Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has rejected as “dangerous” a proposal from former prime minister Jean Chrétien that the government drop extradition proceedings against Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou to get China to release two Canadians and end punitive measures against Canada.
Ms. Freeland warned that Canada should not cave in to pressure from China and short-circuit Ms. Meng’s court case, as sources say Mr. Chrétien has advocated. Such a move would only encourage other countries to bully Canada by arresting its citizens and using them to barter for concessions, she suggested.
“It would be a very dangerous precedent indeed for Canada to alter its behaviour when it comes to honouring an extradition treaty in response to external pressure,” the Foreign Affairs Minister said on Thursday at the Canadian embassy in Washington as she wrapped up two days of meetings with Trump administration officials and members of Congress.
“When we think about the implications of setting such a precedent, we could easily find ourselves in a situation where, by acting in a single specific case, we could actually make all Canadians around the world less safe."
Mr. Chrétien has floated the idea to business executives, sources have told The Globe and Mail. The proposal is for the Justice Minister to exercise his legal authority to stop Ms. Meng’s extradition. The former Liberal prime minister also last week offered to serve as Canada’s special envoy to China to help free the Canadians.
A senior Liberal source, speaking anonymously because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said some party members have grown increasingly critical of the Trudeau government’s performance in recent months. That is in part, they suggested, because the Prime Minister’s Office has not turned to people from the eras of Mr. Chrétien or his successor, Paul Martin, for assistance since taking power in 2015 as often as these groups would have liked.
Canadian authorities executed a U.S. arrest warrant in December to detain Ms. Meng at Vancouver International Airport. She is wanted by U.S. authorities on allegations related to sanctions against Iran. Ms. Meng is free on bail. Legal experts have said the case could drag on for years if a Canadian court rules in favour of extradition and Ms. Meng appeals.
Within days of her arrest, China detained Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig in what was widely seen as retaliation. Beijing has also imposed trade restrictions on Canadian canola, pork, beef and other food products. Since December, two other Canadians in China have been sentenced to death.
The FBI has outlined a years-long case against Ms. Meng. But U.S. President Donald Trump has mused that he might end the prosecution in exchange for trade concessions from China.
Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole said his party supports sending an envoy to restart dialogue with the Chinese. “That said,” he added, "we do not support an envoy eroding Canadian rule of law in the process.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is scheduled to meet with Mr. Trump at the White House on June 20. He plans to ask the U.S. President for further help securing the release of the two Canadians. Among other things, Mr. Trudeau would like the President to present a united front with him when they meet Chinese President Xi Jinping at a G20 summit in Japan on June 28 and 29.
The Trudeau government says it will honour Canada’s extradition treaty with the United States and leave the courts to decide Ms. Meng’s case.
Ms. Freeland warned that having the Justice Minister stop the process would run afoul of Canada’s commitment to international law.
“We are a rule-of-law country, and rule of law is not something you can pick and choose. Either you are a rule-of-law country or you are not,” she said. “When it comes to Ms. Meng, there has been no political interference. This has been entirely about officials taking decisions according to Canada’s commitments, and that is the right way for extradition requests to proceed.”
Ms. Freeland would not say whether she would enlist Mr. Chrétien as a special envoy.
“That really is a decision for the Prime Minister,” she said, adding that she respects Mr. Chrétien.
The former prime minister spent much of his decade in office building closer ties to Beijing after a freeze that followed the Communist government’s massacre of democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989. He led several trade missions to China.
Former Canadian ambassador to China Guy Saint-Jacques said Canadians should be grateful to Mr. Chrétien for being willing to act as an envoy and offering “creative ideas.”
But he said cancelling the extradition would repudiate Canada’s appeals to allies for help and incite anger and punitive measures from Washington. “Donald Trump would go ballistic,” Mr. Saint-Jacques said.
He said if Canada wanted to cancel the extradition, it should have acted in December, after Mr. Trump said he was open to using the case to extract a better trade deal from China.
Mr. Trudeau is also expected next week to get an indication from Mr. Trump on when the United States will ratify the renegotiated North American free-trade agreement. The deal is progressing slowly through the U.S. Congress, and Ms. Freeland said Canada would co-ordinate its timing with that of the United States, rather than pushing it through before Parliament breaks for summer.
“Our plan is to move forward in tandem with the U.S. We think of it as a kind of Goldilocks approach,” she said. “We’re not going to go too fast, we’re not going to go too slow.”