Just a day before China released a Canadian who has been held for two years on allegations that he was a spy, Canada quietly agreed to negotiate an extradition treaty with the Communist dictatorship.
Canadian Kevin Garratt was detained two years ago on charges of spying and stealing state secrets. Last week, Garratt was abruptly convicted and released, prompting at least one former diplomat to raise questions about whether the two events were linked.
"Canada showing willingness to engage with China on extradition was probably a key element in the timing of Mr. Garratt's release" said Charles Burton, a political science professor at Brock University and a former counsellor at the Canadian embassy in Beijing. "There certainly seems to be a connection between those two."
Foreign Minister Stephane Dion has denied that any kind of deal was made for Garratt's release.
"Prime Minister Trudeau doesn't do these kinds of things," Dion told reporters on Friday.
According to a joint press release on the Prime Minister's website, national security advisor Daniel Jean met with a top Chinese official on September 12 in Beijing for the first of their "high-level" meetings on national security, during which they discussed counterterrorism, cybersecurity, transnational organized crime, law enforcement, consular issues, and judicial cooperation.
Jean and Wang Yonqing, secretary general of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the Communist Party came out of the talks with a number of short-term goals, including starting discussions on an extradition treaty, a transfer of offenders treaty, as well as an agreement that would allow Chinese experts to work with the Canada Border Services Agency identify people who are inadmissible people from mainland China.
Burton said in exchange for agreeing to negotiations on extradition, among other things, Canada hopes to benefit from China's economic rise.
"We're hoping the Chinese government will expand the Chinese market to allow more goods and services to be sold there, and right now there are quite a number of non-tariff barriers to our full access to that market," he said.
But what the extradition treaty will look like, in light of various concerns surrounding China's human rights record and judicial system, remains to be seen.
For one, Burton points out that China has never been forthcoming about who it would like to see extradited from Canada and why. Last April, the country released a list of its 100 most wanted fugitives — 26 are believed to be in Canada, and 40 are believed to be in the US, which doesn't have an extradition treaty with China.
China must "speed up the signing of extradition treaties and establish law-enforcement co-operation with destination countries for those who have fled abroad," Huang Shuxian, deputy head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, wrote in a Communist Party publication in June, according to Reuters.
From 2009 to 2015, Canada sent home 1,400 Chinese people, although most of those cases were immigration-related.
China has been known to impose the death penalty for serious economic crimes, and has been accused of regularly using torture during interrogations.
In February, the United Nations Committee Against Torture expressed serious concern over "consistent reports indicating that the practice of torture and ill treatment is still deeply entrenched in the [Chinese] criminal-justice system, which overly relies on confessions as the basis for convictions."
"We wouldn't be able to send anyone back to China unless we got assurance that they wouldn't be subject to the death penalty, and in general, lack of due process of law in the Chinese judicial system, and the pervasive use to torture in the interrogation would be of great concern to us," said Burton.
But the Chinese government has shown its willingness to make concessions on the death penalty in the past.
For example, Lai Changxing, who was accused of running a multi-billion dollar smuggling operation in China, was sent back in 2011 only after China promised that he wouldn't be tortured or executed, and that Canadian officials would be able to check on him in prison.
"But if we're going to be sending back a large number of Chinese people—because there are quite a large number of potential candidates for extradition, according to the Chinese government—it would be hard for us to monitor [them all]," Burton said.
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