China dispute likely to drag on for at least a year: former top-ranking officials
Rachel Gilmore, CTVNews.ca Staff
Published Sunday, January 13, 2019 7:00AM EST
OTTAWA -- Two of Canada’s former top-ranking officials say the China dispute is unlikely to be resolved within the next year. That means the two detained Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, could remain in Chinese detention for an extended duration.
“This could go very slowly,” former foreign affairs minister John Manley told host Evan Solomon during a panel for CTV Question Period, airing Sunday.
“It’s optimistic to think that our processes are going to actually resolve this for Meng in a year,” he said.
Manley was referring to Chinese telecom executive Meng Wanzhou. Canada arrested Meng in response to an extradition order from the United States. China then went on to detain two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, in an apparent retaliation for Meng’s December arrest.
Former CSIS Director Richard Fadden, who joined Manley on the panel, said China is unlikely to release Kovrig and Spavor before Meng’s case is resolved.
“Our extradition process is rather slow, to put it very diplomatically, so they could quite easily, in their way of thinking, say to themselves -- well (Canada’s) taking 12 months to process Ms. Meng, why should they deal with these cases any more rapidly?” Fadden said.
Fadden was speaking from personal experience. He was still working in the civil service in 2014 when Kevin and Julia Garratt were detained in China. Ms. Garratt was detained for six months, while her husband remained in Chinese detention for 775 days.
“I think a measure of patience is going to be required. These two people, unfortunately, being held by the Chinese, are not going to be released next week,” Fadden said.
Manley echoed Fadden’s concern.
“(Meng’s) first trial date has been set, but it’s a date to set a date,” Manley said.
The former foreign affairs minister explained that it isn’t unusual for extradition cases to drag on for at least a year -- and sometimes longer. If the Chinese opt to keep the two Canadians in detention until the case resolved, as Fadden suspects they might, it could be some time before Kovrig and Spavor step foot on Canadian soil.
However, the two experts pointed out that now that the case is before a judge, there’s little the government can do.
“We’re in it now. I mean, we’re like the bear in the woods. We put our foot in the leg-hole trap,” Manley said.
He added that the time to act would have been in advance of Meng’s arrest.
“I don’t really think we should have gotten into this in the first place,” Manley said.
“There were a variety of things we could have done.”
One of those options, according to Manley, would have been to exercise discretion in advance of having to adhere to the extradition process. He said the minister of justice also has the final say on extradition orders, so discretion can play a role at the end of the process too.
However, Fadden said, now that Meng has been arrested, the matter is before the courts and outside of the government’s ability to intervene.
“You don’t interfere with a set process even though at the final analysis a minister has the right to say yea or nay,” Fadden said.
During a different panel in the same episode of CTV’s Question Period, former NDP leader Tom Mulcair had a different take.
“We shouldn’t even allow this to go to the courts. We should allow her to go home,” Mulcair said on the subject of Meng’s U.S. extradition order.
He expressed his belief that the American extradition order had political motivations behind it.
“We can’t have it both ways. We can’t plead the rule of law and say that we’re following the rules like the good scouts that we are and at the same time have an American President who openly states that he would be willing to let her go if he gets a trade deal,” Mulcair said.
No matter what route the government decides to take, Manley and Fadden both said they would not personally travel to China anytime soon.
“I said I wouldn’t go right now. Others are saying there’s no evidence that Canadian business executives are being taken. I think that becomes a matter of personal judgement,” said Manley.
“But there’s clearly a risk that this could escalate.”
Meng is scheduled to appear before Canadian courts on Feb. 6.