JUNE 24, 2020
OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau is under high-profile domestic pressure to halt the extradition process that could send Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou to the United States — a move that would almost certainly anger the White House.
Nineteen prominent Canadians — including a former Supreme Court justice, former foreign affairs ministers and former ambassadors to Washington — sent a letter to the prime minister dated Tuesday calling on him to instruct his justice minister, David Lametti, to free Meng. A copy of the letter was obtained by POLITICO.
The letter’s signatories argue that Trudeau must act to ensure the freedom of two Canadians — Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — who were rounded up in China in December 2018, days after Meng’s arrest in Vancouver. Last week, Chinese authorities formally charged the men, known by many Canadians as the “Two Michaels,” with espionage.
“We contend that the time is past due for the Minister to do just that: to end the Meng extradition proceeding and to bring the Two Michaels home,” says the letter co-signed by notables including Louise Arbour, a former Supreme Court of Canada justice who was chief prosecutor for U.N. war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
“Their detention was completely unlawful and unjustified. Reliable accounts describe their conditions of confinement as tantamount to torture. The Two Michaels were taken in direct retaliation for the arrest in Canada of Meng Wanzhou.”
Meng’s case — based on fraud charges connected to her alleged violation of American sanctions on Iran — has launched middleweight Canada into the ring with two heavyweights: the U.S. and China. Her arrest has enraged China, which has called it a “grave political incident.”
President Donald Trump added complexity to the matter with public statements days after Meng’s arrest. During a December 2018 interview, Trump said he would be willing to intervene in Meng’s case if it would help the U.S. reach a trade deal with China or serve other American national security interests.
The letter’s signatories, who are of many political stripes, point to a legal opinion sent recently to Lametti’s office. It was prepared by veteran Toronto lawyer Brian Greenspan at the request of Kovrig’s wife, Vina Nadjibulla, Arbour and former federal justice minister Allan Rock.
In the legal opinion, Greenspan argues to Lametti that as minister he has the legal authority to use his discretion to stop Meng’s extradition process at any time if he decides it’s in Canada’s national interest. Greenspan also said the case against Meng is “weak and speculative.”
The letter to Trudeau stresses: “There is no question that the U.S. extradition request has put Canada in a difficult position.”
“Putting an end to the extradition proceeding may irritate the U.S. In normal circumstances, the safer choice would be to stay close to our ally, our friend, and our principal trading partner,” says the letter, also signed by former U.S. envoys Derek Burney and Michael Kergin as well as former foreign ministers Lloyd Axworthy, Lawrence Cannon and André Ouellet. “But these are not normal times, and this is not a normal case.”
To fears that ending the extradition process would meet with strong U.S. objections, they note that it would not be the first time the North American neighbors have had big disagreements — and they recalled Canada’s refusal to join the invasion of Iraq.
China has demanded Canada immediately release Meng, the Chinese telecom giant’s chief financial officer.
Zhao Lijian, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, suggested Wednesday that releasing Meng could help the cases of Kovrig or Spavor.
“We have also seen reports of an interview with Kovrig’s wife on June 23, during which she said that the Canadian justice minister had the authority to stop Meng Wanzhou’s extradition process at any point,” he told a press conference, according to a Chinese government transcript.
“Such options are within the rule of law and could open up space for resolution to the situation of the two Canadians.”
The signatories to the Trudeau letter warned the courtroom battle over Meng’s extradition could last until 2024.
Nadjibulla, Kovrig’s wife, told POLITICO in an interview Tuesday that her husband is an innocent man who is detained in China under extreme, harsh conditions.
“Michael is in the fight for his life — this is extremely serious and he does not have years,” she said.
“Michael is a pawn in a broader political struggle, he’s paying a price. It is unjust, it is unfair and his detention has to come to an end.”
Earlier this week, Trudeau said China has made a direct link between Meng’s arrest and its detention of Kovrig and Spavor, which he called a political decision by Beijing. Asked by a reporter if his Liberal government might consider trading Meng for Kovrig and Spavor, Trudeau responded with a firm “no.”
“Canada has a strong and independent justice system,” Trudeau said. “Anyone who’s considering … weakening the independence of our justice system doesn’t understand the importance of standing strong on our principles and our values.”
The letter, which was first reported on by CBC News, was also met with criticism after it made headlines Wednesday.
“The signatories of this letter are the ones responsible for giving China a pass for years on violations of human rights,” Sen. Leo Housakos wrote in a tweet.
“They are the apologists for this dictatorial regime. All in pursuit of retainers and representing profiteers at the expense of Canadian values.”
Housakos was among 13 senators who wrote their own letter to Trudeau this week to pressure him to take action on China. The senators urged him to get tougher, demanding he impose Magnitsky sanctions against Chinese and Hong Kong officials.
The move, they said, would be in response to the violation of human rights and the rule of law in relation to Hong Kong’s protests, the systematic persecution of minority Muslims in China and the arrests of Kovrig and Spavor.
Courtesy/Source: The Politico