A call this week from former high-level Canadian officials to politically intervene to end extradition proceedings against Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou would set a dangerous precedent, say a chorus of critics including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Nineteen former federal cabinet ministers, parliamentarians, and diplomats signed an open letter urging the federal government to intervene in the extradition case against Meng in exchange for the release of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who have been arbitrarily detained in China since December 2018.
But at a press briefing on June 25 Trudeau rejected the idea, saying such a move could encourage more of the same and endanger Canadians abroad.
“If countries around the world, including China, realize that by arbitrarily arresting random Canadians they can get what they want out of Canada politically … that makes an awful lot more Canadians who travel around the world vulnerable to that kind of pressure,” he said,
“We cannot allow political pressure or random arrests of Canadian citizens to influence the functioning of our justice system.”
In a reaction to news of the letter, former B.C. premier and federal Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh said he was “shocked and embarrassed” in a tweet on June 24.
“Bowing to China’s bullying & ignoring rule of law would only encourage other bullies to push Canada around,” he said.
Meng was arrested in Vancouver on Dec. 1, 2018, at the behest of the United States in connection with bank and wire fraud in violation of American sanctions on Iran. Nine days later, Kovrig and Spavor were detained in China.
Beijing had denied a direct link between the arrest of Meng and the detention of the two Canadian men until June 24, when a Chinese official admitted Ottawa’s intervention in Meng’s case could “open up space for resolution.”
In a media briefing June 24, Zhao Lijian, the spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, cited comments made by Kovrig’s wife to media outlets saying Canada’s justice minister has the power to end the extradition case “at any point.”
“Such options are within the rule of law and could open up space for resolution to the situation of the two Canadians,” Zhao said, referring to Kovrig and Spavor.
The open letter, which made a similar argument about the legality of Ottawa interfering in Meng’s case, was made public on June 23. Zhao’s comment came the following day, while Kovrig’s wife’s call for Ottawa to do more to free her husband by ending proceedings for Meng’s extradition was made a few days previously.
Letter Widely Criticized
The letter to Trudeau came under heavy criticism for rewarding China’s so-called “hostage diplomacy” tactics and setting a dangerous precedent by kowtowing to Beijing’s demands.
Signatories to the letter include Jean Chretien-era ministers Lloyd Axworthy and Andre Ouellet, former Conservative minister and ambassador Lawrence Cannon, former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour, and former diplomat Robert Fowler, who was himself taken hostage in 2008 in Niger.
David Mulroney, a former Canadian Ambassador to China, said the signatories to the letter are making the “wrong call” and at a time when Canada needs to send a strong message to China.
“One of the things I see China doing if we acquiesce to hostage diplomacy is upping the ante and seeking to have Canada repatriate people in Canada to China that are on their wanted list. They could be Uighur-Canadians or Tibetans or dual nationals. China is quite capable of doing all of these things,” Mulroney said on CBC’s Power & Politics.
Quebec Senator and former Senate speaker Leo Housakos said the signatories to the letter are “the ones responsible for giving China a pass for years on violations of human rights.”
“They are the apologists for this dictatorial regime. All in pursuit of retainers and representing profiteers at the expense of Canadian values,” he said in a tweet on June 24.
Housakos also criticized Sen. Yuen Pau Woo, leader of the Independent Senator’s Group, for advocating on behalf of stopping extradition for Meng in the Senate on June 23. Woo, who was appointed by Trudeau in 2016, has been a strong advocate for closer ties between Canada and China in the past; in his first speech in the Senate, he spoke against a motion critical of China’s aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea.
Conservative leadership candidate Erin O’Toole called the letter “incredibly naive” in a tweet on June 24, saying “Canada cannot allow our principled approach to justice and the rule of law to be compromised by Communist Chinese influence.”
Mayor of Coquitlam Brad West also commented on the letter. “The one trick pony gang that has been promising that 30 years or so of sycophantism would be to our great benefit orders up more of the same,” he said in a tweet.
Meanwhile more than a dozen senators sent a separate letter to Trudeau on June 23, calling on the federal government to take a stand against Beijing and impose sanctions on Chinese officials for “gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
Citing China’s crackdown on democratic rights in Hong Kong, detention of Uighur Muslims, decades-long repression of Tibet, and its imprisonment of Canadians, the senators describe the regime in Beijing as the “biggest threat to mankind and a danger to international security.”