OTTAWA—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is standing by his ambassador to China who voiced his opinion that Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou has “quite good” and “strong arguments” to fight extradition from Canada to the United States.
In a series of surprisingly frank comments, John McCallum revealed new details about the strain Meng’s arrest has placed on Canada-China relations, his opinion that her legal chances of fighting the extradition are very good, and allied’ pressure Canada faces to ban Huawei.
Speaking to mostly Chinese-language media in his former riding, McCallum expressed regret over the “difficult situation” and hope that if the U.S. cuts a deal with China in which it dropped Meng’s extradition, that China would release two detained Canadians.
“I think she has quite good arguments on her side: one, political involvement by comments from Donald Trump in her case; two, there’s an extraterritorial aspect to her case; and three, there’s the issue of Iran sanctions, which are involved in her case, and Canada does not sign onto these Iran sanctions,” said McCallum.
“So I think she has some strong arguments that she can make before a judge, and then the judge will decide whether he thinks — he or she thinks that she should be extradited or not.
McCallum revealed new details of how angrily China’s leader reacted to Canada’s arrest of Meng.
“What I do know is that President Xi Jinping was very angry about this. And so others in the Chinese government have taken the lead from him. And — and I don’t know exactly why. Maybe it is because Huawei is a national flagship company of China. And so it’s not just any company; it’s a special Chinese company, so maybe that is why he is so angry, or there may be other reasons that I don’t know.”
McCallum said when the foreign ministry summoned him after the Meng arrest to formally object and demand Meng’s release, the meeting was “very hostile.”
McCallum expressed regret over the impact of it all on the Canada-China relationship.
“I still want those ties to be strengthened. I am sorry that this incident, this difficult incident, arose. It was a total surprise for everybody in Canada. But it happened, and we have to deal with it.”
“Because this is a hiccup along the road. It’s not a small hiccup, it’s a big hiccup, but it’s a hiccup, and we will eventually solve it and move forward.”
McCallum said there are three possible outcomes in the Meng affair:
“One, she is deported, she is extradited. That would not be a happy outcome, and that would take years before it happened because she would have the right to appeal all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada. But I’m just talking options. I’m not saying what’s good and what’s bad.”
“The second option would be that the United States made some kind of a deal with China, and part of the deal would be that they would no longer seek her extradition. And we would hope, if the U.S. made such a deal, part of the deal would also be to release the two Canadians…but that is more under the control of the United States than it is under the control of Canada.
“And the third option…is that she could be released by a Canadian court. And that would be up to the judge, and her hearing will occur in several months.”
While Trudeau did not say explicitly that he agreed with McCallum that Meng has “strong arguments,” the prime minister did not publicly criticize McCallum for breaking with his government’s practice of refraining from expressing any view of the strength of the U.S. extradition case against Meng.
“I think part of the strength of our justice system is that people get to mount their own defence and I know she (Meng) will do that,” said Trudeau in Saskatchewan Wednesday.
“I know we will ensure as a government and as a country that all the rules and the independence of our justice system is properly defended and properly supported.”
At the request of the U.S. Justice Department, Canada arrested Meng on a provisional arrest warrant on Dec. 1.
The U.S. wants Canada to extradite Meng, the chief financial officer of Huawei, to face fraud charges. The U.S. accuses her of misleading multinational banks about Huawei’s ties to a company doing business in Iran, and put them at risk of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran.
McCallum’s remarks are a much franker and more sobering view of the United States’ case against her — one that until now, the Liberal government has refrained from expressing publicly. It could put Canada’s justice minister in an awkward position when it comes to whether to ultimately surrender Meng to the U.S.
McCallum also said while Canada has not yet taken a decision on whether to ban Huawei from participating in Canada’s 5G network, he admitted there’s “pressure” to ban it.
“Other members of what we call the Five Eyes — United States, Australia, UK, New Zealand — have said no to Huawei, or at least UK, one of their big companies has. So there’s pressure on Canada to say no,” McCallum said.
McCallum tried to insist nevertheless that the fate of Meng, Huawei’s chief financial officer and daughter of its founder Ren Zhengfei, is up to the courts to decide, not the federal Liberal government.
“My point is that I know this has angered China, but we have a system of extradition treaty, a system of rules of law which are above the government. The government cannot change these things.
“And as I said, I think Ms. Meng has quite a strong case. Indeed, the father of Ms. Meng, the founder of Huawei, has said publicly that he thinks that …the justice system will give her a fair trial.”
B.C. lawyer Gary Botting, an expert in extradition law, said in an interview with the Star that McCallum tried to “neutralize” his comments with those caveats.
But Botting also defended McCallum, saying that until the U.S. legal case is properly before a court, “it’s fair game for somebody like McCallum to make a comment like this.”
Botting, who has written 10 books on extradition law, said Trudeau’s oft-repeated talking points, that Canada will follow the “rule of law” in the case, “are a red herring.”
He said the Meng case — and any extradition decision — is anything but a simple legal matter and absolutely takes account — and should weigh — political factors.
He said the Canada-U.S. extradition treaty and the extradition act both grant the government power to decline to an extradition request if it believes a case like the one against Huawei is politicized or is part of a political agenda.
The federal government now has two opportunities to exert its own power to decline an extradition — when it decides whether to send an extradition request to court in the first place, and when it decides whether to surrender a wanted person after a court rules the papers are all in order.
Botting slammed the Canadian government for repeatedly leaving that first decision — whether to issue an “authority to proceed” to put the case to a Canadian court — up to Justice Department officials.
“It’s the tail wagging the dog, frankly,” he said.
Another legal expert agreed McCallum’s comments are not entirely inappropriate.
“This is legitimate rebuke against the (U.S.) president,” said University of Ottawa law professor Errol Mendes, and shows “his intervention undermines the legitimacy of the rule of law process in the extradition hearing. It may be a desire to show China that we are not servile to the wishes of the Trump administration.”
But Mendes said while Meng may well have a strong case to defend, “until the evidence is presented and analyzed, it is too early to either suggest a strong case or a slam dunk case either.”
He said Trudeau gave a more politically “nuanced” view of things.
“Given that it is important for Canada to stand by a rigorous support for the rule of law process not just in this extradition case, but also even against Trump and China in other areas such as in the international trade law arena, we can’t afford to side with either China or the U.S. when they attack the fundamental norms of the rule of law.”
Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told a Bloomberg interviewer on Tuesday the Canadian government has not and will not ask the U.S. to drop its extradition.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying at Wednesday’s daily briefing in Beijing declined to comment on the prospect of harm to U.S.-China trade talks, but said that “the U.S. side claimed that its extradition request to Canada is essentially related to the U.S. sanction bills on Iran.”
She said Huawei says “it complies with all applicable laws and regulations where it operates” and added China opposes the “U.S. unilateral sanctions on Iran outside the framework of the UN Security Council.”
“What the U.S. has done does not accord with the international law and has been opposed by the whole world, including its allies. The Canadian side is also opposed to that.”
“Therefore, the U.S. actions… are highly political and are in nature scientific bullying.”
Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc