Two former Canadian spymasters are questioning the wisdom of pursuing an extradition treaty with China, an undertaking the Liberal government announced shortly after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made his first official visit to the Asian power.
Australia paused efforts to enact a similar accord with China this week in the face of opposition, even from within Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's own party.
China immediately appealed to the Trudeau government not to follow Canberra's lead. A cross-Pacific extradition treaty "is for mutual benefit. It deserves serious consideration," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Tuesday. "Such a treaty will help the two countries in having an institutional guarantee in combatting transnational crimes," she added.
Read more: Ottawa must learn from Australia's extradition debacle with China
But Ward Elcock, who served as director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service from 1994 to 2004, said Tuesday he doesn't think Canada should ink an extradition deal with China.
Long demanded by China, an extradition treaty would commit Canada to transferring fugitive Chinese officials to a country known for biased courts and harsh interrogation methods – and where the death penalty can be imposed even for non-violent crimes.
He raised concerns about whether Canada would be able to obtain sufficient guarantees that individuals shipped back to China would be treated properly.
"The reality of the Chinese justice system is it is totally unlike our justice system, so we will have almost no guarantees in sending somebody back to China – even for what we would regard as a normal criminal prosecution," Mr. Elcock said.
"Unless you were to extract specific guarantees from the Chinese with respect to things like [the] death penalty or whatever, I don't think you would have any assurances that the Chinese justice system would provide the kind of fairness that we would expect in a trial procedure in Canada."
Mr. Elcock said China is seeking such a treaty not only because it wants to more easily repatriate fugitives but also because it's "looking for approval … as a great power"
Another former CSIS director, Reid Morden, said it would be extremely difficult for Canada to conclude an extradition treaty with China that would measure up to Canadian standards for human rights.
Mr. Morden, who headed the spy agency from 1988 to 1992, said China has shown little interest in improving human rights, pointing to the "fairly strident" comments that China's new ambassador to Canada made to The Globe and Mail last week.
In his first interview since arriving in Canada in March, Ambassador Lu Shaye said that China does not want human rights to be used as a "bargaining chip" in free-trade talks with Canada.
"I don't see how you could do an extradition treaty until you make up your mind on how tough you are going be on human rights and the peculiarities of the Chinese judicial system," Mr. Morden said. "Getting a sufficient number of assurances and guarantees that would stand up to what is supposedly our test over human rights would be extremely difficult."
In his interview with The Globe, Mr. Lu acknowledged that Canada has been dragging its feet on negotiating an extradition treaty, but did not elaborate on the reasons for the delay.
"China is very willing to discuss and sign the extradition treaty with Canada," he said. "However, it hasn't started maybe because Canada has some concerns. We hope to strengthen our co-operation in judicature and law enforcement, jointly cracking down on all crimes including abuse of power and economic crimes and making all crimes intolerable."
This weekend, a senior Canadian official cast doubt on Ottawa's willingness to complete an extradition treaty with China so long as its system remains permeated with abuses.
An agreement to hold bilateral talks on an extradition treaty was reached in Beijing on Sept. 12 between a top Communist Party official and the Prime Minister's national security adviser Daniel Jean. A day later, a Chinese court ordered the deportation to Canada of jailed Canadian missionary Kevin Garratt.
"The two sides determined that the short-term objectives for Canada-China co-operation on security and rule of law are to start discussions on an Extradition Treaty and a Transfer of Offenders Treaty as well as other related matters," according to an official communiqué released at the time.
The two men also agreed to finalize negotiations on a pilot project "where Chinese experts will be invited to assist in the verification of the identity of inadmissible persons from mainland China in order to facilitate their return from Canada to China."
Canada usually forbids the extradition of people to countries with the death penalty, although Chinese fugitives have been repatriated on the condition they are not executed and that Canadian diplomats are permitted to visit them in prison.
During an official visit to Ottawa last September, Premier Li Keqiang made it clear that high on China's agenda is an extradition treaty to enable Beijing to seek the return of corrupt officials. More than 40 other countries, including France and Australia, have signed extradition treaties, he said.
But Australia's Prime Minister had to shelve his country's extradition treaty with China on Tuesday after a revolt from members of his own party made it clear it would not survive a vote in the country's Senate.
Australia's stern rebuke to China serves as a warning to Canada and other Western countries about the merits of co-operating with an autocratic regime whose judicial system condones torture and is susceptible to political interference.
"As long as China's justice system is controlled by an authoritarian party, it would be very difficult for Canada to ensure that its extradited nationals are going to be given a fair trial," said Maya Wang, China researcher for Human Rights Watch and one of the authors of "Special Measures," a landmark report documenting abuses in the shuanggui system. That system is used by China's Communist Party to extract confessions in a sweeping corruption crackdown that has extended to countries such as Canada.
Ottawa, Ms. Wang said, "should set clear benchmarks for China – abolishing shuanggui, freeing rights lawyers and committing to an independent judiciary – before giving China's legal system such a vote of confidence."
China's detention and questioning of hundreds of lawyers in the past two years has brought new attention to the country's judicial conduct, particularly after reports emerged that several of those lawyers were tortured in custody.
Beijing is eager for an extradition deal with Canada to help speed the return of people it accuses of being corrupt fugitives. China has named Canada one of the top destinations for such people and, without the ability to extradite, has mounted a campaign of intimidation and persuasion against those it says should be brought back to China to face justice.
Huang Feng, an international criminal law expert at Beijing Normal University, accused foreign critics of "preaching" at China rather than looking at facts.
Even Canadian courts have expressed comfort with Chinese pledges not to mistreat suspects and have authorized the return of high-profile fugitives such as smuggler Lai Changxing, he said.
"The facts showed that, after being repatriated, none of them received the death sentence and none were tortured to confess. Their legal rights were guaranteed," Prof. Huang said.
During his Ottawa visit, Premier Li also lashed out at Canadian critics of an extradition treaty, saying they are wrongly disparaging China's justice system as being based on torture, repression and coercion.
"There shall be no torture, including suspects and sentenced people, humanitarian treatment must be applied. This is provided by Chinese law and the judicial and law authorities follow this role very strictly," Premier Li said as Mr. Trudeau stood by his side. At the same time, he argued China's death penalty is needed to deal with violent crime.
Premier Li also denied his country sends foreign agents abroad to put pressure on Chinese fugitives to return home. The Globe and Mail has reported that Chinese security agents have used tourist visas to strong-arm expatriates in Canada.
The Prime Minister said in September that extradition talks would help build stronger ties with China, but insisted Canada would not deport anyone who could face the death penalty.