Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion denied Friday that Ottawa is negotiating an extradition treaty with China, one day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended his decision to launch formal talks as the Chinese Premier stood by his side.
In a telephone interview with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Dion insisted there are no negotiations in the works that could see Canada return Chinese fugitives accused of economic crimes.
"Your paper should check the facts. There is no negotiation. To write like pretending it is, it is wrong. Stop that please," Mr. Dion said.
The minister's comments came in a testy exchange with The Globe that suggests he and the Prime Minister are not on the same page when it comes to China, publicly expressing divergent views and tone on one of the Liberal government's main foreign-policy objectives.
Mr. Trudeau defended the extradition-treaty negotiations during a joint press conference with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and during the Commons Question Period this week, saying it was part of Ottawa's goal to rebuild the relationship with China.
Formal talks were agreed to on Sept. 12 during high-level talks between Mr. Trudeau's national security adviser, Daniel Jean, and a top Chinese Communist Party official.
The spotlight on a potential extradition treaty comes as The Globe reported earlier this week that China's security services have been sending undercover agents into Canada to persuade expatriates to return home, including some suspected of corruption and other criminal activities.
Mr. Trudeau said the government understood the difficulties in negotiating an extradition treaty with China. "We recognize that Canada and China have different systems of law and order and different approaches and it'll be very important that any future agreement be based on reflecting the realities, the principles, the values that our citizens hold dear in each of our countries," he said alongside Mr. Li.
During the news conference, the Premier publicly urged Mr. Trudeau to sign a formal extradition treaty to seek the return of Chinese fugitives, adding that 40 other countries, including France and Australia, have signed such deals.
While Mr. Li said critics are wrongly disparaging China's justice system as being based on torture, repression and coercion, he argued that the death penalty is still needed to deal with violent crime. Thousands of executions take place in China annually for crimes ranging from fraud to murder.
Mr. Trudeau said humanitarian treatment must be applied in any future agreements. In the rare cases where Canada has repatriated Chinese fugitives, it has demanded that China guarantee they will not be executed and insisted that Canadian diplomats be allowed to visit them in prison.
When asked what kinds of specific guarantees the Canadian government would demand with a formal Chinese extradition treaty, Mr. Dion again became testy. "We never extradite people to countries who have the death penalty," Mr. Dion said. "Your question is unfair because never the government of Canada would do such a thing. And why you are implying that is beyond me. That's my answer to your question."
However, Canada has returned more than 1,400 Chinese nationals since 2009, most of whom were involved in illegal immigration. A government official speaking on background after the interview with Mr. Dion said Ottawa had merely started "discussions" on an extradition treaty, which do not constitute negotiations. The official said negotiations take place when a solid agreement is in place, such as the ongoing Canada-Europe free-trade negotiations.
With a report from Robert Fife