Freeland, Harris discuss COVID-19 recovery, Canadians detained in China in 1st call

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland held her first call with U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris on Thursday, a discussion that touched on migration from Central America, the impact of the COVID-19 recession and the continued detention of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in China.

Migration was one of the issues raised in the call, according to a statement from Canada’s Department of Finance. 

U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday named Harris to lead U.S. efforts with Mexico and Central American countries to try to stem the flow of migrants to the United States.

“Both leaders agreed on the importance of addressing the root causes and the need for people to have real opportunities at home,” the statement said.

Freeland and Harris previously took part in the virtual bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Biden on Feb. 23.

Pandemic recovery highlighted 

Freeland and Harris also discussed the economic blow dealt by the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically “the continued need to support entrepreneurs, small businesses, young people, low-wage and racialized workers, the care economy, and women.”

A report published earlier this month by the Labour Market Information Council, an Ottawa-based research group, said women have been hit especially hard by the pandemic. Employment among women remains about 5.3 per cent below where it sat in February 2020 — just before the first wave of COVID-19 — compared to a drop of about 3.7 per cent for men.

The call also highlighted the plight of Canadians Kovrig and Spavor and efforts to bring them home.

The two men were detained in China on Dec. 10, 2018, nine days after Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies, was arrested by Canadian officials while she was changing planes in Vancouver.

Meng was arrested on a U.S. extradition request over allegations she lied to a Hong Kong banker in August 2013 about Huawei’s control of a subsidiary accused of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. The arrest and detention of Kovrig and Spavor were widely seen as an act of reprisal for Meng’s arrest.

In their call, Freeland and Harris “highlighted the unacceptable arbitrary detention” of Kovrig and Spavor “and that both countries continue to demand their immediate release.”

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