In a scene from the pre-COVID world in December 2019, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sat down for an interview in a crowded, bustling Italian restaurant in Montreal. Clinging on to power with a minority government, Trudeau’s Liberal Party had just survived a bruising election. But with Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou still under house arrest in Vancouver, and Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor enduring harsh conditions in Chinese prisons, CBC host Vassy Kapelos was also keen to ask the prime minister about Canada’s frayed relations with China.
Trudeau pointed out that Canada still had a “multifaceted, complex relationship with China.” Trade and investment stood on the one side and human rights challenges on the other. After Kapelos pressed the prime minister on whether Canadians shared that nuanced perspective considering Beijing’s detainment of up to one million Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang and its political crackdown in Hong Kong, Trudeau retorted that she should “talk to our canola farmers,” “the lobster fishermen on the East Coast,” and “the cherry growers in the Okanagan.”