Could Canada intervene in Meng extradition? One lawyer makes the case
TORONTO -- The federal government has the “unequivocal” authority to intervene in the extradition case of a Chinese executive, even if it doesn’t want to exercise it, says a prominent defence lawyer.
Brian Greenspan told CTV’s Power Play Tuesday that under the Extradition Act, the justice minister can withdraw the authority to proceed with the extradition of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who was arrested by Canadian authorities in Vancouver in December 2018 after the United States requested her extradition.
While her arrest sparked outrage in China and a rapid cooling of relations between Canada and China,
the Canadian government has repeatedly insisted that the court process be allowed to unfold without political interference.
It has stuck to that message, despite China’s detention of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig since shortly after Meng’s arrest.
But Greenspan said the judicial process includes what he called a “safety valve,” which allows the minister to determine if an extradition should proceed.
"The process itself is initiated by the minister of justice, initiated with an authority to proceed, and during that first phase of extradition, which is the judicial process, there's express language which permits the withdrawal of that authority to proceed at any time," Greenspan said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Greenspan told CTV News Channel that an overhaul of the Extradition Act in 1999 gives the justice minister “unfettered discretion to withdraw an extradition at any time during the judicial phase of extradition,” which offers the federal government a “very clear option.”
“I don’t express, nor would I express an opinion as to whether they ought to exercise it or whether they should withdraw, that’s a question that’s political in nature,” Greenspan said. “The best interests of Canada have to be considered. That’s a question for the government. But whether they can in fact, intervene at this stage, in my view is very clear: they can.”
But Treasury Board president Jean-Yves Duclos emphasized the importance of judicial independence when he was asked about this option to withdraw the extradition during his Tuesday press conference.
"In Canada, we have not only a tradition but a responsibility to work in a manner that is supportive of the integrity and the independence of our justice system," Duclos said.
"This is very important for the way in which our institutions work in Canada, we have a separation between the executive, and the legislative, as well as the judicial systems, and that's exactly what it should be."
But as Meng’s case inches through hearings at the B.C. Supreme Court, and she remains out on bail in Vancouver, Spavor, a businessman, and Kovrig, a former diplomat, have languished in Chinese custody for more than 560 days.
The Canadian government has repeatedly described their detention as retaliation for Meng’s arrest and an attempt to exert pressure on Canada, but China denies that. The Chinese government charged Spavor and Kovrig with espionage Friday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the charges, saying Canada was “using a wide range of public and private measures” to secure the release of the men. But he is facing growing criticism from opposition parties who say Ottawa must do more.
Duclos said the government is “very preoccupied and saddened and angered” by their detention, which he called “totally unacceptable.”
“There are all sorts of things we don’t understand, including the fact they don’t have access to consular services, which is an obligation under international treaties. We are making that well understood and well felt by the Chinese government.”
But he said the independence of the Canadian justice system is important to its citizens and the country’s international reputation.
“We believe our anger and frustration are also shared by many partners outside of Canada and some of them have voiced their level of anger and frustration. I think this is something essential.”
U.S. authorities have charged Meng, the daughter of the founder of Huawei and the giant telecom’s chief financial officer, with fraud alleging she circumvented American sanctions on Iran.
The diplomatic war of words seems to be escalating.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement Monday that the Chinese prosecution of the two Canadians is “politically motivated and completely groundless.” He said the “unjustified detentions” are aimed at coercing Canada. He called for the immediate release of the two men.
A Chinese Foreign Affairs spokesperson said Tuesday that talk of “political motives, improper detention and arbitrary arrests” applies to Canada and the U.S., not China.
The U.S. has “abused its national power” and the “case of Meng Wanzhou was completely a serious political incident,” said Zhao Lijian at a press conference in Beijing.
“If the arbitrary arrest of Meng Wanzhou by the U.S. and Canada is the so-called ‘judicial independence,’ why do they use various pretexts to interfere in the independent handling of cases by the Chinese judicial department? Such unfounded countercharges based on double standards refresh our understanding of the lower limit of the U.S. and Canadian politicians.”