The wife of detained Canadian Michael Kovrig says Ottawa “needs more leverage” in the fight to secure his release from China, which has directly linked the detention with the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou.
In an interview airing Sunday on The West Block, Vina Nadjibulla said it was hard to hear Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reject calls from some in the foreign policy establishment this week to intervene to order Meng’s release in the hope China would then free Kovrig and Michael Spavor.
“It was difficult to hear that message for sure,” she said.
“What I hope we will also continue to focus on is the fact that the prime minister mentioned that Michael and Michael Spavor are a priority and that the government is committed to bringing them home.”
The two were detained just days after Canada arrested Meng at the behest of the U.S. in December 2018.
Nineteen former cabinet ministers and diplomats issued an open letter to Trudeau earlier this week in which they urged him to have the justice minister invoke the rarely used power to intervene to stop Meng’s case and set her free, despite the fact a judge ruled just last month that her case can proceed.
A memo obtained by the Canadian Press and prepared by Trudeau’s national security adviser says that since 2008, only 12 extradition cases have been dropped using that power.
The reasons included things like severe health problems, unreasonable judicial delays or a failure of the country requesting extradition to assure Ottawa that the death penalty would not be used.
The memo was quoted in that report as saying that using the power now would be unprecedented.
“Note there are no examples of the minister discharging a case for political or diplomatic reasons.”
China does not have an independent judicial system and, after detaining the two Michaels for a year and a half with no charges, formally laid a charge of espionage against them in June.
Officials from Beijing have since said they want a prisoner swap, though there’s no guarantee the regime would actually follow through even if Canada were to take the unprecedented step of intervening.
Trudeau has rejected those calls, saying doing so would immediately put a target on the back of every Canadian travelling abroad if countries see that detaining Canadians is a way to get Ottawa to cave in diplomatic and political disputes.
Nadjibulla, though, said words are not enough and that Canada needs to find other ways to gain leverage against China to pressure the regime there into freeing Kovrig and Spavor.
“The idea that if we do this and find a way to secure the freedom of Michael and Michael Spavor, that will endanger other Canadians in the future, then that essentially means we have to resign to the fact that Michael will have to languish in jail for an indefinite period of time,” she said.
“We can not accept that.”
Host Mercedes Stephenson asked: “What other options do you think there are that you’d like to see the government pursue?“
Nadjibulla wouldn’t specify.
“I have faith in the government. I know that there are options that are being explored. What this week has been about is to change the narrative about the rule of law environment.“
Canadian senators called this week for the government to use Magnitsky sanctions to freeze the assets of top Chinese officials over their human rights abuses, including the case of the two Michaels.
One of those was Sen. Marilou McPhedran, a Trudeau appointee who is a member of the Independent Senators Group.
“This is something that we can do within our control,” McPhedran said.
“It also makes a very strong statement that we’re not only talking about human rights abuses here; we’re talking about the new global bully and the need for Canadians and Canadian parliamentarians to do what we can to stand up to the bully.”
— With files from the Canadian Press