China is warning Canada to release Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou to avoid “any continuous harm” to relations between the two countries one day before the British Columbia Supreme Court is set to issue a key decision in her extradition case.
“The Canadian side should immediately correct its mistake, release Ms. Meng and ensure her safe return to China at an early date so as to avoid any continuous harm to China-Canada relations,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Tuesday.
“The U.S. and Canada abused their bilateral extradition treaty and arbitrarily took compulsory measures against a Chinese citizen without cause.”
B.C. Justice Heather Holmes is expected to release a ruling on Wednesday that centres around the issue of so-called double criminality — whether what Meng is accused of in the United States would be a crime in Canada.
Meng was arrested in December 2018 at the Vancouver airport at the request of U.S. prosecutors on fraud charges over allegations she violated American sanctions against Iran, which she and the Chinese telecommunications giant have vigorously denied.
The arrest infuriated China and was followed by a series of punitive measures, including the arrests of Canadian citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor and the blocked imports of Canadian agricultural goods.
Kovrig, a diplomat on leave who was working with the International Crisis Group, and Spavor, an entrepreneur, have been imprisoned in China since December 2018.
China has said they are “suspected” of endangering the country’s national security, and Kovrig and Spavor are being kept in detention facilities with 24-hour lighting and denied consular visits.
“China urges the Canadian side to respect the spirit of the rule of law and China’s judicial sovereignty and stop making irresponsible remarks,” Zhao said Tuesday in response to a question from the Globe and Mail.
“I want to stress that the legal rights of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have been guaranteed in accordance with law.”
The statement on Tuesday is the latest from the Chinese government, which has continuously pressed for Meng’s release.
Last Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused China of “retaliation” over the detentions of Kovrig and Spavor and said Beijing doesn’t seem to comprehend how Canada’s legal system works.
“We have seen Chinese officials linking those two cases from the very beginning,” Trudeau told reporters.
“Canada has an independent judicial system that functions without interference or override by politicians,” he said. “China doesn’t work quite the same way and doesn’t seem to understand that we do have an independent judiciary from political interference.”
David Mulroney, Canada’s former ambassador to China, said in a recent interview that China is no longer pretending there was a legal justification for arresting the two Canadians and have directly linked them to Meng’s arrest.
“They’re showing both a power play to intimidate us and they’re showing contempt, frankly, to Canada and to Canadians,” he told Global’s The West Block. “We’re seeing this in more of their diplomatic announcements and messages but we’re seeing the real China in all of this.”
Charles Burton, an associate professor of political science at Brock University and senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, called Tuesday’s statement by the Chinese foreign minister “disturbing” and “aggressive.”
“The implication seems to be that if the decision goes against Ms. Meng, that China will engage in further retaliatory measures,” he said. “It’s time for Canada to show more backbone.”
The ruling Wednesday could lead to Meng’s release or launch a fresh round of legal arguments, including whether her initial arrest was unlawful.
While U.S. prosecutors have accused Meng of fraud over violating U.S. sanctions against Iran, her lawyers have argued that because Canada has not imposed similar sanctions against the Iranian government, Meng’s conduct doesn’t amount to fraud.
Lawyers representing Canada’s attorney general have argued that the Huawei executive lied to a bank, which is a crime in Canada.
“It’s not complex,” Crown prosecutor Robert Frater said in January. “Lying to a bank is fraud.”
— With files from Abigail Bimman and the Canadian Press