Canada’s ambassador to China says the Huawei executive arrested at the request of the US has “quite good arguments on her side” to fight extradition, including political involvement from US President Donald Trump.
Meng Wanzhou, a 46-year-old chief financial officer for the Chinese telecom giant was arrested in Vancouver last month, sparking diplomatic tensions between China and Canada.
The US accuses her of banking fraud involving a company called Skycom, a “hidden” subsidiary of Huawei that did business in Iran, in violation of the US’ sanctions against the country.
In a press conference with members of the Chinese-language media in Markham on Tuesday, Canada’s ambassador to China John McCallum unexpectedly offering legal advice to Meng, outlined three arguments that she could use to fight extradition.
"One, political involvement by comments from Donald Trump in her case. Two, there's an extraterritorial aspect to her case, and three, there's the issue of Iran sanctions which are involved in her case, and Canada does not sign on to these Iran sanctions. So I think she has some strong arguments that she can make before a judge," McCallum said in his opening remarks.
Trump said in an interview last month that he would intervene in the case against Meng if it would help him secure a trade deal with Beijing.
“If I think it’s good for the country, if I think it’s good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made – which is a very important thing—what’s good for national security—I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary,” Trump told Reuters, adding that she could potentially be released.
“Well, it’s possible that a lot of different things could happen. It’s also possible it will be a part of negotiations. But we’ll speak to the Justice Department, we’ll speak to them, we’ll get a lot of people involved,” he said.
Asked by reporters if he agreed with McCallum that Meng had a strong case, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau didn’t directly answer the question, but said Canada is a “country of the rule of law” and that “of course includes the opportunity for her to mount a strong defense.”
Some foreign affairs observers questioned whether or not McCallum’s comments were authorized by the government, which has stressed that it has no involvement in the proceedings, as well as the strategic thinking behind them. Opposition leader Andrew Scheer took the criticism a step further, saying if he were prime minister, he would fire McCallum as ambassador.
“We can’t on the one hand go and defend our actions to the Chinese government by saying these decisions are made by arms length independent security officials, the RCMP, CSIS, those types of organizations, if on the other hand, the government is using our ambassador to China to interfere in the process to obtain a desired outcome,” Scheer said on CBC’s Power and Politics on Wednesday.
“It will undermine our ability to stand up for our judicial system, our investigative systems in the future if the link is being made as it seems to have been with Mr. McCallum.”
Roland Paris, a former foreign policy advisor to the Trudeau government and an international affairs professor at the University of Ottawa, told VICE News he expects Meng’s lawyers to use all three defenses proposed by McCallum.
“If they do, it will be up to the court to assess whether Mr. Trump’s comments raise doubts about the US extradition request,” he said.
Craig Forcese, who teaches national security law at the University of Ottawa, however, said on Twitter that Canada’s extradition law is being “misconstrued” and that it is Canada’s justice minister who will ultimately make the decision.
Forcese also pointed out that Canada’s extradition rate, once requests are made, is “very very high.” Last year, CBC reported that 90 percent of people arrested for extradition to other countries over the last decade were eventually surrendered, with some critics calling for reforms to Canada’s extradition laws.
McCallum said on Tuesday that the federal government has not been involved, and that it’s a judge at the BC Supreme Court who will ultimately decide whether or not Meng will be extradited.
"It's purely a judicial process. There may come a time when the justice minister is required to give a view, but that will not be for some months to come," he said.
"I know this has angered China, but we have a system of extradition treaty, a system of rules of law, which are above the government. The government cannot change these things, and as I said, I think Ms. Meng has quite a strong case."
The United States does plan to file a formal extradition request, according to Canada’s ambassador to the US David McNaughton, who told The Globe and Mail that he had expressed Canada’s anger to the US about what has happened since Meng’s arrest—two Canadians have been detained in China, and another has been sentenced to death by a Chinese court.
"We don’t like that it is our citizens who are being punished,” MacNaughton told the Globe. "[The Americans] are the ones seeking to have the full force of American law brought against [Ms. Meng] and yet we are the ones who are paying the price. Our citizens are.”
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