there is a consensus-based model that sometimes has escaped us as Canadians. I know that to be the case in the traditional leadership that I have seen in Mohawk communities. That consensus base lets them come out of one mind, even though that they have disputes internally.

Mercedes Stephenson: I’m sorry to jump in there, Minister but we’re out of time, so I do have to cut you off.

Marc Miller, Indigenous Services Minister: That’s fine.

Mercedes Stephenson: My apologies, but thank you so much for joining us today.

Marc Miller, Indigenous Services Minister: Thank you, Mercedes.

Mercedes Stephenson: The West Block is back with more, right after this.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Protests across the country have shut down passenger and freight lines, blockading rail and the B.C. legislature and hit the economy hard, as Indigenous protesters and those sympathetic to their cause have blockaded access in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who oppose an LNG pipeline crossing their traditional territory. It’s all led to simmering tensions and questions about who’s in charge, who speaks for the Wet’suwet’en, and what exactly is legal?

Former Attorney General and former Regional Chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations Jody Wilson-Raybould joins me now from Vancouver. Thanks for coming on the show, Jody.

Jody Wilson-Raybould, Independent MP: Thanks for having me.

Mercedes Stephenson: You were the attorney general, and at that time you were adamant about the importance of the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law. In this particular case, we seem to be seeing the rule of law coming into conflict with the need for reconciliation. How do you balance those two things?

Jody Wilson-Raybould, Independent MP: Well, I mean, as you’ve said, I was the attorney general. I believe fundamentally in the importance of the rule of law and upholding the rule of law. It is our responsibility to do so as a country. But when it comes to Indigenous peoples historically in this country who have been discriminated against, who have a long shadow of a colonial legacy and a history of the rule of law not being upheld, it’s worth discussion. It’s worth understanding that legacy of colonialism and understanding that the law has not been fairly applied when it comes to Indigenous peoples, and that speaks to the fundamental need for reconciliation for understanding, and that is going to require all of us as a country to ensure that the rule of law is upheld and that the issues of Indigenous reconciliation and nation rebuilding, self-determination are addressed in a fundamental and transformative way.

Mercedes Stephenson: Does that mean that you don’t think the RCMP should have gone in to enforce the court injunction?

Jody Wilson-Raybould, Independent MP: No, that’s not what I’m saying. I mean, I understand the serious concerns that Canadians have across the country, the impact that blockades of railways lines has. And the RCMP will do its job and exercise its discretion as they deem appropriate, but it is the responsibility not just of the RCMP but of political leaders. It’s the responsibility of all of us. We got here to this place and leaders, elected leaders need to do their jobs and that is to lead.

Mercedes Stephenson: There’s a lot of confusion among people about who speak for the Wet’suwet’en, whether it is the elected chiefs or the hereditary chiefs. Can you give us some clarity on who is the legitimate authority there and how to proceed?

Jody Wilson-Raybould, Independent MP: Sure. Well, first of all, I’ll start by saying I like that we’re having this conversation, and this is essentially, in my mind, a conversation around governance and the inherent right of self-determination of self-government. Under the Constitution, right now who has authority are the historical collectives. In the case of the Wet’suwet’en people, who share a common language, culture and traditions, and a territory, it is up to them to determine what happens on their territory. Where the confusion comes in, and this is what we’re witnesses, of course, up in Wet’suwet’en territory across the country is we have the imposition of a colonial statute called the Indian Act, which has determined that First Nations groups elect leaders and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with the elected leadership in the Wet’suwet’en territory or that they may or may not speak for the Wet’suwet’en people, but so to do the hereditary chiefs, they represent the same people. And what’s required, and what has been asked for since as long as I can remember, and certainly back to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, is that there needs to be space created and mechanisms developed for the Indigenous peoples to exercise their right of self-determination, including self-government, to determine who speaks for the Wet’suwet’en. So a reconciliation of the hereditary system with the imposed elected system.

