The Canadian government has given the green light for hearings on whether to hand Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou over to U.S. law authorities.
Ms. Meng, a Chinese citizen, was arrested while changing planes at Vancouver International Airport in December, causing a diplomatic rift between Canada and China.
The federal government took pains to defend Friday’s decision to approve extradition hearings, saying in a news release that Canada is following the letter of the law governing such proceedings.
“Canada is a country governed by the rule of law,” a Department of Justice statement said. “The decision on whether to issue an Authority to Proceed was made by Department of Justice ... officials who are part of a non-partisan public service.”
The development drew more ire on Friday from Beijing. China has accused Canada of collaborating with the United States to harass Ms. Meng, a top executive with Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., China’s biggest private company.
The Chinese embassy in Canada, which has previously called the Meng arrest a “political conspiracy," on Friday questioned whether the Canadian government is really bound by the “rule of law” in this case, and urged Ottawa to let Ms. Meng go.
“The Chinese side is utterly dissatisfied with and firmly opposes the issuance of Authority to Proceed by the Department of Justice Canada on the case of Meng Wanzhou,” the embassy said.
“This is not a merely judicial case, but a political persecution against a Chinese high-tech enterprise. The subsequent developments have proved this. The so-called ‘rule of law’ and ‘judicial independence’ asserted by Canada cannot cover up the mistakes made by the Canadian side on the case of Meng Wanzhou.”
Only days after Ms. Meng’s arrest, and after Beijing threatened “serious consequences” if she was not released, two Canadians were detained in China in apparent retaliation. China’s foreign ministry says both men – former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor – are being held on suspicion of endangering national security. A Chinese court later sentenced to death a Canadian who had previously been jailed for drug smuggling.
U.S. prosecutors accuse Ms. Meng and Huawei of fraud to circumvent U.S. sanctions on Iran. Her defence will hinge on allegations that the U.S. charges are politically motivated, and on proving she did nothing wrong under Canadian law, her lead counsel, Richard Peck, told The Globe and Mail last month.
The Trudeau government has said it is simply complying with the terms of Canada’s extradition treaty with the United States.
On Friday, the Department of Justice said a review of evidence submitted by the United States has satisfied the conditions required to proceed with an extradition hearing.
“The department is satisfied that the requirements set out by the Extradition Act for the issuance of an Authority to Proceed have been met and there is sufficient evidence to be put before an extradition judge for decision.”
The Canadian government noted that the proceeding will not determine whether Ms. Meng is guilty of anything. “An extradition hearing is not a trial, nor does it render a verdict of guilt or innocence. If a person is ultimately extradited from Canada to face prosecution in another country, the individual will have a trial in that country.”
The Chinese government remains unconvinced the Trudeau government has no margin to manoeuvre.
Hours before the Department of Justice announcement on Friday, China’s Foreign Ministry took Canada to task over possible double standards by commenting at a regular daily news briefing in Beijing on allegations of political interference in the prosecution of Montreal engineering and construction giant SNC-Lavalin Group Inc.
Former justice minister and attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould testified this week that Mr. Trudeau and senior officials in the Prime Minister’s Office inappropriately pressed her to help the construction giant avoid trial on charges of corruption and fraud. (Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh are calling on Mr. Trudeau to bring the House of Commons back next week even though a break is scheduled.)
Asked by a state media journalist if it was contradictory for Mr. Trudeau to say he could not interfere in Ms. Meng’s case while his government stands accused of trying to intervene on behalf of SNC-Lavalin, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said he “really liked this question.”
“Of course, I think that this is a question that should be asked of the Canadian government,” the spokesman said. “Not only Chinese and Canadian citizens, but the whole world is extremely interested to hear how the Canadian government answers this question.”
Both Ms. Meng and Huawei have denied the U.S. allegations.
University of Ottawa security expert Wesley Wark said extradition could be a lengthy process if there are appeals, and he added that he would not be surprised if Ms. Meng is released as part of a U.S.-China trade deal. “The best outcome for everyone is if the United States and China come to a trade agreement.”
The British Columbia Supreme Court has scheduled an appearance for March 6 to set the date for the extradition hearing.
Ms. Meng’s defence team said in a statement that it is disappointed that Justice Minister David Lametti is proceeding with the extradition hearing, citing what it called “the political nature of the U.S. charges” and U.S. President Donald Trump’s suggestion in mid-December that he might use the Huawei executive as a pawn in trade talks.
James Wu, executive president of the Canada China City Friendship Association, called the Canadian government’s decision to proceed with hearings wrong and unwise.
“The whole world knows that Mr. Trump is using this case as a bargaining chip, and that it’s obviously a political issue, but the Canadian government cannot make a wise decision, which makes us very angry,” Mr. Wu said.
“The relationship between Canada and China has already been damaged, and this thing will further damage the friendly relationship between the two countries.”
However, Jimmy Yan, a B.C. lawyer who is a frequent commentator on legal issues in the Chinese-language media, said while concerns over U.S. political motivation are legitimate, Canada is merely fulfilling its obligation to an extradition partner.
“This is an opportunity and, equally, a challenge for Canada to demonstrate the independence and fairness of our court system,” Mr. Yan said. “There is adequate room for Ms. Meng to defend herself.”
With a report from Reuters