The extradition hearing of Meng Wanzhou begins on Monday and should last, in three phases, until fall, after which B.C. Supreme Court Justice Heather Holmes is expected to deliver her decision. Now that we know the Americans will not intervene to help, the Liberal government must decide whether to let that process play out, or to intervene itself. There are no good choices.
Last month, Justin Trudeau publicly implored the Trump administration not to sign a trade agreement with China without resolving the issue of the two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, whom the Chinese government arrested in apparent retaliation for Canada’s detention of Ms. Meng at the request of the United States.
“We’ve said that the United States should not sign a final and complete agreement with China that does not settle the question of Meng Wanzhou and the two Canadians,” the Prime Minister said during a French-language television interview.
On Wednesday, the United States and China signed a first-phase agreement designed to reduce trade tensions between the two countries. Negotiations on the second phase are not expected until after the November presidential election.
Unless some secret process is under way, the United States does not appear willing to drop its request for the extradition of Ms. Meng, a senior executive of the Chinese electronics giant Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. The hearings will proceed, and the two Michaels will remain captive.
Canada is caught between two belligerent, aggressive powers, one of which is flagrantly violating international law.
“It is completely unlawful under international law for China to take countermeasures against Canada for fulfilling its obligations under an extradition treaty with the United States,” said Chimène Keitner, a professor of international law at UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, who has written on the Meng case. “I am extremely distressed” that a major power such as China would take hostages in retaliation for a lawful Canadian action, she said in an interview.
As for the actions of the Trump administration, “if there is a rational policy, no reasonable person can discern it."
This Gordian knot has so many strands. The Americans want to try Ms. Meng because they allege she put foreign banks at risk of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. Fifty-seven Canadians died last week when Iran shot down an airliner as a result of tensions between the United States and Iran.
The Americans also want Canada to ban Huawei from any involvement in its 5G technology, which begins rolling out this year. It will be very difficult for the Trudeau government to make a decision on Huawei and 5G that isn’t linked, in U.S. and Chinese eyes, to the Meng extradition case.
At any time, Justice Minister David Lametti could intervene, terminating the extradition process and sending Ms. Meng back to China. But such a decision would be virtually unprecedented and would politicize the legal process.
Although Canada is only a middle power, the Trudeau government believes our country has a role to play in this new, dangerous world dominated by an insecure and aggressive China, on the one side, and a U.S. President who is actively undermining the foundation of the global order, on the other.
That role, as Chrystia Freeland told the House of Commons in June, 2017, when she was foreign affairs minister, is “to work with other like-minded people and countries” to preserve the postwar multilateral order, based on respect for global institutions and the rule of law.
By that standard, Mr. Lametti should not intervene in the Meng extradition case, at least until after the judge has rendered her verdict.
But following such a path would consign two Canadians to another year of harsh imprisonment. Why must they suffer, even as China and the United States flout the very norms that Canada is trying to preserve?
For now, the only hope is that the Americans, Canadians and Chinese are working behind the scenes to resolve this case in a way that respects treaties and legal conventions. Otherwise, either the minister must intervene or the two Michaels must continue to suffer. Either course would be an outrage. One must prevail.