Arrest of Chinese executive is more about politics than law

In Canada, the deepening dispute between Ottawa and Beijing over the detention of corporate big shot Meng Wanzhou is viewed as a conflict between rule of law and politics.

“Regardless of what goes on in other countries, Canada is and will always remain a country with rule of law,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last month in justifying his government’s decision to arrest Meng, chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.

What Trudeau meant is that Meng was arrested in Vancouver and held for possible extradition to the U.S. under the terms of a lawful Canadian statute.

But what they didn’t say is that this statute, Canada’s Extradition Act, is itself very political.

True, it does call for a hearing before a judge to evaluate the merits of the extradition request. That judicial process can take months.

But in the end, by law, the final decision whether to hand over Meng to U.S. authorities will be made not by a judge, but by a politician, the federal minister of justice — currently David Lametti.

And while, according to the justice ministry website, the minister does not have carte blanche, he does possess wide authority to accept or reject the conclusion reached by the judge hearing the case.

In particular, according to the act, the minister must refuse the extradition request if he deems the alleged offence political.

So it’s perhaps no wonder that the Chinese government is angered by Canada’s insistence on holding Meng under a mild form of house arrest while the extradition request is being adjudicated.

To the Chinese side, the crime Meng is being accused of is essentially political. The Americans accuse her and Huawei of fraud for trying to avoid U.S. economic sanctions against Iran.

These sanctions were, by definition, political. They were imposed by Washington in order to put pressure on the Iranian regime.

The political nature of Washington’s extradition request was underlined by U.S. President Donald Trump last month. He linked Meng’s arrest to the ongoing trade dispute between the U.S. and China.

In the background is the competition between Huawei and western companies over who will supply the telecom equipment needed to upgrade the world’s wireless system.

The U.S., along with Australia and New Zealand, is banning Huawei equipment from being used in the so-called 5G upgrade. They argue that Huawei’s bid is part of an attempt by Chinese security agencies to bug the new network.

Also hanging over the dispute is Meng’s status as a member of China’s new communist nobility (her father founded Huawei). Think how Washington would react if Canada arrested Ivanka Trump.

Given all of this, Beijing may be forgiven for thinking that politics is behind Ottawa’s decision to hold Meng.

The back story may also explain China’s crude attempts to retaliate — by arresting two Canadians on trumped-up national security charges and by suddenly sentencing a third to death for his part in a drug smuggling scheme.

China’s position seems to be this: If the final decision on Meng’s extradition is to be made by a politician anyway, why not bypass the lengthy judicial process and go directly to the end game.

I admit there is a certain logic to the idea. But it is not one that, so far at least, the Canadian government seems willing to accept.

Thomas Walkom is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.

Arrest of Chinese executive is more about politics than law

In Canada, the deepening dispute between Ottawa and Beijing over the detention of corporate big shot Meng Wanzhou is viewed as a conflict between rule of law and politics.

“Regardless of what goes on in other countries, Canada is and will always remain a country with rule of law,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last month in justifying his government’s decision to arrest Meng, chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.

What Trudeau meant is that Meng was arrested in Vancouver and held for possible extradition to the U.S. under the terms of a lawful Canadian statute.

But what they didn’t say is that this statute, Canada’s Extradition Act, is itself very political.

True, it does call for a hearing before a judge to evaluate the merits of the extradition request. That judicial process can take months.

But in the end, by law, the final decision whether to hand over Meng to U.S. authorities will be made not by a judge, but by a politician, the federal minister of justice — currently David Lametti.

And while, according to the justice ministry website, the minister does not have carte blanche, he does possess wide authority to accept or reject the conclusion reached by the judge hearing the case.

In particular, according to the act, the minister must refuse the extradition request if he deems the alleged offence political.

So it’s perhaps no wonder that the Chinese government is angered by Canada’s insistence on holding Meng under a mild form of house arrest while the extradition request is being adjudicated.

To the Chinese side, the crime Meng is being accused of is essentially political. The Americans accuse her and Huawei of fraud for trying to avoid U.S. economic sanctions against Iran.

These sanctions were, by definition, political. They were imposed by Washington in order to put pressure on the Iranian regime.

The political nature of Washington’s extradition request was underlined by U.S. President Donald Trump last month. He linked Meng’s arrest to the ongoing trade dispute between the U.S. and China.

In the background is the competition between Huawei and western companies over who will supply the telecom equipment needed to upgrade the world’s wireless system.

The U.S., along with Australia and New Zealand, is banning Huawei equipment from being used in the so-called 5G upgrade. They argue that Huawei’s bid is part of an attempt by Chinese security agencies to bug the new network.

Also hanging over the dispute is Meng’s status as a member of China’s new communist nobility (her father founded Huawei). Think how Washington would react if Canada arrested Ivanka Trump.

Given all of this, Beijing may be forgiven for thinking that politics is behind Ottawa’s decision to hold Meng.

The back story may also explain China’s crude attempts to retaliate — by arresting two Canadians on trumped-up national security charges and by suddenly sentencing a third to death for his part in a drug smuggling scheme.

China’s position seems to be this: If the final decision on Meng’s extradition is to be made by a politician anyway, why not bypass the lengthy judicial process and go directly to the end game.

I admit there is a certain logic to the idea. But it is not one that, so far at least, the Canadian government seems willing to accept.

Thomas Walkom is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.

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