Fears for Canadians Held in China as Meng Wanzhou Extradition Case Allowed to Proceed

A Canadian judge has ruled that the extradition case against Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, filed by the U.S. government, will be allowed to proceed. Meng, who was detained at the Vancouver airport in December 2018, has been charged by the U.S. with fraud related to violations of U.S. sanctions on Iran and other crimes. Justice Heather Holmes of British Columbia’s Supreme Court ruled that the charge satisfies the “double criminality” requirement, meaning that the crime she is accused of in the U.S. would also be considered a crime in Canada. Clare Duffy of CNN has more on the ruling:

US prosecutors want Meng to stand trial on multiple charges, including bank fraud and violating US sanctions against Iran.

The decision to continue the case could have huge political implications for Canada, the United States and China. China’s government called the ruling a “grave political incident” in a statement posted to the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa’s official Twitter account Wednesday.

Following a four-day hearing in Vancouver’s Supreme Court in January, Holmes ruled Wednesday that the US allegations meet the key Canadian standard of “double criminality,” which examines whether the conduct alleged by the country requesting the could be considered a crime under Canadian law. The double criminality standard is a preliminary step in the case; now that the judge determined it has been met, Meng’s case can proceed.

The ruling does not determine Meng’s guilt or innocence, only whether her actions would be considered a crime under Canadian law. Meng and have denied the US allegations. [Source]

At the Wall Street Journal, Jacquie McNish reports that while this ruling is significant in that it allows the case to proceed, it may still be a long way from resolution:

The legal fight to have her extradited to the U.S. could drag on for years, as Ms. Meng’s lawyers have filed a number of challenges that the British Columbia court has agreed to hear. The case could be further delayed if Ms. Meng appeals Wednesday’s ruling.

The U.S. requested her arrest and extradition, alleging that she misled the Chinese company’s banks about ties between Huawei and an affiliated company that did business in Iran. The banks cleared hundreds of millions of dollars in transactions that potentially violated international sanctions.

Huawei and Ms. Meng have denied any wrongdoing. Lawyers for Ms. Meng challenged the U.S. extradition request at a hearing in January on the grounds that the allegations didn’t constitute a crime in Canada because the country stopped enforcing sanctions against Iran in 2016. Canadian courts won’t approve extraditions unless the alleged crime qualifies as a criminal offense in Canada.

Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes of the Supreme Court of British Columbia said in her decision that the U.S. extradition request met the Canadian legal test. In a 23-page judgment, she said that although Canada withdrew sanctions against Iran, the U.S. sanctions against the country “give background or context” to U.S. allegations of bank fraud, which is also illegal in Canada. [Source]

The decision is expected to further worsen already deteriorating China-, and the Chinese government immediately lashed out at both Canada and the U.S. for the decision, saying both countries “staged a political farce” with Meng’s arrest.

Before the court hearing, Justin Trudeau defended Canada’s judicial independence, saying the judge’s decision would not be influenced by any political interests. From Rob Gilles at AP:

“We have seen Chinese officials linking those two cases from the very beginning. Canada has an independent judicial system that functions without interference or override by politicians,” Trudeau said.

“China doesn’t work quite the same the way, and (they) don’t seem to understand that we do have an independent judiciary from political intervention,” he said.

[…] Trudeau has come under increasing pressure to speak out against the Chinese regime by the opposition and others.

“We will continue to follow and uphold the independence of our judicial system while we advocate for the release of the two Michaels who have been arbitrarily detained by China in retaliation for a judicial system that is independent in the way it functions,” Trudeau said. [Source]

Many observers fear that the Chinese government’s anger over the case will be brought to bear on two Canadians, and Michael Spavor, who have been detained in China since a few days after Meng’s detention in what was widely viewed as a retaliatory measure. Both men have been charged with endangering state security and detained without trial with no access to their families or lawyers for almost 18 months. Tracy Sherlock and Dan Bilefsky of The New York Times report on the potential impact of the ruling on bilateral relations:

Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said the ruling likely presaged “both sides hardening their stances at a moment when countries are already questioning China’s role in the pandemic.”

[…] Chinese state media this week signaled there could be a backlash if the ruling did not go in Ms. Meng’s favor. Global Times, a state-owned tabloid with a nationalist bent, warned of “resentment” in China should the judge make a decision that “panders to the Trump administration.”

After the decision, Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, François-Philippe Champagne, stressed that the Canadian judiciary was independent.

He said that Canada would continue to engage with China, and that its top priority was the release of the two Canadians — the former diplomat Michael Kovrig and the businessman Michael Spavor — “who have been arbitrarily detained for over 500 days.” [Source]

Analysts fear the government treatment of Kovrig and Spavor will worsen following this ruling. From Mike Blanchfield at the Canadian Press:

“The PRC authorities’ statement of consequences of ‘continuous harm’ to Canada if Ms. Meng is not returned to China forthwith suggests that there will be further retaliation,” said Charles Burton, a China expert with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, who has served as a diplomat in Beijing.

“I am concerned that Kovrig and Spavor may be forced to make false confessions on Chinese TV followed by a sham secret trial and possible sentences of death, usually suspended for two years before commutation to life imprisonment.”

David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China between 2009 and 2012, said China is furious over the unresolved Meng case.

“Unfortunately, two innocent Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, will bear the brunt of that anger. It is likely that the detentions will be extended until China has some clarity as to Ms. Meng’s eventual fate. Unfortunately, that could take some time,” said Mulroney. [Source]

Many in Canada also expect the Chinese government to retaliate by withholding trade with Canada and possibly critical gear needed in the fight against COVID-19. David Ljunggren and Steve Scherer of Reuters report:

This month, China’s CanSino Biologics Inc began working with the country’s National Research Council to “pave the way” for future COVID-19 vaccine trials in Canada. China has been supplying the country with personal protection equipment during the outbreak.

“If China decides to cut us off from those kinds of things, people will die,” said Stephanie Carvin, an assistant professor and security expert at Ottawa’s Carleton University.

[…] Chinese President “ will want to appear strong and will want to be seen as acting against Canada,” Saint-Jacques told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

Asked on Thursday if he feared Chinese backlash, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not answer. Instead, he noted that Canada’s judiciary system is independent, and renewed his call for immediate release of citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

“We will continue to defend our interests and our values,” Trudeau added. [Source]

The charges against Meng are part of a broader U.S. government offensive against Huawei, which the Trump administration sees as a security threat as it seeks to install the infrastructure for global 5G networks. Last month, the U.S. Department of Commerce issued new rules barring Huawei and its suppliers from using American technology. In February, a court in Brooklyn indicted Huawei for “conspiring to steal trade secrets from six U.S. technology companies.”

The ruling also comes as many in Canada are raising concerns about Chinese government influence in the country, in particular a rise in attacks and intimidation of activists in Canada by Chinese government agents and their supporters, according to a new report by a coalition of human rights groups. The report also asserted that Ottawa’s failure to respond to such attacks assertively is exacerbating the problem. Public opinion of China in Canada is at the lowest point in 15 years, partly in response to the Meng case.

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