Canada’s ambassador to China, John McCallum, says senior Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou has a good chance of persuading a Canadian court to reject a request for her extradition to the United States on allegations of banking fraud relating to U.S. sanctions against Iran.
He even suggested the United States might cut a deal with China to end the matter and allow Ms. Meng to return home in exchange for the release of two Canadians detained in China.
At a news conference on Tuesday for Chinese-language media in Markham, Ont., Mr. McCallum offered his view of the extradition case against Huawei’s chief financial officer, whom Canada arrested early last month at the request of U.S. law-enforcement authorities.
Mr. McCallum, who last year stirred controversy by declaring that Canada has more in common with China than the United States under President Donald Trump, said the U.S. extradition request has two serious flaws, including Mr. Trump’s suggestion in December that he could intervene in the Meng case if it helped trade talks with Beijing.
“I think she has quite good arguments on her side,” Mr. McCallum told reporters. “One, political involvement by comments from Donald Trump in her case. Two, there’s an extraterritorial aspect to her case, and three, there’s the issue of Iran sanctions, which are involved in her case, and Canada does not sign on to these Iran sanctions. So I think she has some strong arguments that she can make before a judge.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland have said the Canadian government will not interfere politically in the Meng legal case and that it should be left to the judicial system.
Mr. Trudeau would not say on Wednesday whether he agreed that the U.S. extradition case was potentially flawed.
“Part of the strength of our justice system is that people get to mount a strong defence, and I know she will,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters in La Loche, Sask. “We will ensure as a government and a country that the rule of law and independence of our justice system is properly defended.”
A senior federal official, speaking on background because they were not authorized to speak publicly to media, defended Mr. McCallum’s statements. The official said the envoy was trying to demonstrate to Beijing’s rulers that Canada’s justice system is fair and impartial and Ms. Meng will have the opportunity to mount a strong case using all available evidence.
Support for Mr. McCallum’s conduct was not universal across the government. A federal official speaking on background called the comments a misstep, while another said the envoy had muddled the message while trying to explain the extradition process.
The U.S. Embassy in Ottawa and Justice Department in Washington did not respond to requests for comment, citing the government shutdown.
The United States has informed Canada it intends to proceed with a formal extradition request by the Jan. 30 deadline.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called for the envoy to be fired, and the party’s foreign affairs critic, Erin O’Toole, accused Mr. McCallum of trying to “crater” the U.S. legal case against Ms. Meng.
“It smacks of political interference,” Mr. O’Toole said. “It was almost like this was a press conference with the strategic intention of bolstering her case and discrediting the extradition process.”
David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said Mr. McCallum has eroded the Liberal government’s commitment to non-interference in the Meng case.
““There is no earthly reason for Canada’s ambassador to China to be talking about a judicial process,” Mr. Mulroney said, adding that, when he was ambassador, he would never have “offered my assessment as to what the judge might or might not do” in a Canadian case.
Mr. McCallum did say a Canadian judge will decide whether Ms. Meng should be extradited, and stressed that the federal government has had “zero involvement.” Justice Minister David Lametti will make the final decision if the court rules she can be extradited.
Beijing has demanded Ms. Meng be immediately allowed to return home. She is free on $10-million bail and is living in a $5-million home she owns in Vancouver, subject to a daily curfew of 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Days after her arrest, China detained Canadians Michael Kovrig, a diplomat on leave, and businessman Michael Spavor on allegations of endangering China’s national security. Beijing also imposed the death penalty on Canadian Robert Schellenberg after a Chinese court had given him a 15-year prison term for drug smuggling.
“I do know that President Xi Jinping was very angry about it [the Meng arrest] and so others in the Chinese government had taken the lead from him and I don’t know exactly why,” Mr. McCallum said. “Maybe it is because Huawei is a national flagship company of China.”
He said Ms. Meng will be in a Vancouver court on Feb. 6 to discuss her bail conditions, but the extradition case will not begin until early March, when a date is set for court hearings several months later.
He outlined three scenarios of how Ms. Meng’s fate might be resolved.
Mr. McCallum said Ms. Meng can win her court case and be allowed to return home, or lose and be extradited. The third option would be an agreement between Washington and Beijing.
“And part of the deal would be that they would no longer seek her extradition," the envoy said. "And we would hope if the U.S. made such a deal, part of the deal would be also to release the two Canadians. So that is an option, but that is more under the control of the United States.”
If the Canadian courts rule that Ms. Meng should be extradited, Mr. McCallum said “that would not be a happy outcome, and that it would take years because she would have a right to appeal all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada.”
Although Mr. McCallum said on Tuesday that Canada did not support the sanctions against Iran that are related to Ms. Meng’s case, Ottawa did in fact back international and U.S. sanctions during the period under investigation.
At that time, Canada not only applied United Nations-mandated sanctions against Iran, but between 2011 and 2013 also joined the United States and other allies in a new round of sanctions. Ottawa loosened those sanctions in 2016 as part of an Obama-era pact in which Iran agreed to controls on its nuclear-weapons capacity, an agreement Mr. Trump later disavowed.
“It’s as if we’re totally indifferent as to what Huawei might or might not have done in Iran," Mr. Mulroney said. "I mean, surely we’re not.”
Former Canadian diplomat Charles Burton, an associate professor at Brock University, said the Canadian envoy’s statements “call into question the suitability of Mr. McCallum continuing in his senior diplomatic role.”
Mr. McCallum’s comments are not the first time he has been critical of the U.S. President in relation to China.
The former Liberal cabinet minister, whom Mr. Trudeau named as ambassador in 2017 to pursue a free-trade deal with Beijing, publicly criticized Mr. Trump in early 2018, saying the Trudeau government has more in common with China’s authoritarian regime.
“In some important policy areas such as the environment, global warming, free trade, globalization, the policies of the government of Canada are closer to the policies of the government of China than they are to U.S. policies,” Mr. McCallum said last January in China.
At the time, Mr. Trudeau did not disavow Mr. McCallum’s remarks, but said his government’s approach to foreign affairs is to look for common ground with all countries, including China.
Mr. McCallum has been a long-time advocate of closer ties to Beijing, and accepted more than $73,300 in free trips to China when he was a Member of Parliament on the opposition benches between 2008 and 2015.