Lametti says he would not intervene in Meng's case before the court process ends
'I am well aware of what my powers are under the law,' justice minister says
Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti said today he would not intervene in extradition proceedings for Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou before the court process reaches its end.
Lametti told CBC News he could have a role to play in the extradition process — but only in the event the court orders Meng's extradition. Once such an order is made, the justice minister could opt to conduct an independent review.
The federal government has to wait for the legal process to play out, Lametti said, to ensure Canada respects its treaty obligations and the rights of the accused.
According to section 23 of the Extradition Act, Lametti can step in any point — but he is choosing not to do so at this time.
"I am well aware of what my powers are under the law," Lametti said.
"We have constructed a system so that we avoid political issues, so it would be inappropriate for me to comment further."
Lametti's comments come after 19 former parliamentarians and senior diplomats wrote to his office this week calling on him to free Meng to facilitate the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, the two Canadians who were detained in China shortly after Meng's arrest.
Lametti confirmed he has seen the letter.
While Lametti expressed sympathies for the families for Kovrig and Spavor, he said the extradition process remains solely within the court system at this stage.
"I can't even imagine what the families are going through," Lametti said.
"This has been tough. It's been tough for a long time, and we know that it's a difficult situation."
Calls mount for Canada to apply sanctions to Chinese officials
Another letter published today and signed by 33 high-profile Canadians — including the former head of Canada's intelligence service, a former Conservative cabinet minister and leading academics — warns the prime minister that releasing Meng would open the door to "hostage diplomacy."
"All Canadians, including the signatories of this letter, want fervently for Kovrig and Spavor to be released from their outrageous predicament," the letter says.
"As painful as it may be, however, we must protect Canadians from hostage diplomacy, uphold the rule of law and maintain Canada's sovereign decision-making capacity. A 'prisoner exchange' is the antithesis of these vital aims."
Instead of releasing Meng in the hopes of freeing Kovrig and Spavor, those who signed the letter called on Ottawa to warn Canadians that the federal government cannot guarantee their safety when travelling in China.
They also called for Magnitsky Act sanctions against Chinese officials responsible for keeping the two men locked up.
"I can assure Canadians that we are continuing to do everything that is maximizing our chances of bringing them home in the right way," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today in a response to a question about sanctions.
The prime minister said work to free the two men is taking place both publicly and privately, and Canada continues to rally its allies around the world.
"This is a long and different process for the families of Mr. Kovrig and Spavor," Trudeau said.
"This is a frustrating situation for many Canadians and we need to bring these Michaels home ... This is a real concern upon which, as a world, we need to continue to be united and I am very pleased by the kind of support we've gotten from friends and allies and partners all around the world on this issue."