Over a dozen prominent Canadians — all of whom once served in either past federal cabinets or on the world stage — are calling on the prime minister to secure the release of two detained Canadians by ending extradition of Meng Wanzhou to the United States.
In a letter dated Tuesday and obtained by Global News, the group cites a recent legal opinion that Minister of Justice David Lametti has the power to end the Huawei executive’s extradition process at any time. They argued not doing so would undermine Canada’s foreign policy toward China, which the group argues needs to be strengthened.
“We believe that the Two Michaels will remain in their Chinese prison cells until Meng is free to return to China,” the letter addressed to Justin Trudeau says. “That means that unless the Minister acts now, the Two Michaels face indefinite confinement.
“We contend that the time is past due for the Minister to do just that: to end the Meng extradition proceeding and to bring the Two Michaels home.”
Among the 19 signatories to the letter are former federal justice minister Allan Rock; former foreign affairs ministers Lloyd Axworthy, Lawrence Cannon and André Oullet; past NDP leader Ed Broadbent; and Robert Fowler, a foreign policy advisor to past prime ministers Pierre Trudeau, John Turner and Brian Mulroney.
The legal opinion cited by the group on the government’s authority to set Meng free was written by Brian Greenspan, a Toronto lawyer well-versed in extradition proceedings. It was sought, among others, by Rock and the wife of one of the two Michaels.
In the legal opinion — dated May 22, 2020 and addressed to Lametti — Greenspan said the justice minister can legally intervene in the case before it hits his desk, saying that “discretion” is “expressly codified” in the Extradition Act.
“The Greenspan Opinion also makes clear that his (ending the extradition proceeding) would not endanger judicial independence and would be entirely consistent with the rule of law,” the group writes — an opinion contrary to arguments made by both Trudeau and Lametti against intervening.
Meng is fighting extradition to the United States, where American authorities have charged her and her company with multiple counts related to allegedly skirting U.S. sanctions on Iran and stealing corporate secrets. She was arrested in Vancouver in December 2018 at the request of the Americans, and has been kept under house arrest in the city ever since.
Just days after Meng’s arrest, Kovrig and Spavor were detained in China on what the country said were “suspicions” of stealing state secrets. The two men were not formally charged with espionage until last week, setting the stage for a formal trial with a high likelihood of conviction and a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The two are being kept in detention facilities with 24-hour lighting and denied consular visits. The group says it is also worried that Kovrig and Spavor are art risk of contracting COVID-19 while in confinement.
China has repeatedly denied that Kovrig and Spavor’s detentions were in retaliation for Meng’s arrest, an argument that has recently been dismissed by Trudeau and others in his cabinet.
Meng’s extradition hearings are ongoing in British Columbia, and the group says a final decision on whether she’s sent to the U.S. to face her charges may not come until 2024. After that, Meng could face a further “extended period” of court proceedings, the letter reads.
In Canada, once the federal justice department has said an extradition case can proceed, an extradition hearing is held and a judge rules on whether Canada should fulfill a country’s extradition request.
After that, the justice minister then makes the final call on whether the government will surrender the person in question.
The group says it understands the “difficult position” the U.S.’s extradition request put Canada in, but argues ending Meng’s case is worth upsetting the relationship between the two countries in order to “untie Canada’s hands” and “redefine its strategic approach to China.”
“In normal circumstances, the safer choice would be to stay close to our ally, our friend, and our principal trading partner,” the letter says. “But these are not normal times, and this is not a normal case.”
Releasing Meng and bringing Kovrig and Spavor back to Canada would also allow Ottawa to solidify its position on Hong Kong — which is facing a new security law from Beijing seen as undermining the city’s democracy — and Huawei’s plans to introduce a 5G network in Canada.
The group concludes that while China’s actions have been “repugnant,” it may decide to detain more Canadians in the future if Canada continues to resist bowing to Beijing’s pressure.
The letter is the latest contradictory message the Trudeau government has received on how it should proceed in the wake of charges against Kovrig and Spavor and the continued requests from China to release Meng.
A group of senators has called on the prime minister to impose sanctions on Chinese officials over the pair’s arrests, as well as for China’s treatment of its Muslim Uighur minority and its increasing restriction on freedoms in Hong Kong.
The 12 senators are mostly Conservatives but some were appointed on the advice of Liberal prime ministers, including Trudeau.
But Sen. Yuen Pau Woo, leader of the Independent Senators Group, is urging the government to follow the advice laid out in the earlier group’s letter.
The government’s representative in the Senate, Sen. Marc Gold, reiterated the government’s contention that “the minister of justice has no direct role to play until after the judicial proceedings at the final stage of the extradition process.”
In a statement Wednesday, Lametti’s office argued that the extradition process “ensures that individual rights are protected and that those sought for extradition are afforded due process before the courts, while honouring our international treaty obligations.
“We are well aware of the laws and processes governing this important regime,” it said, adding it would not be appropriate to comment further on a case before the courts.
Global News has reached out to the Prime Minister’s Office for comment on the letter.
— With files from Global News’ Beatrice Britneff, Bryan Mullan and the Canadian Press