Good morning. Wendy Cox in Vancouver this morning.
A judge’s ability to block out any concern about the political fallout of the decisions they render is key to their job description. This morning, Heather Holmes will be exercising a resolve to that duty quite unlike what she and others like her have had to demonstrate before.
This morning, Justice Holmes will deliver her long-awaited ruling on whether Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou should have been apprehended in Canada on Dec. 1, 2018, at the behest of the United States, which wants her extradited on charges that she lied to a bank in an effort to allow Huawei to skirt U.S. sanctions against Iran. Two Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, have been detained for 534 days in China in apparent reprisal for the arrest.
The ruling today is the result of an effort by Meng’s legal team to halt the extradition proceedings and set her free, arguing that the crime Meng is accused of in the United States isn’t a crime in Canada and as a result, she should never have been arrested. They argue the case against her is built on U.S. sanctions against Iran, which Canada has not implemented.
But the Canadian government, acting for the U.S. justice department, says the case is a simple one about bank fraud – a crime in both countries. The U.S. accuses Meng, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., of lying to banks about whether her company used a subsidiary to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran.
What Associate Chief Justice Holmes decides will have enormous consequences: If she rules in Meng’s favour, the U.S. case for extradition collapses, setting the stage for potentially allowing Meng to be freed to return home to China. While this would open the possibility for Kovrig and Spavor to be released, it would inevitably complicate Canada’s relationship with the United States, which has made a battle with Huawei a priority.
It’s unclear if Canada could or would petition the court on behalf of the U.S. to ensure Meng remains detained until a potential appeal is launched. An appeal would delay the already long proceedings and further inflame the Chinese government, which has been unsubtle about its willingness to retaliate further.
If Justice Holmes rejects Meng’s argument and concludes the extradition case revolves around bank fraud, China won’t be any happier. The extradition case will proceed, with many more months of court proceedings to be held.
Chinese state media this week threatened an outbreak of public “resentment” if the B.C. court finds against Meng. “A decision that panders to the Trump administration would only lead to a rise in netizen resentment, which would affect bilateral relations between China and Canada,” the Communist Party-backed Global Times wrote in an editorial published online late Monday.
In such a scenario, it’s hard to imagine that the fate of the two Michaels improves.
Justice Holmes has spent nearly 40 years as a prosecutor and a judge. Her previous rulings, as justice reporter Sean Fine writes today, show rulings that are at times cautious – she wouldn’t allow the news media to broadcast the four-day first phase of the court proceedings in January – and at other times bold. In 2012, she ruled that retroactive parole provisions in a Harper-era criminal law were unconstitutional. In 2005, she ruled a portion of a four-year-old federal anti-gang law unconstitutional. In 2000, she ruled in favour of a woman who had violated a city bylaw by going topless at a city pool, a decision that gave women the right to do so on public property in B.C. “There was nothing degrading or dehumanizing in her conduct … anyone who was offended was not forced to look.”
She can also be tough. In a 2012 case, she ordered a man surrendered to the United States on major drug charges despite his argument that as a permanent resident of Canada, not a citizen, he would be deported to his former home of Sudan after his sentence.
“I would be surprised if any judge in her position wouldn’t understand the huge consequence for Canada and for the lives of those two people in prison,” former B.C. attorney-general Brian Smith said.
"I mean, she’s human, she has to think of those things.
“But everyone I’ve talked to has the highest regard for her fairness and independence.”
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.
Around the West:
AIR AMBULANCE: An air ambulance service in southern Alberta that warned it was weeks away from shutting down says it’s optimistic that a last-minute burst of financial support from the community will provide a temporary reprieve. HALO Air Ambulance, which operates out of Medicine Hat, made a public plea for support, and argued without government funding, the organization may have to ground one of its helicopters in June and the other in July. The ordeal has underscored the precarious situation for the province’s air ambulance ervices, which rely heavily on charitable donations, rather than government funding, to operate.
SCHOOLS RESUME: When B.C. schools resume next week, fewer than half of students are expected to return to the classroom as parents worried about the risk of COVID-19 err on the side of caution. Classroom education, which has been cancelled since March, is resuming on a part-time, voluntary basis for the final month of the school year. Stephanie Higginson, president of the BC School Trustees Association, said school boards have surveyed families and are expecting 30-50 per cent of students to return.
BIKE SALES: Sales of bicycles are surging across the country as people reduce their reliance on cars during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bike shops across the country are sold out and cities say bike traffic has seen a significant increase.
ALBERTA LEGISLATURE: Alberta’s legislature returns today for a spring session aimed at additional work to respond to COVID-19, as well as revive bills that have been put on hold during the pandemic. Among the non-pandemic items on the agenda, the United Conservative Party government plans to set maximum timelines on decisions for oil and gas projects, expand the scope of a fund for victims of crime, and expand parental prerogatives in a child’s education.
MONEY LAUNDERING: B.C.'s public inquiry into money laundering has heard that billions of dollars moved out of China by evading that country’s limits on transferring out cash have made their way into the drug trade and the money-laundering sector.
WELL CLEANUP: Alberta’s Energy Ministry has closed applications for its well cleanup program two weeks earlier than planned, after it was flooded by pitches from companies seeking part of the $1-billion program. The program is part of a $1.7-billion fund to help Western provinces clean up abandoned wells as part of a wider effort to create jobs during the pandemic.
CONVERSION THERAPY: Calgary has become the latest jurisdiction in Canada to ban conversion therapy, a practice that experts have likened to torture against LGBTQ people and is not based in science. A municipal bylaw prohibits any business from offering such services. The federal government tabled legislation for a national ban in March, while several provinces and a number of Alberta municipalities have their own restrictions.
COVID-19 TESTS: Experts are warning that widespread testing of asymptomatic people, which is happening in Alberta and Ontario, could create more problems than it solves. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s Provincial Health Officer, instead argues that it’s more important to target specific groups than to test an entire population.
ALCOHOL SALES: The COVID-19 pandemic appears to be linked to a spike in alcohol sales in B.C., which, like much of the rest of the country, has seen booze sales jump significantly. The wholesale value of alcohol sold in the province rose to $605-million in March and April, up 21.5 per cent from $498-million during the same period in 2018, according to figures from the B.C. Liquor Distribution Board.
NHL: Edmonton and Vancouver have been identified by the NHL as potential hub cities as the league prepares to resume games to finish the 2019-20 season later this year. The 24-team plan would see the top-four clubs the Eastern and Western Conference play two mini round-robin tournaments to determine seeding for the playoffs. The league wants two cities to serve as hubs for each conference – without fans in attendance – adding that 10 remain on the short list, including Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto.
Gary Mason on the deal with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs: “Hereditary chiefs elsewhere are undoubtedly going to see this agreement as precedent-setting. They will insist on the same powers. And that has the potential to undermine many other royalty-sharing agreements that elected band councils have signed with resource companies.”
Travis Salway on conversion therapy bans: “To effectively prevent conversion therapy, legislative bans must adjust their definitions to clearly state that the defining feature of conversion therapy is not an attempt to “convert” or “change” intrinsic feelings of gender identity or expression or sexual orientation. Rather, the defining feature is the goal of avoiding acceptance and acknowledgement of LGBTQ2 lives as compatible with being healthy and happy.”