Mercedes Stephenson: Is there a risk that this becomes another Oka?

Jody Wilson-Raybould, Independent MP: Well, I mean, again, I don’t think—and nobody wants that to happen, but what this—situations like this, nobody wants lives to be at risk. Everybody wants to ensure that there is safety, but there are underlying issues that these—that this situation brings to the surface, and this is the outstanding question of true reconciliation in this country. And I’ll say, you know the prime minister, two years ago on February the 14th, gave what I believe to be an historic speech in the House of Commons, where he spoke about the necessary transformative change that needs to occur in this country through the development of a rights, recognition and implementation framework, whereas a government, they move beyond the denial of Indigenous rights and recognize that Indigenous peoples, as accorded by the United Nations Declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples, have the right to be self-determining. That includes the right to self-government, and I will say this—and with this—you know, long gone are the days where Indigenous peoples are in small communities where they were placed at the end of a gravel road. The lack of governing institutions as determined by Indigenous peoples themselves are now and will continue to impact resource development projects, will continue to impact other jurisdictions as exercised by the federal government and provincial governments until as a country we create the space necessarily so, and I wrote a book about this, for Indigenous nations to rebuild within a stronger Canada. When we do that, when Indigenous peoples finally see themselves and can exercise their inherent rights of self-government, the country will be the better for it. We will have certainty around decision-making and who speaks for what territory because we are embracing what I think is an extraordinary opportunity as a country. We’re embracing our evolving system of cooperative federalism that includes Indigenous governments.

Mercedes Stephenson: Jody Wilson-Raybould, thank you for joining us.

Jody Wilson-Raybould, Independent MP: Thanks for having me, appreciate it.

Mercedes Stephenson: Coming up on The West Block, protests causing problems for rail lines. How have the provincial and federal governments handled the problem? We’ll put that to our panel.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. The protests supporting the Wet’suwet’in hereditary chiefs was sparked when RCMP arrived to enforce an injunction allowing Coastal Gaslink access to its route.  Rail lines have been blockaded, ministers offices occupied and traffic halted. The Trudeau government’s commitments on the economy, the environment and reconciliation are all now being put to the test.

Joining me now are National Post Columnist John Ivison and Global’s own Chief Political Correspondent David Akin. Thanks for joining us on a very busy news week. Let’s start off with what has become the perfect storm in many ways for Justin Trudeau, the collision of three of his really big priorities: Indigenous and reconciliation, environment and the economy in these protests that are shutting down rail across Canada. Feds saying it’s not our problem, it’s up to the provinces and the police and the provinces are saying well, how about some federal direction? How would you rate the government’s performance on this one, David?

David Akin, Chief Political Correspondent, Global News: I think there could be some more federal leadership, absolutely. And in fact, maybe you’d like to have the opposite problem of provinces perhaps telling the feds get out of here, we don’t want anything. But when you have the Quebec Premier François Légault saying hey, we need some federal help here. That’s surely a sign that the federal government has gone missing. I was overseas with the prime minister in the last week. There was the occasional chance for reporters to put questions to him but not enough. And at the end of the week, on Friday, when we did have to talk about the rail strike, etc., one of the things I found most remarkable, he was pressed time and again to say do you see a way for the Coastal Gaslink to be built? Do you think it should be built? And of course, we know there are court rulings and regulatory processes that say yes it should. And he couldn’t say yes, it should be built because that is the rule of law. I found that most remarkable among a series of remarkable absences.

Mercedes Stephenson: Well, and people were remembering this week, his father’s comments, the “just watch me” comments about deploying the army, a very different approach here, John. And Marc Miller meeting with Indigenous leaders yesterday, but trying to get anyone to talk about this one-on-one when we’ve asked for ministers all week, very, very difficult.

