Editorial

As legal opinions go, this one ranks as “interesting.” Its timing and rationale, however, lean more into the realm of “curious.”

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This article was published 24/6/2020 (291 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

As legal opinions go, this one ranks as "interesting." Its timing and rationale, however, lean more into the realm of "curious."

Former Liberal justice minister Allan Rock and erstwhile Supreme Court judge Louise Arbour are part of a group that this week released an opinion suggesting Canada has the legal authority to withdraw its support of the U.S. effort to extradite and prosecute Chinese business executive Meng Wanzhou, who was detained at Vancouver International Airport on Dec. 1, 2018, under terms of a joint Canada-U.S. extradition treaty.

She remains under house arrest in Canada and is living in a mansion in Vancouver.

Meng Wanzhou remains under house arrest in Canada and is living in a mansion in Vancouver.

JONATHAN HAYWARD / CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Meng Wanzhou remains under house arrest in Canada and is living in a mansion in Vancouver.

According to Mr. Rock, the legal opinion would clear the way for Canada to release Ms. Meng, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, which might prompt Chinese authorities to release two Canadians who were subsequently arrested and imprisoned in apparent retaliation for Ms. Meng’s detention.

While it does not directly call for Ms. Meng’s release, Mr. Rock and others assert that the legal opinion — prepared by Toronto lawyer Brian Greenspan — underlines the need for a "full debate based on a legitimate foundation of facts." The former justice minister accused the Trudeau government of being hesitant to take a stand on the Meng extradition case after having been embarrassed by revelations of political interference in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin on fraud charges.

The arrest of Ms. Meng, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, was sought by the U.S. on charges that she defrauded numerous financial institutions in violation of U.S. sanctions against Iran. In apparent retaliation, Chinese authorities arrested two Canadian citizens — former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor — and have held them captive for more than 560 days.

The argument for considering Ms. Meng’s release is based on the legal opinion’s assertion that the government can — as stipulated in the Extradition Act — withdraw its support for an extradition case at any time.

The argument for considering Ms. Meng’s release is based on the legal opinion’s assertion that the government can — as stipulated in the Extradition Act — withdraw its support for an extradition case at any time. The government’s position has been that the independence of the judicial process must be respected so it would inappropriate to intervene.

"My concern is once bitten, twice shy," Mr. Rock told the Globe and Mail, referring to the SNC-Lavalin embarrassment. "In SNC, they shouldn’t have and they did. Here, they can and they should (intervene), but they won’t, because they think they can’t. And they’re wrong."

That the legal opinion — which has been provided to current Justice Minister David Lametti — will spark spirited debate about the goverment’s handling of the Meng affair goes without saying. As Mr. Rock points out, a judge’s decision on the extradition case might not come before 2024 — which would surely guarantee an equally prolonged imprisonment for "the two Michaels."

Former federal justice minister Allan Rock </p>

SEAN KILPATRICK / CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Former federal justice minister Allan Rock

What’s unclear, however, is what Mr. Rock et al hoped to accomplish by going public with their legal argument. As a former Liberal cabinet minister, he would surely have contacts within the current government to whom he could have offered his group’s advice. A public airing of the grievance is unlikely to prompt a reversal of the government’s position, which is based partly on the long-held understanding that acquiescing to extortion demands — such as those implied by China’s unjustified arrest of the two Canadians — will only invite future similar abuses.

Seeking to hasten the release of Messrs. Kovrig and Spavor is an effort all Canadians would support. Abandoning an extradition agreement and surrendering to what effectively amounts to a kidnapper’s demand, however, might not be the best way to accomplish that laudable goal.