Skip to main content

The liberation from a Chinese jail of Kevin Garratt, a Canadian Pentecostal missionary who operated a charity in China near the highly sensitive border with North Korea, is a welcome relief.

Even so, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may be well on the way to entangling Canada in some other disturbing episodes, by agreeing to negotiate a bilateral extradition treaty with China, apparently as the price for Mr. Garratt's release.

Canada has extradition treaties with about 50 countries. Some of these have legal cultures much like Canada's. Others do not. Even in the United States, so much like Canada in many ways, there are strikingly different views on capital punishment and length of sentences. Accused people who are moved abroad, in accordance with an extradition treaty, can encounter what is truly another country.

Today, China's legal system has taken on some characteristics of Western law, but its legal culture is another story. Judicial independence is not a fact. And defence lawyers themselves are apt to be in more danger of punishment from the Chinese state than their clients. Due process? Fair trial? These are hardly guaranteed in China.

Mr. Trudeau is undoubtedly sincere when he says that Canada would insist that no one extradited to China would suffer the death penalty, and Canada can insist on such a condition. But that leaves the door open to a long list of other abuses. For the authoritarian Beijing regime, the benefit of an extradition treaty with Canada would be vastly out of proportion to any quid pro quo that Canada could receive in return. Our courts and government could find themselves regularly asked to ship offenders across the Pacific to the care of a legal system that does not meet our standards.

Hong Kong has had long experience with true rule of law, thanks to the principle of "one country, two systems." But consider the five Hong Kong booksellers who disappeared, abducted by mainland Chinese security agents, when they set foot outside Hong Kong – all because they published some gossip sheets about the Chinese elite. A Canada-China extradition treaty risks implicating our government and judiciary in Beijing's sledgehammer methods.

Interact with The Globe