John Ivison, National Post Columnist: Yeah. I mean, it’s surprising that, you know, you go back to just watch when you go back to Oka. I was reading about Oka, they deployed tear gas very quickly. They deployed the military very quickly. I don’t think anybody is expecting that this government is going to order in the police or the military as Justin Trudeau said yesterday, but I do think they expect their prime minister, first of all, to be here, and I think he was in error in not coming back certainly from Munich. He was in Africa, he should have come back sooner, I think. And I think he should be saying that while we respect the right of protest, there are limits to those rights. And when it spills over into civil disobedience that causes harm and inconvenience to others, not even just inconvenience but harm. I mean, we’re talking about the movement of medicines, of goods, of heating fuel, of de-icing elements for airplanes. I mean, the country is—there are going to be practical consequences to these rail blockades.

Mercedes Stephenson: But is there a risk that if they do crackdown, it actually becomes worse? And that it’s not all about just letting people do whatever. It’s about concern about reconciliation and also that this could get much worse.

John Ivison, National Post Columnist: There is the obvious potential for it to get really, really messy and they have to be patient and certainly the police will just have to be cognizant of the potential for it to escalate. But the Canadian people are looking for some kind of political leadership, and whether there’s a dual-prong process, which I think you know Martin Miller is meeting with the Mohawks today, maybe to talk about the reconciliation process, which seems to be completely stalled. I mean, there was a reconciliation process that was being pioneered by Jody Wilson-Raybould. When she left, it just seemed to die and this whole idea of empowering First Nations to move towards self-government, to recognize inherent rights to land, which was all implicit and all this stuff the government was doing seems to have gone nowhere, and I think the government really has to—this was its top priority. Justin Trudeau had no stronger priority than reconciliation and yet, he’s now got the Security Council. That’s his priority this week. I think the government needs to provide leadership and it has to say there are limits to our patience here.

David Akin, Chief Political Correspondent, Global News: And what’s more interesting again is, or I find in terms of leadership, is let’s talk about the Trans Mountain expansion. Trudeau’s been quite clear, we’re expanding it. We own that and we’re doing that.

Mercedes Stephenson: What does this mean for that?

David Akin, Chief Political Correspondent, Global News: Well, exactly.

John Ivison, National Post Columnist: This is the warm-up for that.

David Akin, Chief Political Correspondent, Global News: That’s a good point, John. This is a warm-up because even though, again, just as the Wet’suwet’in issue, where there’s all the bands but one and then the Wet’suwet’in were not even sure who speaks for the band, has caused this problem. There’s all the bands along the Trans Mountain expansion are in favour, except a few, most of them right down there around Burnaby and we’ve already seen, they’ve gone through their civil disobedience in Burnaby on Burnaby Mountain trying to block things. You’re right, it’s a warm-up. And now, the message has gone wait, we can shut the country down and force leaders to the table and our leaders are not coming to the table other than to say we’re ready to listen. And that seems to be the fall for the government, but what are they going to do?

Mercedes Stephenson: Is that important, though, if you have hundreds of years of mistreatment and frustration and anger to allow that space?

John Ivison, National Post Columnist: So there are huge areas here where there’s not even a point of contact. I mean, the Mohawk protesters today are saying that they don’t recognize Canadian law, that while Canadian law does not recognize Indigenous sovereignty or Indigenous law unless it’s enshrined in treaty. So, somewhere along the line, you’ve got to reconcile those two positions, otherwise you have open conflict.

Mercedes Stephenson: Well let’s—

John Ivison, National Post Columnist: But if we stick with what is Canadian law, right now, blockading a railway line is against Canadian law. It’s against the Railway Safety Act, as the transport minister said, although he said it’s up to the province to enforce it.

Mercedes Stephenson: I want to turn, quickly, to Iran, another big issue. The prime minister had an unplanned meeting with the Iranian foreign minister on the sidelines at the Munich conference. You were there, David. He’s taken a lot of flak for photos that show him smiling and shaking hands, video that is allegedly of he and the Iranian foreign minister released by the Iranian government state media that seems to show him looking differential. Tell us about this meeting and why was the prime minister there?

