John McCallum, Canada’s ambasssador to China, told Chinese-language media in a closed-door meeting that Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou can make “strong arguments” her arrest has been politicized and that she should not be extradited to the U.S.
In response, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says he should be fired.
Reports of the Tuesday meeting, which was kept secret from English-language media, emerged Wednesday morning as clips began circulating online of McCallum defending the argument put forward by China over the past two months that there has been political interference in Meng’s case and pointing the finger squarely at U.S. President Donald Trump.
Because of that, he said Meng can make a strong case to a judge that she should be freed.
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“I think she has quite good arguments on her side. One, political involvement by comments from Donald Trump in her case,” McCallum said at the Markham, Ont., meeting.
“Two, there’s an extraterritorial aspect to her case. And three, there’s the issue of Iran sanctions in her case and Canada does not sign on to these. So I think she has some strong arguments she can make before a judge.”
Canada relaxed some of its sanctions on Iran after the country signed onto a non-proliferation agreement designed to limit its nuclear production.
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Trump pulled the US out of that agreement and re-imposed sanctions on Iran shortly after coming into office.
However, one government official said it would be “presumptive” to speculate on the question of whether Canada’s differing position with regards to Iranian sanctions could be used by Meng to make a case for her release.
That is especially the case, the official said, given the U.S. has not yet filed the specific documentation to officially pursue extradition and make their case for that.
The official also would not speculate on whether the government is concerned China will use McCallum’s remarks to fuel further criticism of the legitimacy of Meng’s arrest.
Global News requested an interview with McCallum about his remarks, but officials said he would not be available.
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McCallum also said he is not sure why the reaction by China to Meng’s arrest has been so angry.
But, he noted, he expects many in the ruling Communist Party are taking their cues from the top.
“I don’t know why. I’ve asked that question,” he said. “What I do know is President Xi Jinping was very angry about this and so others in the Chinese government have taken the lead from him and I don’t know exactly why.”
He speculated the hostility may have stemmed from Huawei being a flagship company of China but added “there may be other reasons that I don’t know.”
READ MORE: Meng Wanzhou’s extradition to be formally pursued by the U.S., reports say
McCallum went on to note there are three possible outcomes to the situation that run from Meng being extradited, which he said “would not be a happy outcome,” to the U.S. making a deal with China to no longer pursue her extradition, to a Canadian judge deciding to let her go.
He added that he hopes the U.S. can make such a deal with China and that if they do, they include a requirement for China to free the two Canadians it has detained on accusations of endangering national security, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said are “arbitrary.”
WATCH BELOW: Justin Trudeau reacts to remarks by John McCallum on Meng Wanzhou case
In a press conference on Wednesday, Trudeau refused to say whether he agrees with McCallum that Meng has a strong case to oppose her potential extradition.
“We have always highlighted that Canada is a country of the rule of law,” Trudeau said. “We will make sure the rule of law is properly and fully followed. That, of course, includes the opportunity for her to mount a strong defense.
“That is part of our justice system and we are going to apply that justice system in all its integrity.”
Scheer, however, said McCallum’s comment jeopardize the integrity of Canada’s judicial system and its independence from politics.
Because of that, Trudeau should recall McCallum and appoint a new ambassador, he said.
“For the spokesperson of the government to China in this situation with tensions going on to make these kinds of comments is completely unacceptable,” Scheer said. “I would fire John McCallum.”
Erin O’Toole, the Conservative foreign affairs critics, argued on Twitter that McCallum threw the Americans “under the bus” with his “unprecedented” decision to list out potential defence arguments that Meng could use.
He also added that McCallum offering an evaluation on the merits of the case could itself be perceived as “political interference.”
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Meng, 46, is CFO of the Chinese technological giant and the daughter of its founder.
She was arrested on Dec. 1, 2018, by Canadian authorities in Vancouver at the behest of the United States, which has accused her company of using a subsidiary to skirt American sanctions on doing business with Iran.
Meng denies the allegations.
However, Trump came under fire last month when he suggested to Reuters that he viewed her arrest as a bargaining chip in his trade war with China.
“Whatever’s good for this country, I would do,” Trump said when asked if he would get involved in Meng’s case.
WATCH BELOW: China tells U.S. to back off Huawei CFO extradition
That comment came amid accusations from Chinese media that Meng’s arrest was politically-motivated.
Canada has for weeks been working behind the scenes to gather statements of support from allies defending the impartial handling of her case and the independence of the Canadian judicial system from politics.
READ MORE: Former Canadian, allied envoys to China call on Xi Jinping to release detained Canadians in new letter
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and a contingent of other Canadian cabinet ministers are in Davos, Switzerland this week for the World Economic Forum, where they are working to gather more support against China’s criticism of the case as well as its detention of two Canadian citizens in what has been widely characterized as a retaliation last month for Meng’s arrest.
It remains to be seen whether McCallum’s remarks could throw a wrench into those efforts.
WATCH BELOW: Canada receiving international support over Canadians detained in China
Adam Austen, press secretary for Freeland, said in a statement that Meng’s case is not being politicized.
“With respect to Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer, Canada is conducting a fair, unbiased and transparent legal proceeding,” he said.
“There has been no political involvement in this process. Canada respects its international legal commitments, including by honouring its extradition treaty with the United States.”
A spokesperson from the U.S. Department of Justice confirmed authorities there still intend to seek the extradition of Meng.
“We will continue to pursue the extradition of defendant Ms. Meng Wanzhou, and will meet all deadlines set by the US/ Canada Extradition Treaty. We greatly appreciate Canada’s continuing support in our mutual efforts to enforce the rule of law.”
The deadline for them to submit a formal request for her extradition is the end of this month.
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