Episode 46, Season 10
Sunday, September 26, 2021
Host: Mercedes Stephenson
Michael Kovrig, Freed Canadian Captive
Veena Nadjibullah, wife of Michael Kovrig (separated)
Ariana Botha, Michael Kovrig’s sister
Marc Garneau, Foreign Minister
Rachel Notley, Alberta NDP leader
Location: Ottawa, ON
Mercedes Stephenson: This week on The West Block: Imprisoned for 1,020 days in China. The two Michaels are finally free.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “About 12 minutes ago the plane carrying Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor left Chinese airspace.”
Mercedes Stephenson: The hostages are no longer there, as they land on Canadian soil.
Michael Kovrig, Freed Canadian Captive: “Knowing that so many Canadians and others, who were aware of our situation and were sending messages of support, really meant a lot to us so thank you. Thank you all for that.”
Mercedes Stephenson: Meng Wanzhou was granted her freedom just hours after her US extradition request was dropped.
Ariana Botha, Michael Kovrig’s sister: “I’m still learning how to breathe again, because I feel like I’ve been holding my breath for almost three years.”
Mercedes StephensonCases of dramatic reversal were not linked to Beijing’s claims.
Chinese Ambassador to Canada Kang Peiwu: “There is no connection between these cases. They are completely different.”
Mercedes StephensonWhat are the lessons of hostage diplomacy for Canada’s foreign policy? And will Ottawa now ban Huawei? Foreign Minister Marc Garneau is on the show.
26 is septemberth, and this is The West Block.
Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor returned to Canada under cover of darkness, accompanied by Dominic Barton, Canada’s ambassador to China. The operation was so sensitive that the Canadian government did not even disclose that the two men were on their way home until their plane had exited Chinese airspace. Few expected the two Michaels to be released so soon by China, who had long denied a connection between Meng Wanzhou and the Canadians’ affairs, but what a welcome surprise it was. After watching and waiting for almost three years, the country can celebrate.
West Block was able to catch up with Michael Kovrig, his wife Veena Nadjibullah and their sister Ariana Botha at Ariana’s home in Toronto just hours after their arrival.
Veena Nadjibullah, wife of Michael Kovrig (separated): “Hi Mercedes.”
Mercedes Stephenson: The family was eager to thank the Canadians for their support and the immense joy and relief was evident when they were together again.
Veena Nadjibullah, wife of Michael Kovrig (separated): “It’s amazing.”
Mercedes Stephenson: Here’s what he has to say.
Hello Michael, Veena and Ariana. Most welcome! We are very excited to see you. It’s just an incredible moment. Michael, what do you want to say to Canadians?
Michael Kovrig, Freed Canadian Captive: I just want to say thank you to all Canadians for the overwhelming support and so many efforts to help Michael Spavor and me get home, this was really moving forward. And knowing that so many people who knew about the situation cared about the situation really helped us get through a very tough time, and we are much happier now. I am so happy to be back in Canada to be back home with my family, and I am really looking forward to reconnecting with friends and family and finally getting out and seeing all the beauty of Canada. So I am very happy and thank you very much.
Mercedes Stephenson: Well we are all very happy to have you home.
Veena, how do you feel about it? You have fought a lot for Michael’s freedom. How many times have we talked to you? You’ve just been a complete warrior. What’s the day for you, how are you?
Veena Nadjibullah, wife of Michael Kovrig (separated): I feel great, Mercedes. It’s been an incredible day. I’m speechless It’s hard to find the right words right now, but there’s an ocean of gratitude, an overwhelming amount of relief and just the joy that the day has finally come that Michael is home, that he’s safe, that he’s healthy and that we’re finally here. No? We brought them home and it is because of all the Canadians who have been with us every step of the way. Just two weeks ago, we walked for them, 7,000 steps for their freedom and here they are in Canada. Thank you.
Mercedes Stephenson: How was that moment when you first saw Michael get off the plane and you were able to hug him?
Veena Nadjibullah, wife of Michael Kovrig (separated): Hard to describe.
Michael Kovrig, Freed Canadian Captive: Indescribably intense, let’s just say, and leave it at that. Thank you.
Veena Nadjibullah, wife of Michael Kovrig (separated): Thanks. Yes. We just need some time to recover and rest.
Michael Kovrig, Freed Canadian Captive: Absolutely.
Veena Nadjibullah, wife of Michael Kovrig (separated): But thank you very much, Mercedes, and everyone. Thank you.
Mercedes Stephenson: May I ask you what you have planned for tonight? What do you want to do first and what do you want to do? Is there a favorite food or drink or…?
Ariana Botha, Michael Kovrig’s sister: Oh yes, I didn’t ask you. We are ordering in tonight.
Veena Nadjibullah, wife of Michael Kovrig (separated): We haven’t got there yet. We’ll get there, but thanks. Thanks a lot.
Michael Kovrig, Freed Canadian Captive: I haven’t planned that far ahead.
Ariana Botha, Michael Kovrig’s sister: Whatever he wants. Whoever he wants
Mercedes Stephenson: Absolutely.
Ariana Botha, Michael Kovrig’s sister: I’ll do it.
Michael Kovrig, Freed Canadian Captive: I’m almost running—I’ve been running on almost two hours of sleep over the last 24 hours so I don’t have any exciting plans yet.
Mercedes Stephenson: I think it’s a very well deserved nap. But we are very happy to have you with us. Thank you so much for taking the time out for us. We do not wish to interfere with your family time any further. We wish you all the best. We look forward to talking to you again soon. Our love to you all and please take care of yourself.
Michael Kovrig, Freed Canadian Captive: Thanks. Thanks a lot.
Veena Nadjibullah, wife of Michael Kovrig (separated): Thanks. Thank you very much, Mercedes. Bye.
Ariana Botha, Michael Kovrig’s sister: Bye.
Mercedes Stephenson: Now with me is Foreign Minister Mark Garneau. Thank you for taking time out for us, Minister. Can you tell us about the moment you found out the two Michaels were coming home?
Marc Garneau, Foreign Minister: Well, Mercedes, it was definitely a very emotional moment because we’ve been working on this file, as you know, for a very long time and to really get to the point where we knew that The two Michaels were coming home, and being there especially when I was in Calgary on a Saturday morning, watching them touch Canadian soil, was something I will remember for the rest of my life. It was a moment when I think of the joy that was shared by all Canadians. It was certainly a very, very clear yesterday, a wave of joy swept across the country.
Mercedes Stephenson: Absolutely, a very happy moment. Rare good news, which everyone was celebrating. Can you tell me a little bit, Minister, what role did your government play in freeing the two Michaels? I mean, obviously, the US dropped the extradition request, but what were the discussions between you and your Chinese counterpart and you and your American counterpart?
Marc Garneau, Foreign Minister: Well, some of these details will come out over time, but we’ve always been very busy with the United States, myself, with Secretary Lincoln, Prime Minister with the President. He realized how important it was for us to find a way to bring the two Michaels home. And I also have to say that our Ambassador to China, Dominic Barton, who was very busy on the Chinese side, so it all came together. The moment when it came together was when the decision regarding judicial proceedings was taken and called a separate prosecution agreement. It was really the moment we felt that together we had turned the corner and it enabled the return of two Michaels.
Mercedes Stephenson: I think the pace of the comeback surprised a lot of people,…