An extradition hearing unlike any in Canadian history begins Monday in a high-security, basement courtroom of the B.C. Supreme Court, with trade and diplomatic relations with China at risk, and the fate of two Canadians jailed in China in question.
Ever since the RCMP arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on Dec. 1, 2018, Canada has been caught between two superpowers – the United States, which requested Ms. Meng’s extradition, and China, which calls the request politically motivated. The Canadian Attorney-General’s department will argue for extradition before Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes.
The extradition proceedings, which could last years, are “definitely a defining moment in the bilateral relationship” with China, Lynette Ong, a political-science professor and China expert at the University of Toronto, said in an interview. “China has actually threatened further retaliation should [Ms. Meng] be extradited to the United States."
It has not specified what form that retaliation could take.
The first stage of court hearings offers a potential way out, for Canada and Ms. Meng. Its focus will be on a legal principle known as “double criminality” – whether the offence Ms. Meng is accused of in the U.S. would be a crime if committed in Canada.
The defence team, led by senior Vancouver lawyer Richard Peck, will argue that while the offence of fraud exists in both countries, in Ms. Meng’s case it pertains to an alleged violation of U.S. sanctions against Iran; Canada dropped similar sanctions in 2016, after Iran signed an international agreement putting limits on its nuclear program, and therefore Ms. Meng could not have committed such a crime in this country. The Attorney-General’s department will argue that evasion of the sanctions is simply the context for the charges, but otherwise irrelevant, and therefore the crime exists in Canada.
A decision from Associate Chief Justice Holmes is not expected this week.
For Ms. Meng, who was released to a Vancouver mansion on bail shortly after her arrest, extradition would mean facing charges in the U.S. including bank fraud and wire fraud, and the possibility of years in jail if convicted. The United States alleges that she lied to several banks in 2013 about her company’s activities in Iran in an attempt to evade sanctions against that country.
For Canada, extradition would mean that an already fraught relationship with China would almost certainly worsen.
Two Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, were arrested in China less than two weeks after Ms. Meng, allegedly as national-security risks. The two Canadians have been subject to long interrogations and detained in cells under constant light. And China has imposed severe restrictions on canola-seed imports, worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year to Canadian farmers.
The case has made headlines internationally. Stefano Maffei, the Italy-based author of a book on 30 notable extradition cases worldwide, says he would have included the case if it had happened in time for publication.
“It is very famous,” said Prof. Maffei, a professor of criminal law and procedure at the University of Parma, primarily because Chinese authorities have involved themselves in the case “so fiercely. … It’s not normal for a country to be so loud in interfering, or trying to interfere.”
The arguments on double criminality are expected to last four days. If the government succeeds, the next stage is scheduled for June; the defence will argue that there has been an abuse of process, based on alleged rights violations when Ms. Meng was arrested, and on improper political motives behind the extradition request. A third round is slated for next fall, when the Attorney-General’s department will try to show that there is reason to believe Ms. Meng committed fraud.
The Chinese embassy did not reply to The Globe and Mail’s requests for comment. China has said it views the extradition request as part of a broader dispute over trade and security with the United States. Ms. Meng’s father, Ren Zhengfei, the founder and chief executive officer of Huawei, has said that the extradition request is an attempt “to crush Huawei, and Meng Wanzhou was only used as a pawn."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada is simply upholding the rule of law, under the terms of its extradition treaty with the United States. But President Donald Trump has raised questions about the willingness of U.S. authorities to use the case for political purposes, saying publicly that he would drop the charges against Ms. Meng if it would help in his country’s trade dispute with China.
If the courts rule that there is enough evidence to “surrender” her to the U.S. – a low bar – then it would be up to Attorney-General David Lametti. He has wide authority to reject a request, if he deems extradition to be “unjust and oppressive” in all the case’s circumstances, legal and political.
Ms. Ong said the case sets a precedent for China’s relations with the rest of the world, which probably explains why the Chinese authorities “are so nervous and put so much priority on this case.”
As China’s economy grows, she says, other Chinese executives may find themselves in trouble around the globe. “So this is a test case in a way. Which is why a lot of people are watching this case.”