Meng Wanzhou left the B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver last week for what could be one of the final times.
The Huawei executive’s high-profile extradition hearing finally wrapped up Wednesday, nearly three years since her arrest rocked Canada-China relations. Within days of her detention, Beijing arrested two Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, and sentenced another, Robert Schellenberg, to death.
As Meng’s committal hearings began earlier this month, a Chinese court announced that it had convicted Spavor of espionage and sentenced him to 11 years of jail, while also upholding Schellenberg’s death sentence (the Chinese government still officially denies the cases are linked).
Their fates, as well as Meng’s, may now rest in the hands of B.C. Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes.
“The Chinese government has been clear: If Mrs. Meng is not returned to China, there will be no progress,” said Guy Saint-Jacques, Canada’s former ambassador to China.
The 49-year-old chief financial officer at the Chinese telecom giant was arrested in December 2018 at the request of the United States. Meng is accused of making misleading statements about Huawei’s business dealings in Iran during a 2013 presentation to HSBC in Hong Kong, which allegedly put the British bank at risk of violating U.S. sanctions.
Meng’s lawyers argued she never misled the bank and the fraud charges are purely political.
“Meng Wanzhou is a political pawn,” said Alykhan Velshi, Huawei Canada’s Vice President of Corporate Affairs. “She’s been caught in the middle of this U.S.-China trade fight. This case is about trade, it’s about geopolitics, it’s about leverage, but it’s not about justice.”
Velshi pointed to comments made by U.S. President Donald Trump following Meng’s arrest in 2018, when he told the Reuters news agency he would “certainly intervene” in the case if he thought it would help secure a favourable trade deal with China.
“The Trump administration essentially conjured up a victim in HSBC to justify her detention, so that she could be used as leverage in this U.S.-China trade fight,” Velshi told Global News.
HSBC suffered no actual financial losses as a result of Meng’s statements, which makes the U.S. extradition request unusual, according to University of Alberta Law Professor Joanna Harrington.
“The U.S. has put so much effort into an allegation of fraud that occurred outside the United States, not by an American and not necessarily an American victim,” Harrington said.
“Criminal law is typically territorial; That’s where your evidence is, it’s where your witnesses are. It doesn’t mean we can’t have an extraterritorial criminal case, but this one is unusual.”
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At times during the extradition hearing, Justice Holmes sounded skeptical of the U.S. charges, at one point asking the prosecution: “Isn’t it unusual that one would see a fraud case with no actual harm, many years later, and one in which the alleged victim — a large institution — appears to have numerous people within the institution who had all the facts that are now said to have been misrepresented?”
B.C lawyer Gary Botting has tried hundreds of extradition cases during his 30-year career and said the judge’s comments are noteworthy.
“The questions that she asked and comments that she made seemed to indicate that she’s not impressed by the strength of the evidence,” Botting told Global News. (Following Meng’s arrest, Botting was paid by Huawei to provide a written opinion on the case.)
But Botting emphasized that even if the judge is unimpressed with the evidence, the bar for extradition is low. Government lawyers only need to demonstrate that there would be sufficient evidence to bring the accused to trial if the crime had been committed in Canada.
Between 2008-2018, Canada only rejected about one per cent of U.S. extradition requests.
“We are a patsy for the United States. They say ‘jump’ and we say, ‘how high?'” said Botting, who has long campaigned to toughen Canada’s extradition requirements.
Justice Holmes will set a date for her ruling on October 21, but the final decision will then fall to Canada’s justice minister. A group of high-profile former Canadian diplomats and former parliamentarians has called on Ottawa to trade Meng for the two Michaels.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has argued that any intervention in the case would undermine Canada’s “independent judicial system,” though extraditions are ultimately a political decision under Canadian law.
If Meng loses and the justice minister orders she be extradited, she’s expected to appeal, which could see the case drag on for several years.