Justin Trudeau downplayed concerns about an extradition treaty his government is negotiating with China, touting Canada's "high standards" as critics questioned its ability to enforce them.
The prime minister announced that he would be setting up a security forum with his Chinese counterparts to, as he phrased it at an Ottawa press conference on Wednesday, "discuss issues of concern, issues of mutual benefit, issues that Canadians and others are preoccupied with." That forum, announced during Trudeau's state visit to the dictatorship, is a precursor to discussions about an extradition treaty that would formalize Chinese ability to request its citizens be apprehended by Canadian authorities and deported, and vice versa. Beijing has been ratcheting up efforts to repatriate white collar criminals. When asked what safeguards Ottawa can put in place, and whether or not the government can be truly confident that China will even respect them, Trudeau invoked Canada's relationship with its southern neighbour. "Canada has always had very high standards with regards to extradition treaties, no matter the country," Trudeau said. "For example, our engagement against capital punishment, which has been place for 40 years, says that even with a country like the United States, we don't extradite if they're facing the death penalty." But there remain questions as to how Trudeau can guarantee that China, which has flagrantly violated human rights laws and standards for decades, will respect Canada's extradition terms. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair slammed the idea on Wednesday morning. "Dictatorships are not good things," said Mulcair, adding: "When you sign an extradition treaty, you have to make sure it's with someone who shares your core values. "What's the benefit to Canada in having an extradition treaty with China?" Indeed, even China's official extradition policy maintains that where a state grants China's request "with strings attached," China may "make assurance on condition that the sovereignty, national interests and public interests of the People's Republic of China are not impaired." The law goes on that any restrictions on the prosecution "shall be subject to decision by the Supreme People's Procuratorate" and that the ultimate penalty will be the "subject to decision by the Supreme People's Court." The Supreme People's Court is the highest court in mainland China, and is authorized to issue the death penalty in a litany of cases, including economic crimes like bribery. China largely employs firing squads and lethal injection in its executions. At present, Beijing has signed extradition treaties with 39 nations. If Canada were to become the 40th, it would be one of the few G20 nations to do so—alongside Australia, Russia, and South Africa. The United Kingdom, the United States, and other allies have not signed deals with Beijing. When the issue was raised in the United States last year, Jerome A. Cohen, a law professor and director of its US-Asia Law Institute, wrote in Foreign Policy magazine that the idea was a terrible one. "There is a reason why the United States and most democratic nations do not have extradition treaties with China. That reason is China's criminal justice system, which, 26 years after the Tiananmen tragedy, has still failed to meet the minimum standards of international due process of law," Cohen wrote. But Trudeau has consistently defended his decision to seek such an agreement with Beijing. "The fact is that the relationship with China during the previous government was very inconsistent. What we needed to do was set a robust, positive relationship in which we could bring up a range of issues and concerns," Trudeau said. The prime minister added that there have already been successes. "We've been able to deliver concretely, already, positive things for Canadians, whether it's consular cases being resolved, or potential for investments through the new agreement with alibaba with our small and medium-sized businesses," Trudeau said. The consular case Trudeau referred to was that of Kevin Garrett, who was accused by China of being a spy. He was released from a Chinese prison prior to Trudeau's visit, although Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion has maintained that there was no concessions made for Garratt's release. Follow Justin Ling on Twitter.