Opinion

On international law, Canada is trying to play by the rules as the U.S. and China break them

Regardless of what Trump does in terms abusing his own sanctions laws in order to get a trade deal with China, Canada must demonstrate its commitment to its foundational democratic values of justice and continue with the extradition hearing.

President Trump has suggested he could intervene in Meng's extradition in the interest of trade opportunities

Regardless of what Trump does in terms abusing his own sanctions laws in order to get a trade deal with China, Canada must demonstrate its commitment to its foundational democratic values of justice and continue with the extradition hearing. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Canada is currently caught in vice between observing the demand of justice and the rule of law and the volatile practice of the rule by men in the U.S and China.

Canada had a legal obligation under the extradition treaty with the U.S. to arrest Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou when she was in Vancouver changing planes last week. Meng also happens to be the daughter of the founder of this flagship Chinese technology company, which has links to the highest levels of the Chinese Communist Party. U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton reportedly knew in advance that Meng would be arrested, suggesting that the U.S. was fully aware of the potential consequence of Canadian authorities detaining the Huawei executive.

The charges by the U.S. against Meng are serious. They include allegations that she used a Hong Kong shell company to sell equipment to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions, and that she misled American banks in business dealings in Iran. These are very significant allegations that date back to the administration of President Barack Obama.

Meng is now free on a $10 million bail and awaiting what will be a long extradition hearing. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The fact that this arrest could have immense economic and political implications regarding Canada's relations with China is essentially irrelevant; judicial authorities must fulfil their duties under the U.S. Canada extradition treaty and under domestic Canadian law. As a "rule of law country," as Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland made sure to note last Friday, Canada will not have its politicians interfere with that hearing in any way. Meng is now free on a $10 million bail and awaiting what will be a long extradition hearing.

Chinese leadership probably knew that the Americans requested Meng's arrest last week, yet it nevertheless accused Canada of actions amounting to kidnapping and violating her human rights. Canada thus became the prime villain of the ordeal, with China threatening serious consequences, including those relating to trade, if the executive is not released.

Demonstrating their preference for the rule of men, not law, China has now arrested a former Canadian diplomat, Michael Korvig for allegedly endangering Chinese national security. On Thursday, China's foreign ministry confirmed it had detained a second Canadian, Michael Spavor.

Michael Spavor, left, and former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig, right, were taken into custody earlier this week, Chinese officials say. (Associated Press/International Crisis Group/Canadian Press)

We should understand both detentions as a form of retribution for Meng's arrest. China has followed this route before in the 2014 detention of Kevin and Julia Garratt, which was likely retribution for the extradition to the U.S. of Su Bin, the Chinese national accused of stealing U.S. military secrets. These detentions should be regarded as serious violations of the rights of those unjustly detained.

Meanwhile, as if to show the rule of men can completely override the rule of law, U.S. President Donald Trump is now claiming he can dispense with these proceedings — the ones that his own justice department initiated. "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 said in a recent Reuters interview.

It is clear that with sensitive trade and investment talks going on between the U.S. and China, President Trump is willing to use American sanctions and banking laws as a political negotiating chip in order to further his own economic and political agenda.

Canada is now caught in this propensity for lawlessness by both the U.S. and China, a mess that could have serious negative consequences on the most critical aspects of Canada's economic and political relations with both countries.

Extradition treaties must not be used as a pawn in trade and political rivalries between superpowers, especially given that the present leadership of both the U.S. and China is clearly not averse to undermining the norms of international relations, diplomacy, human rights and international law. As Minister Freeland rightly warned last Wednesday: "Our extradition partners should not seek to politicize the extradition process or use it for ends other than the pursuit of justice and following the rule of law."

Regardless of what Trump does in terms abusing his own sanctions laws in order to get a trade deal with China, Canada must demonstrate its commitment to its foundational democratic values of justice and continue with the extradition hearing. This may mean Canada will endure short-term economic or trade penalties from China.

However, it could also offer an opportunity for Canada to demonstrate to China that attacking core democratic principles — including unjustly imprisoning foreign nationals — severely damages its ambition to be seen as a more reliable partner than the U.S., in both the global political and economic arenas. This should be the rallying cry from Canada in order to see to the release of its two detained citizens.


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About the Author

Errol Patrick Mendes is a professor of constitutional and international law at the University of Ottawa and is President of the International Commission of Jurists, Canada. He is a recipient of the Order of Ontario.

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