Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada will maintain high standards as it negotiates an extradition treaty with China, while critics raise concerns about that country's weak record on human rights.

"Canada has extremely high standards on extradition treaties," Trudeau said to reporters at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa.

"We have a very, very rigorous process, that conforms with the expectations and values of Canadians, and that continues."

The Liberals announced last week negotiations have begun on a treaty that would allow the Chinese government to pursue someone on Canadian soil for crimes committed in China.

The issue was raised Wednesday in Question Period, where Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose called Trudeau's approach "shockingly naive."

Trudeau and Ambrose spar over China in QP2:17

"Our allies like Australia, the U.S. and New Zealand don't have treaties of this type with China," Ambrose said.

"The Chinese government has orchestrated thousands of cyberattacks against Canada and, according to CSIS and the RCMP, has sent foreign agents into Canada without our permission," she said. 

"Canadians expect the prime minister to act in our national interest. What possible benefit to Canada would an extradition with China provide us?"

Trudeau said his government has succeeded in resolving consular cases in China and in increasing access to the Chinese market after the "hot and cold" relationship with Beijing in the Harper years.

"The benefit to Canada is having a high-level security dialogue where we can talk about issues that are important to us and issues that are important to the Chinese government," Trudeau said. "We continue to be strong in our values, in our principles and our expectations of anyone we engage with around the world.". 

Chinese Premier Li Kegiang arrived in Ottawa Wednesday afternoon, three weeks after Trudeau visited China. The two are expected to talk about increased economic co-operation between the two countries, but human rights remain an issue.

Chinese demonstrators gather across from the Shaw Centre in Ottawa

Demonstrators gather across from the Shaw Centre in Ottawa ahead of the visit of Chinese Premier Li Kegiang on September 21. (Roger Dubois/CBC)

'What are the values involved here?'

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said the Liberals had recently said there could be no extradition treaty with China as long as that country had the death penalty.

"Just a few short months ago, [Immigration Minister John McCallum] said there's no way we can have an extradition treaty with China as long as it maintains the death penalty," Mulcair said. "Well, now that seems to have changed also overnight."

Question Period 20160505

Immigration Minister John McCallum said Canada's constitutional rule against the death penalty remains an issue in negotiating an extradition treaty with China, which still uses capital punishment. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

"So, what are the values involved here? What are the fundamental things that we try to protect here when we sign a treaty that would allow someone to be sent to a country that has the death penalty?"

McCallum denied that he had rejected the idea of a treaty.

"I think the issue is that we have a constitutional rule that we shall not have the death penalty and we shall not send people to the death penalty, and that was and is the main issue," McCallum said. "That issue remains as it was before."

Trudeau said his government is committed to opposing the death penalty. In February, the Liberals announced Canada would be obligated to intervene on behalf of any citizen facing execution abroad, including the United States.

Values on trial

Conservative MP Jason Kenney said an extradition treaty with China would be a breach of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

He said China has "one of the worst human rights records in the world" — not only because it has the death penalty, but also for its torture and prosecution of political and religious dissidents.

"To formalize an extradition treaty is Canada giving its seal of approval, effectively, to China's judicial system, which would be a clear violation of our belief in the rule of law and human rights," Kenney said.

There are ways for Canada to send Chinese nationals back to China with review by Canadian judges, he said.

"There is a legitimate concern that Chinese dissidents living in Canada will feel less secure if they're subject to extradition."

Quid pro quo

Kenney is among those who have suggested the Liberal government might have made concessions to China in order to secure the recent release of Canadian Kevin Garratt. 

Garratt had been detained since August 2014 and was charged with spying and stealing state secrets in January. He returned to Vancouver last week after being convicted, released on bail and deported. His release coincided with the announcement that talks had started on an extradition treaty. 

Kevin and Julia Garratt

Kevin Garratt is reunited with his wife Julia at Vancouver airport. He had been detained by the Chinese government since 2014. (Garratt family)

While he doesn't have first-hand knowledge of the Garratt case, Kenney said dealing with China often involves trade-offs.

"All I'm saying is the when you're dealing with the Chinese government, nothing happens by accident," Kenney said. "There's always back channel discussions and quid pro quos for various things"

The Liberal government has said it made no concessions to bring Garratt home.