Thirty Canadian defence and security experts are urging the government to ignore a widely criticized demand from some in the foreign policy establishment earlier this week to cave to Chinese demands to intervene in the extradition case of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou.
The open letter addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and posted Friday on the Macdonald-Laurier Institute website includes signatories with deep backgrounds in the Canadian military, on the ground in China and in foreign correspondence as well as Arctic politics and the defence industry.
“These arguments are not only wrong in principle but would involve Canada betraying important values and letting down a number of our key allies,” the new letter said of those who called for intervention.
“Historically we have only declined to extradite in very narrow and exceptional cases. What is being asked of us in Meng’s case is that we abandon this honourable tradition, not because of some flaw in the extradition case brought by the Americans, but because China is holding our citizens hostage.
“The integrity of the rule of law and our judicial system requires that we decline to do so.”
Among the signatories are James Boutilier, former adviser to the commander of Canada’s Maritime Forces Pacific on Asia-Pacific defence and security, as well as Jonathan Manthorpe, a veteran foreign correspondent and author of Claws of the Panda: Beijing’s Campaign of Influence and Intimidation in Canada.
Charles Burton, a former Canadian diplomat in Beijing who also worked for the Communication Security Establishment, and former Conservative immigration minister Chris Alexander also signed the letter.
Several other signatories also have links to former Conservative governments, while many who signed the letter calling for Meng’s release were tied to former Liberal governments and the United Nations.
The tone of the letter marks a clear contrast to the plea earlier this week to give in to Chinese demands, which quickly prompted a refusal by Trudeau and condemnation from security and legal experts who warned heeding its call would only put targets on more Canadians abroad.
Trudeau repeated that refusal during a press conference in Ottawa on Friday.
“I very much respect those eminent Canadians even as I disagree with them,” he said.
“It is a hallmark of a free society that we can have debates about really important issues while at the same time, government can be absolutely unequivocal about our approach to this issue.”
While the justice minister technically has the authority to revoke the authority to proceed issued last year that allowed Meng’s case to proceed through Canadian courts, a memo obtained by the Canadian Press and prepared by Trudeau’s national security advisor said that is rarely used.
That memo said that since 2008, only 12 extradition cases have been dropped using that power and that the reasons included things like severe health problems, unreasonable judicial delays, or a failure of the country requesting extradition to assure Ottawa that the death penalty will not be used.
“Note there are no examples of the minister discharging a case for political or diplomatic reasons.”
Meng was detained in December 2018 by Canadian authorities at the behest of the U.S.
Authorities in the U.S. charged Meng the following month with dozens of counts related to allegations she and her company skirted U.S. sanctions on Iran and have been stealing corporate secrets.
China, however, detained Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor just days after Meng’s arrest and have since repeatedly linked the detentions directly with Meng’s case.
But while Meng is free on bail and living in her Vancouver mansion, Kovrig and Spavor have been detained without access to lawyers in a Chinese prison and subject to treatments such as having the lights on all the time and having their limited consular visits cut off entirely.
Those who signed the letter on Friday said giving in would only embolden China more and pointed to another potential thorn in the Sino-Canadian relationship that Beijing could look to exploit with similar tactics if it were to see that “hostage diplomacy” works.
“There is good reason why political leaders across many countries, including Canada, consistently refuse to negotiate with hostage-takers. Once you give in to their demands, you prove that such hostage-taking works. That creates incentives for them to try again,” the letter said.
“If Canada were to ban Huawei from our 5G networks, to pick just one example, what would stop China from simply taking more Canadians hostage to get us to change our minds?”
A report by Global News outlined earlier this week that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service believes Canada is a “permissive target” for Chinese interference.
“With deep coffers and the help of western enablers, the Chinese Communist Party uses money, rather than Communist ideology, as a powerful source of influence, creating parasitic relationships of long-term dependence,” according to a recent federal national security review.
That success has come as Beijing succeeds in what former Canadian ambassador to China David Mulroney called “elite capture”: using its economic leverage to give “sweetheart business deals” or honours in China to Canadian leaders in both politics and business.
— With files from Global News’ Sam Cooper