U.S. President Joe Biden said Canada and America will work together to secure the safe release of two Canadians — Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig — detained in China.
Biden’s remarks came after a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Tuesday afternoon.
“Human beings are not bartering chips,” Biden told reporters. “We’re going to work together until we get their safe return. Canada and the United States will stand together against abuse of universal rights and democratic freedom.”
However, Biden did not offer any details on how his administration would help Canada secure the release of the two men.
Kovrig and Spavor were arrested in China in 2018 on espionage charges, shortly after Huawei CEO Meng Wanzhou was detained by authorities in British Columbia on an extradition charge from the United States.
Canadian officials have repeatedly called for their release, calling their detention arbitrary.
Speaking in French, Trudeau thanked Biden for his support in calling for the release of the men.
“We are facing tough times, there’s no doubt,” Trudeau said. “But we are not facing them alone.
“Canada and the United States are each other’s closest allies, most important trading partners, and oldest friends.”
The two leaders also discussed the economic recovery from the novel coronavirus pandemic during the meeting.
Biden said the countries are working in “close cooperation” to ensure Canada and the U.S. are driving a “robust economic recovery that benefits everyone.”
He said the two have agreed to work together on an “inclusive recovery,” noting that the pandemic has not affected everyone equally.
Trudeau said keeping people safe and ending the pandemic is “job number one.”
“From keeping key supplies moving and supporting science and research, to joint efforts through international institutions, we’re standing united in this fight,” he said.
No direct mention of pipelines
Neither of the leader’s remarks following the meeting directly mentioned the cross-border Keystone XL Pipeline expansion project.
During his first day in office, Biden revoked a presidential permit signed by his predecessor which would have allowed the expansion to continue.
The move dealt an especially hard blow to Alberta and Saskatchewan, whose energy sectors were counting on the US$8-billion project.
Speaking after the meeting, Trudeau said he and Biden are on “the same page when it comes to standing up for the middle class and people working hard to join it.”
“And with millions of families relying on the Canada-U.S. partnership, this is work we must do,” he said. “Just take the energy industry – Canadian energy workers power homes on both sides of the border. It just goes to show that we’re all better off for this partnership.”
Trudeau said the leaders discussed “leveraging supply chains and support for businesses to create good, well-paying jobs and help people who have been hit hardest get back on their feet.”
It was not immediately clear whether the leaders spoke about Keystone XL, or any other pipeline project during the closed-door session.
However, asked by reporters about the Keystone XL pipeline project ahead of the bilateral meeting, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Biden had been “very consistent” about his intent to revoke the permit, adding that he had conversations with Trudeau about the matter.
She said Trudeau has previously raised his concerns directly with Biden.
“And he’s of course welcome to today,” she said. “But the president has made clear that this is a commitment that he has made in the past, that it’s not in the interest of the United States and that we want to try to address our climate crisis while also creating good paying, union jobs.”
Tackling climate change
The leaders did discuss, however, their shared plans for fighting climate change.
During the 2020 presidential election, Biden promised to tackle climate change, and said he would shift the United States from fossil fuels and towards green energy.
Now, a little over a month into his tenure, Biden has already signed a number of executive orders to deal with global warming, including rejoining the Paris Agreement, from which former president Donald Trump had removed the country.
“Now that the United States is back in the Paris Agreement, we intend to demonstrate our leadership in order to spur other countries to raise their own ambitions,” Biden said.
“Canada and the United States are going to work in lock-step to display the seriousness of our commitment at both home and abroad.”
In opening remarks ahead of the meeting, Trudeau thanked the new president for “stepping up in such a big way on tackling climate change.”
“U.S. leadership has been sorely missed over the past years,” he said.
A cordial meeting
Trudeau joined the meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau in Ottawa.
Biden, along with Vice-President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken joined the meeting from the Roosevelt Room of the White House.
Tuesday’s event marked Biden’s first bilateral meeting as president.
However, it was not the first time the two leaders have spoken during Biden’s tenure.
The prime minister and president spoke via phone just days after Biden assumed office in January.
Trudeau also spoke to Vice-President Harris by phone earlier this month.
Both Trudeau and Biden stressed the importance of the countries’ partnership.
After the meeting, the leaders released a joint statement titled ‘Roadmap for a Renewed U.S-Canada Partnership’ which they say “establishes a blueprint for an ambitious and whole-of-government effort against the COVID-19 pandemic and in support of mutual prosperity.”
“It creates a partnership on climate change, advances global health security, bolsters cooperation on defense and security, and it reaffirms a shared commitment to diversity, equity and justice,” the document signed by both leaders read.