OTTAWA -- Vina Nadjibulla, wife of Michael Kovrig -- who along with Michael Spavor has been detained in China for more than 565 days -- says she’s “disappointed” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won’t consider exchanging the detainees for Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou because he thinks it would endanger other Canadians abroad.

In her view, it doesn’t need to be a question of one or the other.

“I would never wish on any other Canadian family to experience what we have experienced… but what I also believe is that we cannot ensure the protection of Canadians in the future, at the cost of Michael's freedom today,” she said in an interview with Evan Solomon, host of CTV’s Question Period, adding that she fully agrees the government has a responsibility to make sure what’s happened to her husband never happens to another Canadian.

Faced with the suggestion of some form of swap, the prime minister strongly shot down the idea saying that if countries around the world, including China saw that “arbitrarily arresting random Canadians” would be leverage to “get what they want out of Canada,” that it would put Canadians abroad at risk.

“We can do both. It isn't a question of, ‘We need to do everything we can to release Michael,’ or, ‘We protect Canadians in the future.’ Both have to be on the table, and the government has a responsibility to do both,” Nadjibulla said in response to Trudeau’s position.

She said the government could work to put in place international protocols for dealing with hostage diplomacy alongside all the allied countries that have expressed concern over the detention of the two men.

Further, she expressed skepticism that Canada releasing Meng in exchange for Kovrig and Spavor would really embolden China.

“China is very difficult to influence when it comes to their decision making and history teaches us that what we do in this situation may or may not influence what they do in the future,” she said.


Trudeau made his remarks one day after a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry said that Canada halting its attempt to extradite Meng could affect the fates of Kovrig and Spavor.

That statement, which is contained in an English-language transcript of a press briefing dated Wednesday, is a departure from China's long-standing position that the arrests of the two Canadians were not connected to Canada's arrest of Meng, the chief financial officer of Huawei who has been under house arrest in Vancouver for the past 18 months. Canada is attempting to extradite her to the U.S., where she is accused of violating sanctions against Iran.

Kovrig and Spavor were arrested separately in the days following Meng's arrest. Both men had been held in China without charges from December 2018 until last week, when they were formally charged with espionage.

This week a group of 19 high-profile former diplomats, politicians and academics wrote Trudeau saying that "the time is past due" for Canada to halt Meng's extradition process in order to get "the two Michaels" released.

"We believe [Kovrig and Spavor] will remain in their Chinese prison cells until Meng is free to return to China," they wrote in the letter.

Speaking about the letter, Nadjibulla said that while she is “disappointed” that Trudeau rejected his solution, she is relieved that the country is finally having a broader conversation about what can be done and to push the Liberals to consider the options to resolve the two men’s “prolonged and painful detention.

“There is no easy way out of this, there is no cost-free solution. We have to pay a price. The question becomes, who pays the highest price and at the moment? Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are paying that price, and I believe Canadians understand that that is fundamentally unjust,” she said.


Asked whether she thinks Canada is being used in this situation by the United States, who made the extradition request, Nadjibulla said there is more to the story than Canada facing bullying from China and that there are fair questions about Canada’s decision to arrest Meng.

“While we should not give in to bullying from China, we should also not give in to bullying from the United States, and in general this whole situation is a lot more complex,” she said.

“Yes, there are U.S. dimensions to this that haven't been fully explored and need to be.”


In a separate panel discussion, Robert Fowler, a former Canadian diplomat, said “we owe them an obligation to bend every effort we can to get them free.”

In 2008 Fowler, while working as a UN special envoy to Niger, was captured by al Qaeda and held hostage in the Sahara Desert for 130 days.

He said he doesn’t buy Trudeau’s argument that what Canada does here will change China’s behavior, or embolden them to detain other Canadians in the future because as he sees it: “They’re going to continue behaving badly whatever we do, so let’s get these guys out.”

Though, former CSIS director and national security adviser to the prime minister Richard Fadden disagrees. “We shouldn’t give in to blackmail and to bullying,” he said, but added the government should do everything else it can up to the point of exchanging Meng for Spavor and Kovrig.

“I don’t think the government has done anywhere near as much as it can do… We tried the quiet diplomatic route, that hasn’t worked,” Fadden said.

He added that while he can imagine the struggles these men and their families are experiencing, he doesn’t think it’s in the broader national interest to start down that path.

“The government needs to up its game, I totally agree with that, I just don’t think we should go so far as to say to the Chinese: ‘Yep, we’ve had it, bring the guys back,’” said Fadden.

Responding to questions about the adequacy of the federal government’s efforts to date, Trudeau told reporters on Friday that officials are “working actively in many ways.”

“We have established processes, some public, some private, and diplomatic behind the scenes… I can assure Canadians that we are continuing to do everything that is maximizing our chances of bringing them home in the right way,” Trudeau said.

“Obviously, this is a long and difficult process for the families of Mr. Kovrig and Spavor. This is a frustrating situation for many Canadians, and we need to bring these Michaels home,” said the prime minister.

With Canada Day coming up Nadjibulla said she hopes people take a moment on July 1 to remember those who are jailed in China and want to come home.

“The plea that he [Kovrig] has for me and for others, is to be relentless. He has been resilient. He has been incredible. But there is a limit to everything,” she said.