OTTAWA—Chinese Premier Li Keqiang defended China’s use of the death penalty when asked about an extradition treaty with Canada during a joint press conference with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Sept 22.
“If we abolish the death penalty, more innocent people will probably lose their lives. Many developed countries also maintain the death penalty,” said Li.
Li said Chinese law provides for the humane treatment of prisoners and that judicial and law enforcement personnel follow those rules strictly. Human rights groups disagree, as do many members of Parliament.
Conservative foreign affairs critic Peter Kent said any extradition treaty must include an absolute guarantee no individual sent back to China would face the death penalty given “the unfortunate history that China has of extrajudicial arrests and imprisonment, torture in prison, and execution on some of the flimsiest of charges.”
One of Trudeau’s top advisers overseeing the possible extradition treaty, however, told the previous government that China’s so-called “economic fugitives” don’t belong on Canadian soil, according to files obtained by The Canadian Press.
Then-deputy minister Daniel Jean offered that advice in a 2015 briefing note to the former Conservative government prior to his appointment in May as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s national security adviser.
“Canada does not want to be seen as a safe haven for fugitives and it is in Canada’s interest to have such persons removed,” said the note, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.
In his new role with the Liberal government, Jean was in Beijing last week for the start of a new “high-level dialogue” between Canada and China on national security and the rule of law—talks that include breaking ground on an extradition treaty.
Word of those talks sparked opposition charges Tuesday, Sept. 20, that the Liberals were abandoning their human rights principles. Two major human rights organizations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, questioned Canada’s pursuit of an extradition deal, saying it doesn’t square with China’s rights record, including its widespread use of the death penalty.
China has mounted a vigorous international campaign to hunt down alleged economic criminals on foreign soil it says have absconded with millions of dollars of assets.
In the briefing note, Jean further describes Canada’s response to China’s 2014 campaign, dubbed “Operation Fox Hunt,” an outgrowth of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign in which he “vowed to swat down both ‘tigers’ and ‘flies,’ regardless of their level, in efforts to clean up the Communist Party in China.”
The targets were “corrupt public officials and private citizens alleged to have committed economic crimes such as financial fraud against persons, businesses and banks.” The Chinese government estimated in 2014 that 208 people had fled with an estimated $1.93 million.
Even if China wants to bring back legitimate economic criminals, there are widespread human rights concerns about the Chinese legal system, said Amnesty International Secretary General Alex Neve.
“It’s impossible to imagine how you would have an extradition treaty that would line up with Canada’s obligations to not send people to face the death penalty,” Neve said in an interview.
“It’s very clear that China regularly seeks the return to China of individuals who are wanted for political reasons or religious reasons.”
Sophie Richardson, China Director at Human Rights Watch, said it is “peculiar” for Canada to be pursing an extradition treaty with China because it is one of three countries—including the United States and Australia—that have rebuffed Beijing’s requests in the past.
“I think China’s particular interest in pushing this with Canada at the moment is to then be able to say to the U.S. and Australia, ‘They did it, why won’t you?”‘
With or without a treaty, “the standard rules of the road are that you cannot forcibly return anyone to a country where they face a well-founded fear of persecution, or ill-treatment,” she added.
Defence minister Harjit Sajjan said Canada will address China’s use of the death penalty during future negotiations.
On Tuesday, Trudeau told a news conference in New York that Canada would not be compromising its own values for the sake of diplomatic expediency.
“Extradition is certainly one of the things the Chinese have indicated they wanted to talk about. But as everyone knows, Canada has very high standards in terms of extradition treaties, in accordance with our values,” he said.
With files from The Canadian Press