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U.S. could consider Meng Wanzhou case as civil, not criminal: former Australian PM

Former Australian Prime Minister says there is a way out of the Canada-China spat over Meng Wanzhou
WATCH ABOVE: Former Australian Prime Minister says there is a way out of the Canada-China spat over Meng Wanzhou

No action the Canadian government could take would likely get China to free the two Canadians it detained in retaliation for the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, says former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd.

But he suggested if the U.S. shifted the Meng case from a criminal to civil matter, that might help.

Read more: Intervention to free Meng Wanzhou would make Canada look ‘untrustworthy’: expert

In an interview with The West Block guest host Robin Gill, Rudd was asked for his perspective on what it will take to get China to free Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor from what has been widely criticized as arbitrary detention by Beijing in response to the arrest of Meng in December 2018.

“The action lies with the U.S. judicial authorities and my argument would simply be this  … if the United States is going to continue to treat this is as a criminal matter, then the Canadian extradition process is going to continue to unfold,” he said.

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“Wisdom may lie in the U.S. doing what I believe it’s done in the past, which is regard this as a civil matter not a criminal matter.”

If this resolved as a civil matter before the courts, it would result in a very large fine.”

Trudeau rejects pressure to do prisoner swap with China
Trudeau rejects pressure to do prisoner swap with China

Meng was detained by Canadian authorities in Vancouver at the behest of the Americans, who charged both her and her company one month later, in January 2019, with dozens of counts related to allegedly skirting sanctions on Iran and stealing corporate secrets.

China detained the two Canadians just days after and has in recent months directly linked the cases of the two Michaels to that of Meng, going so far as to suggest swapping them for Meng.

Read more: Caving to China’s demand to release Meng Wanzhou would put Canadians in danger: Trudeau

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Meng is currently living free on bail in her Vancouver mansion while her extradition hearing plays out.

In contrast, the two Michaels have been detained in Chinese prison cells without access to legal services for more than a year and a half, and without consular services for more than six months.

China has so far refused Canadian requests for video consular meetings with the two men.

In recent weeks, some members of the Canadian foreign policy establishment have urged the government to intervene in the Meng case and stop the extradition hearing from moving forward.

Those calls were widely condemned and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ruled it out.

Trudeau says caving to China’s demand to release Meng Wanzhou would put Canadians in danger
Trudeau says caving to China’s demand to release Meng Wanzhou would put Canadians in danger

Doing so, he told journalists, would put a target on the back of every Canadian abroad and tell foreign governments that they can gain political leverage to make Canada bend to their will by detaining its citizens.

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“We cannot allow political pressures or random arrests of Canadian citizens to influence the functioning of our justice system,” Trudeau said.

“So I respect these individuals, but they’re wrong.”

Prior to serving as Australian prime minister, Rudd was the country’s foreign minister and also a diplomat in Beijing, and has been an active voice on the challenges of dealing with China.

Rudd said both Canada and Australia share a deep commitment to the rule of law.

He added that a recent decision by the current Australian government to warn citizens they are at risk of arbitrary detention if they travel to China comes as many countries are feeling “prudent” concern that their citizens will not be safe in China.

It’s not just Canada that’s singled out, it’s not just Australia singled out. It’s many, many democracies having this discussion right now,” he said.

“Everyone in the world is very mindful of your Canadian Michaels.”

Australia suspends extradition treaty with Hong Kong, extends visas to citizens
Australia suspends extradition treaty with Hong Kong, extends visas to citizens