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Huawei Technologies chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou leaves her home to attend a court hearing in Vancouver, on May 27, 2020.

Jennifer Gauthier/Reuters

Ever since the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei Technologies executive and daughter of the company’s founder, the air has been thick with Chrétien-era Liberals lobbying for her release.

John Manley, John McCallum, Eddie Goldenberg, Jean Chrétien himself: All have urged the current Liberal government to refuse to extradite her to the United States on fraud charges, even as the matter remains before a B.C. court – exactly as the government of China has demanded.

Ostensibly the point is to gain the release of “the two Michaels” – businessman Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig, whom China has held captive since December, 2018, in evident retaliation for Ms. Meng’s arrest. But if it happens to serve Canadian business interests in the world’s second-largest economy, so much the better.

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Lately the list of superannuated Liberals pleading China’s case has seen another addition: former minister of justice Allan Rock, in tandem with former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour. The two are publicly pressing the current Minister of Justice, David Lametti, to order Ms. Meng’s release, having commissioned an opinion from criminal lawyer Brian Greenspan to the effect that the minister has the legal authority to do so.

It is difficult to say which is odder: the notion that Mr. Lametti, himself a professor of law, lacks competent legal advice, such as to leave him wholly unaware that, under Section 23 (3) of the Extradition Act, he may “at any time” withdraw the case, or the notion that any of them – the current Minister of Justice, the former minister of justice or the former Supreme Court justice – are in need of Mr. Greenspan’s counsel in the matter.

But then, this isn’t a legal opinion: It’s a political opinion dressed up as a legal opinion. Mr. Rock and Ms. Arbour aren’t arguing merely that the Minister of Justice has the formal legal power to intervene on Ms. Meng’s behalf, but that he should. That would be debatable even if China had not taken two Canadians hostage to enforce its demands: Canada has obligations under its extradition treaty with the United States that should not lightly be set aside.

But to do so under pressure from China – to do so explicitly in response to that pressure, and for no other reason – is utterly unacceptable. Even if it procured the release of the two Michaels – and there is ample reason to doubt that it would – it would signal to China that their tactic had worked: that the taking of hostages was a legitimate and effective instrument of statecraft. China could be expected to draw the appropriate lesson for future conflicts.

That’s just my opinion, of course – but it’s also just Mr. Rock and Ms. Arbour’s opinion that blocking an extradition process to pay ransom to China is a perfectly fine course for Canada to pursue. The invocation of legal arguments, and of legal authorities, is no more than a smokescreen, the more egregious for the involvement of a former Supreme Court judge. Ms. Arbour’s legal expertise is undoubted, but she has no particular expertise in hostage negotiations. All that her intervention will achieve is to further demean and politicize the bench.

We have, after all, just endured the spectacle of a parade of former Supreme Court justices disgracing themselves in the SNC-Lavalin affair, or being encouraged by others to disgrace themselves, whether as paid lobbyists or opinions for hire. How ironic, then, to see them attribute the Trudeau Liberals’ caution in the present matter to the bruises left by SNC-Lavalin – the government was wrong to intervene then, they say, but would be right do so now – and how especially ironic to see Mr. Greenspan hauled out to make the case.

Mr. Greenspan, after all, was quite public at the time in arguing the government had every right to act as it did in SNC-Lavalin. In an opinion piece in The Globe and Mail, Mr. Greenspan advanced the quite extraordinary claim that because he, as a criminal lawyer, had often pleaded with prosecutors on behalf of his clients, it was equally legitimate for the attorney-general to lean on the prosecutors in her department on behalf of a friend of the government – or for the Prime Minister to lean on her.

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I don’t doubt either Mr. Rock’s or Ms. Arbour’s sincerity, but their arguments, stripped of the specious legal trimming, are atrocious. Canada “needs to put its national interest first”? That’s the whole point of refusing to bow to blackmail: to avoid encouraging further such episodes. Is this merely “an abstract reassertion of values,” at a time when “lives are at stake”? No: It is an effort to prevent more lives being put at stake in future.

Is the issue merely kowtowing to one superpower or another? No, it is about following due process, with regard to a serious criminal charge, in conformity with our treaty obligations to our neighbour, ally and fellow democracy. You know, the one that hasn’t taken our citizens hostage.

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