Under mounting pressure to free a Huawei Technologies Co. executive, Justin Trudeau made it clear on Thursday he won’t give way — even if that means two Canadians remain in jail in China.
The prime minister rebuffed calls from a group of prominent Canadians, including a former Supreme Court justice, to end the extradition case against Meng Wanzhou in exchange for China’s release of its two citizens.
“We cannot allow political pressures or random arrests of Canadian citizens to influence the functioning of our justice system,” Canada’s Prime Minister told reporters in Ottawa.
“If the Chinese government concludes from this exchange and this situation that it is an effective way to gain leverage over Canadians and the Canadian government — to randomly arrest Canadians — then no Canadian will be safe going forward.”
Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig were imprisoned in China within weeks of Meng’s arrest in Vancouver in December 2018. China has repeatedly denied that the arrest of the two men was a retaliatory move and formally charged them with spying earlier this month.
Yet Beijing has nevertheless made it clear their fates are linked to Meng, who was arrested at the behest of U.S. authorities who are seeking her extradition on allegations of fraud.
China has come to believe that Canada’s justice minister has the authority to stop Meng Wanzhou’s extradition process, Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said in a press briefing on June 24. “Such options are within the rule of law and could open up space for resolution to the situation of the two Canadians.”
Trudeau’s comments come in the face of rising pressure from all corners — including within his own party. Earlier this week, a letter signed by 19 high-profile former diplomats, ministers, bureaucrats and academics, urged his government to intervene to end the extradition proceedings “to bring the Two Michaels home.”
“Putting an end to the extradition proceeding may irritate the US,” the letter acknowledged. “In normal circumstances the safer choice would be to stay close to our ally, our friend, and our principal trading partner. But these are not normal times and this is not a normal case.” Canada’s Minister of Justice should intervene in Meng’s case immediately, the letter said.
Trudeau flatly rejected the idea. “I respect the distinguished Canadians who put forward that letter. I deeply disagree with them,” he said Thursday.
From the beginning, Canada has been caught in the middle of a deteriorating relationship between two superpowers which, under U.S. President Donald Trump, at first seemed centered around trade but is now seen to have multiple flashpoints, of which Huawei is one.
The U.S. administration considers a number of Chinese technology companies, including Huawei, to be security threats. As tensions between the two giants have increased in recent months, so has the vise around Canada’s foreign policy.
Canada has postponed making a decision on whether to allow Huawei involvement in 5G wireless networks. Removing the pressures of the extradition proceeding and the imprisoned Canadians “will clear the way for Canada to freely decide and declare its position on all aspects of the Canada-China relationship,” the letter states.
In contrast to the two Michaels, who have been held in isolation in cells where the lights can’t be turned off and who haven’t had access to visitors since January because of the pandemic, Meng’s bail conditions have allowed her to freely roam a 100-square-mile patch of greater Vancouver, provided she’s accompanied by monitors.
That fact hasn’t won her much sympathy in Canada and she hasn’t always helped her own case. From appearing in court in glamorous clothing and four-inch sparkly heels that seemed calculated to draw attention to the GPS monitor on her ankle to photographs showing her flaunting Covid-19 social distancing rules, Meng’s every public appearance has underlined the contrast in prison conditions.
Last month, her case suffered a setback when a Vancouver judge ruled it met a key test of Canadian law known as double criminality, meaning the extradition proceedings can continue.
The letter from the 19 Canadians acknowledges the difficult decision facing Trudeau.
“Of course, it does not sit well with anyone to yield to bullying or blackmail. The means chosen by China in this instance to advance its interests are indeed repugnant. However, resisting China’s pressure is no guarantee that it will never be applied again in the future.”