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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to the media during the final day of the Liberal cabinet retreat, at the Fairmont Hotel, in Winnipeg, on Jan. 21, 2020.Mike Sudoma/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is rejecting a potential “prisoner exchange” to obtain the freedom of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, despite his inability to use recent China-U.S. trade talks as leverage to secure the release of the two Canadians detained in China.

During a cabinet retreat in Winnipeg, Mr. Trudeau shot down the possibility of intervening in the case of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. executive Meng Wanzhou, who is currently fighting her proposed extradition to the United States, even if it can lead to the freeing of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor. The proposal for a “prisoner exchange” has been pitched on a number of occasions by members of Canada’s business community as a way to ease tensions with China, most recently by Eddie Goldenberg, a lawyer who was a senior aide to former prime minister Jean Chrétien.

“We are a country of the rule of law and we will abide by the rule of law,” Mr. Trudeau said at news conference Tuesday morning.

Last December, Mr. Trudeau said in a television interview that the United States should not sign a final and complete trade deal with China that does not settle the question of Ms. Meng and the two Canadians. There is now a deal in place between China and the United States, but there has been no visible progress in the case of the two detained Canadians.

“We have been engaged, as a priority measure, in securing the return of the two Michaels and clemency for Robert Schellenberg [who is facing the death penalty in China],” Mr. Trudeau said. “We have engaged very closely with the United States on many different paths in terms of resolving this situation.”

On Canada’s efforts to obtain a full investigation into the downing of Flight 752 earlier this month, Mr. Trudeau urged Iran to speed up the process under which flight recorders recovered from the crash site are analyzed by experts. The procedure would need to be conducted in countries such as Ukraine or France given that Iran does not have the necessary technology to do the work, he said.

“We are preoccupied that the black boxes are not already being analyzed,” he said. “We strongly call on Iran to send the black boxes somewhere where they have the capacity to conduct a full analysis as quickly as possible.”

He added the fact that Iran does not recognize dual citizenship has posed a challenge in Canada’s efforts to fight for the rights of the families of the 57 Canadians who died in the crash.

The cabinet retreat was designed in large part to define the Liberal government’s legislative agenda and its strategy to deal with a minority Parliament when the House of Commons resumes next week. Mr. Trudeau said that legislation to ratify the renegotiated trade deal with the United States and Mexico will be tabled on Wednesday, Jan. 29.

“Passing the new NAFTA in Parliament is our priority,” he said, urging opposition parties to agree to the ratification of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement “as quickly as possible.”

Mr. Trudeau and Liberal ministers have said other priorities in Parliament will be to enact their gun-control agenda, implement their climate and environmental plan and improve health care.

The government will also need to introduce legislation in the coming weeks to reform Canada’s assisted-dying law to conform to a court ruling. Last September, the Quebec Superior Court invalidated the section of the law that restricted the measure to patients facing a “reasonably foreseeable” death.

Mr. Trudeau said his government has known “from the start” that the law would evolve along with the views of Canadians on assisted dying. Ottawa is currently conducting consultations on potential reforms and he said he will wait for the results of the process before determining the content of the legislative amendment to the law.​

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