British Columbia

Politicizing Meng extradition case is harmful for Canada, former U.S. ambassador says

Former U.S. ambassador Bruce Heyman explained the extradition process and the dangers of it becoming a political bargaining chip.

'This is not a political decision process, this is a legal decision,' says former ambassador Bruce Heyman

Former U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman says the extradition of Meng Wanzhou is becoming too political, and her case shouldn't be used as a bargaining chip in trade negotiations. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The former U.S. ambassador to Canada says the attempted extradition of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou must be handled in a careful, unpolitical manner.

On Friday, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan will meet their American counterparts in Washington, D.C., to discuss the case as Meng awaits an extradition hearing in Vancouver.

International tensions have been running high due to the arrest of Meng. Though arrested in Canada, she's wanted in the U.S. for fraud.

Shortly after China threatened Canada with "grave consequences" if Meng wasn't released, two Canadians were detained in China.

And U.S. President Donald Trump has chimed in, implying he might intervene if it means the U.S. would get a better trade deal with China.

Former U.S. ambassador Bruce Heyman says the situation is rare, but not unheard of. He joined host Stephen Quinn during CBC's The Early Edition, to provide insight into how the extradition process might play out.

Would there ever be any discussion surrounding the legal evidence in an extradition case?

Once it reaches the embassy, the legal argument is normally substantial enough to move forward [with the extradition]. As the senior-most government official in a country, you [the ambassador] have to rely on legal council.

When you request extradition, it's not a trial of guilt. It's a matter of delivering someone so they can stand trial.

Meng's case is very high profile. How typical is a case like this?

It's atypical. That's why it's creating media tension. But we had a similar case [during the Obama administration] that was very public. It was a sensitive issue about a Chinese national who was stealing technological information, and that extradition took place during my term. They were extradited out of Vancouver.

While these are rare, they do happen. This reminds me of that extradition.

Do you think U.S. decision-makers knew how provocative Meng's arrest would be?

The answer is yes. But it [the provocation] shouldn't go into the equation. You either legally have the responsibility and right to do something or you don't.

And it shouldn't be political. That's where this got twisted up this week.

I think the inexperience of the president — not understanding the art of diplomacy and the art of language and how words matter — really complicated things for Canada.

He doesn't seem to understand that at every level. He threw out a side comment, thinking he was being helpful in the trade area. But the president and his loose use of language causes this kind of difficulty in so many areas.

It just so happens that this week it complicated the Canada-U.S. extradition relationship and put Canada between China and the U.S., which was unnecessary.

It's inappropriate. It's not acceptable and that kind of language should never be used [by the president]. This is not a political decision process, this is a legal decision.

How successful do you expect minister Freeland's meeting on Friday to be?

America has a lot going on right now, and this story is being pushed down in their news headlines.

I think it's important for Freeland and Sajjan to remind the U.S. government that this issue is seriously impacting Canada.

That's what diplomacy is about. Hopefully they will walk away from that meeting as advocates of the extradition process that we have, and how important it is not to politicize it.

This interview aired during CBC's The Early Edition on Dec. 14 and has been edited for clarity and length. To hear the complete interview, click on the audio below.