David Akin, Chief Political Correspondent, Global News: This was a meeting that was announced between two foreign ministers: our Foreign Minister François Philippe-Champagne and the Iranian foreign minister. That was the announced planned meeting taking place at the Munich Security Conference inside a very secure hotel. The Canadian media travelling there, we were aware of it. We were not planning to go and take any pictures of it. We normally would not be doing that. We were busy tracking the prime minister’s activities. Then, almost as the meeting happened, we got some rumour that Trudeau was going to “drop in” on this meeting, and he did. It was shortly confirmed. He dropped in, we didn’t have [any] chance to observe or take pictures. He dropped in for what I was told was “an extremely brief encounter.” That extremely brief encounter was caught on video by a Government of Iran employee and that doesn’t look good on the PM. Even more so, though, the questions about what was the upside for you to drop in on a meeting? I think Minister Champagne’s doing a very effective job moving the investigation on Flight 752 forward.
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Mercedes Stephenson: Now, in fairness, we don’t have full context because there weren’t Canadian reporters there. We didn’t get to see how the meeting went, but does the prime minister have to have this kind of meeting to try to get the remains of Canadians back and to try to move those black boxes out?

John Ivison, National Post Columnist: Well, I guess that we have to maintain diplomatic relations, but I don’t think we need to be quite as pally with them as we seem to be. And you can see—if you show the picture later, first of all, Philippe Champagne’s face as his picture was taken, he was kind of—and you don’t have to be a great statesman to understand that this is probably not going to look good.

Mercedes Stephenson: The question now becomes whether he heads on to Barbados and continues his foreign trips or stays home with what’s going on here? But that’s all the time we have, so we have to wrap-up. Thank you both for joining us.

David Akin, Chief Political Correspondent, Global News: Thanks.

Mercedes Stephenson: The White House is watching Ottawa closely for a decision on Huawei. My conversation with Washington’s top diplomat in Ottawa is next.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. Ottawa will soon have a new top diplomat from the United States, Donald Trump nominating Dr. Aldona Wos to come to Canada as the U.S. ambassador. Now it may take months for Wos to be confirmed by the Senate. Despite that, there have been lots of topics, from Huawei to USMCA and the relationship, and despite the absence of an ambassador, someone must carry on. So I sat down with Washington’s top diplomat in Ottawa last week.

Joining me now is U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Richard Mills. Thank you so much for joining us, Mr. Mills.

Richard Mills, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires: It’s a pleasure to be with you, Mercedes and on West Block. Thank you.

 Mercedes Stephenson: It seems like every time we talk to our American friends and colleagues, it’s been about NAFTA 2.0, USMCA, CUSMA, depending on who you’re talking to. A lot of people think seems like a done deal, but I’m wondering if there’s any bumps ahead on your radar or concerns the U.S. still has about implementation? It hasn’t even been ratified here yet in Canada.

Richard Mills, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires: You’re right. We’re not at the very end of the road yet. We are waiting for our Canadian friends to formally ratify CUSMA or USMCA, and that’ll be the end of the first part of the process. We’re confident that that’s going to happen. We believe there’s widespread support for the USMCA Agreement here in Canada among business, labour, government, all the stakeholders here. The next part will be implementation that’ll require hard work by the three governments.

Mercedes Stephenson: When it comes to Huawei, the U.S. has made their position very clear, and in fact, the national security advisor when he visited Canada back in November in Halifax, made no bones about it, that he did not want Canada to sign this that he believed Canadians data was at stake and that it could affect the relationship with the United States. What would that look like?

Richard Mills, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires: Well, you’re right. This is a very important issue for the U.S. government and for our relationship with Canada. Of course, it’s a Canadian decision to make about who they’re going to let into their 5G network and their 5G infrastructure. We’ve been very clear, quite honestly that to let an untrusted vendor and supplier like Huawei into your system, for us, raises very serious security, intellectual property, even human rights concerns. And we’ve shared those views with our Canadian friends.

