Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is flatly rejecting a fresh chorus of calls for Ottawa to intervene in the extradition case of high-profile Chinese tech executive Meng Wanzhou and allow her to return home in a bid to prompt Beijing to release two jailed Canadians.
He said this would only embolden China or other countries to arbitrarily detain other Canadians in order to bend Ottawa to their will.
Mr. Trudeau said he “feels deeply for the two Michaels” – referring to former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor – but he believes there would be broad ramifications from unilaterally ending Ms. Meng’s extradition case.
“Going against the independence of our justice system would endanger the millions of Canadians who live and travel overseas every single year,” he said in Ottawa on Thursday.
“The bigger question is whether or not we want China or other countries to get the message that all they have to do to get leverage over the Canadian government is randomly arrest a couple of Canadians.”
Proponents of freeing Ms. Meng argue, among other things, that releasing her could prompt China to release Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor, jailed in apparent retaliation for Canada’s December, 2018, arrest of the Huawei Technologies executive.
The Canadians were apprehended by China shortly after Ms. Meng was arrested at Vancouver International Airport on a U.S. extradition request. Beijing publicly suggested this week that freeing Ms. Meng could pave the way for the two men’s release.
Ms. Meng is currently on bail in Vancouver fighting the U.S. extradition request. She is accused of bank fraud in connection with the violation of U.S. sanctions against Iran.
Mr. Trudeau said Canada deplores what China has done “in arbitrarily detaining the two Michaels” and by directly linking their fates with Ms. Meng’s.
But, he said, it’s very important for Canada to show foreign countries that “randomly arresting Canadians doesn’t give you leverage over the government of Canada anywhere in the world.”
Earlier this month, Beijing raised the stakes for Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor, charging them with espionage, a move that came just weeks after Ms. Meng failed in her first legal bid to extricate herself from the U.S. extradition case.
This week, a group of prominent Canadians mounted a campaign to convince the Trudeau government to free Ms. Meng on the grounds that it could help repair damaged relations with China and might prompt Beijing to release Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor. This included the release of a letter pressing Ottawa to set her free and the circulation of a legal opinion arguing that Ottawa has clear legal authority to intervene in this extradition case.
Former Liberal justice minister Allan Rock and former Supreme Court judge Louise Arbour, citing a legal opinion from Brian Greenspan, a Toronto lawyer with decades of experience in extradition cases, said the federal government is wrong to claim it doesn't have the legal authority to intervene in the Meng extradition case.
They said the federal Justice Minister “may at any time withdraw” support from an extradition case, which triggers a court-ordered release of the extradition subject.
The letter, signed by 19 mostly former politicians and officials from the Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien eras as well as by former NDP Leader Ed Broadbent, urged the Prime Minister to free Ms. Meng. They said doing so would help Canada “redefine its strategic approach to China” and trigger the release of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor. “We believe that the two Michaels will remain in their Chinese prison cells until Meng is free to return to China.”
Among the signatories were Derek Burney, a former chief of staff to Mr. Mulroney and his ambassador to the U.S., as well as former foreign affairs minister André Ouellet in Mr. Chrétien’s government.
Wesley Wark, professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, said the letter signatories display a well-meaning concern for the Kovrig and Spavor families and for the future of Canada-China relations, but he argued their position is not in the country’s national interest.
“That simply plays into Chinese hands in terms of the outlook that they maintain all along that Canada is simply playing an American game and has every power available not to do that; and I think reinforcing the Chinese official position is very unfortunate and very unhelpful to Canada and Canada’s interest,” he said.
Mr. Wark, who is a former member of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Council on National Security, wrote to Mr. Trudeau Wednesday to urge him to wait until the judicial process has been completed before deciding whether to send Ms. Meng to the U.S. or allow her to go back to China.
This week the Chinese government suggested publicly that Canada’s setting Ms. Meng free could pave the way for the return home of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor.
China has repeatedly rejected suggestions there is any connection between Ms. Meng and the two men. On Wednesday, however, a top spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs linked the two matters.
Zhao Lijian was commenting on the reports about Mr. Greenspan’s legal opinion that the federal government has the authority to intervene in Ms. Meng’s extradition case and set her free immediately.
“Such options are within the rule of law and could open up space for resolution to the situation of the two Canadians,” Mr. Zhao said, according to the official English translation of his remarks published by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Separately, former Conservative immigration minister Chris Alexander and more than 20 other Canadians signed a letter to Mr. Trudeau thanking the Prime Minister for resisting calls to intervene in the Meng case, saying to set her free from the court proceedings could harm Canada’s standing in Washington.
“Releasing Meng now would justifiably cause leaders in both the [Trump] administration and in Congress to see us as a weak and untrustworthy ally at a time when we need all the goodwill we can muster in Washington.”
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