Politics

Michael Kovrig's wife says she backs letter by former MPs, diplomats calling for Meng Wanzhou's release

Vina Nadjibulla says she fully supports a letter by 19 former parliamentarians and diplomats calling on the federal justice minister to release Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in the hopes that it will result in the liberation of her husband Michael Kovrig from Chinese detention. 

Former ambassador to the U.S. Derek Burney says Canadians run risks whenever they travel abroad

Vina Nadjibulla, the wife of detained Canadian Michael Kovrig, on the letter from high-profile Canadians urging the government to end extradition proceedings against Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, in order to secure the release of her husband and Michael Spavor. 15:42

Vina Nadjibulla says she fully supports a letter by 19 former parliamentarians and diplomats calling on the federal justice minister to free Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou to secure the release of her husband Michael Kovrig from Chinese detention.

Nadjibulla told CBC News Network's Power & Politics Thursday that the federal government should consider all options to bring home Kovrig and his fellow Canadian detainee Michael Spavor.

"This is one very specific proposal that is both lawful and can be executed," she told host Vassy Kapelos. "Of course there are elements that have to be managed — the relationship with the U.S., the perception of China. Those elements can be managed. It is a path forward, which is far more than we've had for 564 days."

In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dated June 23, the signatories say Canada's justice minister has the legal authority to intervene to free Meng and end the extradition process that could send her into the U.S. justice system. They cite a legal opinion published earlier this week by Toronto-based lawyer Brian Greenspan.

The 19 individuals who signed the letter say that releasing Meng could free Kovrig and Spavor, who were detained in China shortly after Meng's arrest on a U.S. extradition request in December of 2018.

The U.S. wants to extradite the Huawei chief financial officer to New York to face allegations of fraud. She is accused of lying to banks about Huawei's relationship with a company that was violating U.S. economic sanctions against Iran.

The letter has been signed by former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour, former Liberal foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy, former Conservative foreign affairs minister Lawrence Cannon, former Conservative senator Hugh Segal and former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, among others.

Earlier Thursday, Prime Minister Trudeau said that while he respects the distinguished Canadians behind the letter, he disagrees with their approach.

"The reality is releasing Meng Wanzhou to resolve a short-term problem would endanger thousands of Canadians who travel to China and around the world, by letting countries know that a government can have political influence over Canada by randomly arresting Canadians," he said.

Anne McLellan weighs in

His argument is being backed up by former Liberal attorney general and justice minister Anne McLellan, who said that while she has great respect for the letter's "heartfelt humanitarian" argument, she feels releasing Meng would set a dangerous precedent.

"The justice minister must always act in the national interest ... and he must take into account a wide variety of factors and circumstances in deciding what, in this circumstance ... is in the national interest and the interest of all Canadians," she said

"Right now we are dealing with the Chinese as a global bully, but we do not want to set a precedent that could be seized upon by others to endanger the safety of Canadians."

Nadjibulla disagreed with that argument, saying that she does not believe that China will become a better global citizen in the future if Canada refuses to budge now.

"I don't fundamentally believe that that is reason not to act, and not to consider options," Nadjibulla said, citing the case of Christian aid workers Kevin Garratt and his wife, Julia.

The Garratts had lived in China since 1984 and ran a café in Dandong, near the North Korean border. The pair were detained in 2014 and accused of spying.

Julia Garratt was released in February 2015, but Kevin Garratt remained in detention for 775 days, until September of 2016, when a Chinese court found him guilty of two counts of espionage and ordered him deported.

Former ambassador to the U.S. Derek Burney is one of the 19 people who signed the letter. He told CBC News that Canada should have let Meng go when U.S. President Donald Trump floated the idea of making the Meng case part of trade talks with China in December of 2018.

"I think [the signatories were] in basic agreement that the government botched this whole extradition exercise from the beginning and they don't seem to have any idea to get out of the jam we find ourselves in," Burney told CBC News. 

Burney also said that Canada should not let the "perfect be the enemy of the good" because while Canada and the world would like China to respect the international rules-based order, it's naive to think it will because Canada refuses to bend.

"The Americans have a splendid track record of exchanging hostages with countries like Iran and Russia, so what makes us 'Simon pure' on this matter?" he asked.

"They say it's going to be a danger for other Canadians. Well, that's the danger Canadians take wherever they travel … My real concern with the government's position is they don't have an answer."

Despite the apparent impasse, Nadjibulla said she is trying to remain optimistic and pursue every avenue to secure her husband's freedom.

"The alternative is to essentially give up and say in order to preserve the safety of Canadians in the future from possible harm, we have to accept the fact that our Michael and Michael Spavor will have to languish in jail for many, many years to come," she said. "I cannot accept that."

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