Trudeau’s remarks were according to a transcript of a wide-ranging interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd and Meet the Press, which was provided to Global News. The interview is set to air on Sunday.
The two Canadian men — Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig — were arrested in China in 2018 on espionage charges, shortly after Meng was arrested by authorities in British Columbia on an extradition charge from the U.S.
During the interview, the prime minister said the men were detained on “national security trumped-up charges” and have been detained for nearly 800 days “in an attempt to try and pressure us to release the executive.”
“We, of course, are a country of the rule of law,” he said. “We will not do that. We live by our treaties and live by the rule of law.
But it is extremely difficult for Canada to be going through this, when we know it’s fundamentally unfair of China to have arbitrarily detained our citizens.”
Trudeau’s comments come just days after he and newly sworn-in U.S. President Joe Biden shared their first bilateral meeting.
Shortly after the leaders met virtually, Biden vowed to work with Canada to secure the safe release of Spavor and Kovrig, saying “humans are not bartering chips.”
Trudeau told Meet the Press his conversation with Biden regarding the two men was “very positive,” adding that they have agreed to work together to try to resolve the situation and “hold China to account.”
During the interview, Trudeau was also asked about the Keystone XL pipeline expansion project, which has been a point of contention between the two countries since Biden became president.
Hours after he was sworn into office, Biden signed an executive order to revoke a presidential permit signed by his predecessor, Donald Trump, that would have allowed the cross-border Keystone XL pipeline expansion project to continue.
The democrat had long-promised to revoke the permit in an effort to honour one of his campaign promises to shift the U.S. from fossil fuels towards clean energy.
However, the move dealt an especially hard blow to Alberta and Saskatchewan, whose energy sectors were counting on the US$8-billion project.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney called the move a “gut punch” and urged the federal government to consider sanctions if the Biden administration refused to discuss the project further.
However, Trudeau said, “it’s fairly clear that the U.S. administration has made its decision on that.”
“And we’re much more interested in ensuring that we’re moving forward in ways that are good for both of our countries,” he said.
Trudeau said the government does have “concerns” about the Line 5 initiative.
“We want to make sure we’re continuing to sell hydro-electricity into the United States, and that the two of us are partnering in ways that are going to create good jobs and compete successfully against the world for cleaner products and cleaner solutions,” he said.
Ultimately, Trudeau said there is “so much” Canada and the U.S. can do together that he doesn’t “spend too much time worrying about the tension points.”
“It’ll always come up in our relationship, but we’ll work through them, particularly given the alignment on so many things that we’re able to bring with this new administration,” he said.
Trudeau said the decision around the Keystone XL pipeline expansion project “was a disappointment,” though.
“But when you talk about clean energy and hydro-electricity from Canada, when we talk about what we can do around smarter grids, what we can do around electric vehicles and transportation, there is so much we’re going to continue to do together.”
Canada’s vaccine rollout
Trudeau was also asked about Canada’s vaccine rollout plan, which has been repeatedly hampered by delays from manufacturers.
He conceded that the rollout has not been “going as fast as everyone would want,” but said “we are going to have everyone vaccinated probably by the end of the summer.”
“And that is something that we’re very positive and excited about,” Trudeau said.
However, Canada has fallen considerably behind even its closest allies when it comes to vaccine rollout.
As of Saturday afternoon, only 1,816,797 doses had been administered across Canada, amounting to approximately 2.43 per cent of the country’s population.
Asked if he regrets not investing in a company in Canada to develop a vaccine at home, Trudeau said the country didn’t have the domestic pharmaceutical capacity to do so.
“We had had it in decades past. But off-shoring and globalization meant that we no longer have the capacity,” he said. “We had from the very beginning of this pandemic started re-investing in Canadian pharmaceutical capacity which will be online in the coming year, not quick enough for this wave. But certainly moving forward, we have rebuilt and are rebuilding our scientific and domestic capacity so that we can be ready.”
“That’s what international supply chains are for,” he said. “And that’s why we’re pleased that we were able to sign so many contracts in order to be able to say we’re going to get all Canadians vaccinated in the coming months.”
Trudeau has repeatedly said Canada remains “on track” to deliver vaccines to all Canadians who want one by the end of September, despite the delays.
On Friday, Health Canada announced it had approved the COVID-19 vaccine from Oxford University-AstraZeneca for use in the country.
To date, three vaccines have been approved for use in Canada.