John Baird, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, was right when he said on Monday that "both the Canadian people and the Chinese people don't have a lot of time for white-collar fraudsters." But the conundrum caused by the case of Lai Changxing, the Vancouver resident who faces extradition to China to face trial on smuggling and bribery charges, is entirely one of China's own making.
Criminal law in China is a stacked deck. The U.S. State Department reports that, of the 997,872 criminal defendants tried in 2009, 1,206 were acquitted - a 99.88-per-cent conviction rate (as compared with Canada's rate of around 60 per cent). Over 70 per cent of defendants don't receive legal representation. Political meddling, and forced labour or torture during detention, are common. The crimes of which Mr. Lai stands accused could carry the ultimate sanction: The death penalty is applied thousands of times a year, according to Amnesty International, including for non-violent crimes. China's system simply does not meet Canadian standards of justice. It doesn't come close.
At the same time, the mere prospect of injustice abroad - however heinous - is not a criterion for admission to Canada. Mr. Lai has been in Canada for almost 12 years, and he has never succeeded in securing refugee status. A recent federal government "pre-removal risk assessment" has cleared the path for his extradition, bolstered by Chinese assurances that Mr. Lai would not be tortured or put to death.
Canada cannot simply hold onto Mr. Lai, and thereby become a de facto haven for any alleged criminal from a country with a poor human-rights record. But Canada is right to insist on conditions for his return, which ought to awaken China to the need for a more open and transparent system. After all, there's a lot riding on the case for China, too: Mr. Lai is accused of embezzling or improperly obtaining billions of dollars; the Communist Party's People's Daily newspaper calls him one of the "top 10 runaway Chinese tycoons."
Mr. Lai is still in Canada because we have a largely depoliticized, procedurally fair system, with ample opportunities to appeal. China meets none of those standards. Given that, his fate in China, no matter his guilt or innocence, will be sealed. Whatever true justice Mr. Lai receives will be in this country.