Mercedes Stephenson: Does that mean, potentially, intelligence restriction, because Canada relies on a lot of American intelligence?

Richard Mills, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires: It does. We rely on some aspects of Canadian intelligence. It’s a very close relationship, one of the closest we have in the world. That’s why we care very much about what decision the Canadian government makes about who they allow into their 5G system and Huawei in particular. As the national security advisor said, I can’t say what the exact implications would be, but as I think he made clear, it would cause us to have to reassess and look at quality and the quantity of information we could share.

Mercedes Stephenson: When it comes to the larger relationship with China, Canada, of course, arrested Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. warrant. Any sign that that extradition request may be dropped by the U.S. government now that the Americans are moving ahead with a trade deal?

Richard Mills, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires: Let me be clear that the Chinese action in arresting the two Michaels, their action against the Canadian citizen Mr. Schellenberg, is completely unacceptable to the U.S. government. We have it very clear that this is the kind of behaviour that puts the Chinese Communist Party leadership, the Chinese government in really a bad space around the world. But let me be clear, the decision to request that Canada honour its treaty with us, this extradition treaty and bring in Mrs. [Wanzhou], was based solely on law. This was not a trade decision, there is no political—
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Mercedes Stephenson: But the president has indicated that it might be used for political leverage. Do you think that that’s problematic?

Richard Mills, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires: I think, again, this is a judicial process on our side. I have seen no indication that we’re in a position to bring in political or trade issues into it. It needs to have the process finish out. We have great confidence in the British Columbian courts and the Canadian court system.

Mercedes Stephenson: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had asked the U.S. government, in particular, President Trump, not to sign any kind of a trade deal until Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were released. They are very much still in prison and the U.S. has signed an initial trade deal with China. The American government is telling Canadians they’re doing everything they can to get the two Michaels released, but does signing that trade deal send a very different message about their value to the American government or the efforts being made to free them?

Richard Mills, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires: I don’t think so. Let me be clear, the president—President Trump has raised these cases at the highest levels in China. We have been very strong and very public in our concern about these cases with the Chinese government. We remain in close coordination with the Canadian government on what steps we should take. I know everyone is concerned that actions not be taken that might result in harsher treatment for those held.

Mercedes Stephenson: When it comes to defence spending, the Trump administration that you represent here in Ottawa, has been very clear and explicit that they want Canada to spend more. President Trump has said he wants all of the allies to be meeting 2 per cent of GDP. Canada’s nowhere close to that and it doesn’t seem to have a plan to get there anytime soon. You sent a demarche, which is unusual to the Canadian government, an official reprimand, demanding Canada spend more on behalf of the administration. Why aren’t you satisfied with Canada’s defence spending in the United States?

Richard Mills, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires: Well first, I’m not going to comment about our kind of the diplomatic exchanges that we have with our good friends in the Canadian government, but yes, it’s no secret that the United States with all our allies, all 29 NATO allies and others in Asia, we’ve raised the issue of a more fair burden sharing, as we all work to preserve global security. Canada is not near that mark. We were very pleased with some of the defence spending that’s occurred under this government, including some effort to buy a new frigate, some new airplanes. But to be quite honest with you, Mercedes, they are not—the Canadian governments not on course to meet 2 per cent by 2024. In fact, they probably will reach a peak, our estimate around 1.4 per cent, 2024 and then decline rapidly. This is important because our common security requires common burden sharing.

 Mercedes Stephenson: Okay. Thank you so much for joining us.

Richard Mills, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires: Thanks, Mercedes. It was very good to talk to you. Thanks.

Mercedes Stephenson: That’s all the time we have for today. Thanks for joining us. For The West Block, I’m Mercedes Stephenson. Have a great week.

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