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Canadian Justice Grinds Slowly for Detained Huawei Executive

FILE - Huawei Technologies Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou leaves her home to attend a court hearing in Vancouver, British Columbia, in June 2020.
FILE - Huawei Technologies Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou leaves her home to attend a court hearing in Vancouver, British Columbia, in June 2020.

The extradition case of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese tech firm Huawei, is winding its way through the Canadian legal system. For Meng, it means confinement to her Vancouver mansions and conferences with high-priced lawyers. For two Canadians, it means more uncertainty and more time in a Chinese jail. Throw in a U.S. presidential election and a rift in Canada-Chinese trade relations and it creates the makings of an international soap opera.

If all goes according to schedule, the actual extradition hearing for Meng will start on April 23. Before that, she faces multiple court dates in front of the Supreme Court of the province of British Columbia and the Federal Court of Canada.

The U.S. Justice Department is seeking her extradition from Vancouver on allegations of helping a Huawei subsidiary break U.S. sanctions against doing business in Iran. The daughter of Chinese technology giant Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, Meng was arrested at Vancouver International Airport while in transit to a connecting flight to Mexico on December 1, 2018.

That means the actual extradition hearing may take place more than 28 months after her arrest.

Intensely watching the proceedings is Vancouver immigration lawyer and policy analyst Richard Kurland, who does not represent any party in the case.

He said for a person like Meng, the case is actually not taking a long time.

“It's not slow,” Kurland said. “This is the typical, average, garden-variety vanilla extradition case processing times. I'm aware of at least three other extradition cases that required eight to 10 years to finish. So the Canadian extradition process does take about eight to 10 years when someone has the resources to dig their heels in and take advantage of every procedural possibility in the extradition case.”

Kurland added that for those who lack Meng’s financial means – she has the resources of a giant company like Huawei and her father is said to be worth over $1 billion – the extradition process can be rather abrupt.

“If you don't have financial resources, the road is short,” he said. “Typically, in the overwhelming majority of cases, extradition from beginning to end is a matter of days, if not a short number of months.”

'The two Mikes'

Not long after Meng’s arrest, two Canadian citizens, now commonly referred to as “the two Mikes” – Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig -- were detained in China. Spavor, who specialized in travel from the People’s Republic of China and North Korea, and Kovrig, a former diplomat who works with a nonprofit research organization, live most the time in China. They were initially accused of “endangering Chinese security” but were not formally charged until June of this year. Spavor is facing charges of spying and transmitting secrets outside of China. Kovrig is facing charges of spying on Chinese state secrets for other countries.

In the past, both men have been denied legal counsel or the ability to see family members and have only been granted infrequent visits by Canadian diplomatic staff in China.

One former Canadian diplomat who used to visit Canadians in Chinese prisons is Colin Robertson, currently vice president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. One of his many diplomatic postings was in Hong Kong, from where he often traveled to China.

He said conditions in such facilities are usually deplorable. While Meng is out on bail and lives in her choice of her two Vancouver mansions, the two Michaels are not so lucky. And Kovrig’s former diplomatic career is also an issue.

“But certainly in the case of Kovrig, the Chinese were questioning him about his activities as a Canadian diplomat, day after day, hour after hour, which is in total violation of his privileges, and privileges of diplomats which Chinese diplomats also enjoy,” Robertson said. “Under the Vienna conventions, which take back to 1815.”

Canada-China trade issues

Robertson said the relationship between Canada and China is at its lowest point since modern diplomatic relations were established under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, the father of current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, over 50 years ago. He said that has led to a number of trade complaints.

“And the Chinese continue to find things, more recently seafood and now looking at lumber, that are just basically trade harassment,” Robertson said. “And my own view is, I think we needed to be, we needed a more muscular response earlier on when they started going, because we just basically, Prime Minister [Trudeau] seemed to kind of turn the other cheek and just take this barrage of words which is straight out of the Chinese playbook. All this language that they use about irrefutable proof terms of the so-called crimes of the two Michaels, and the accusations of racism, white supremacy, and double standard -- we're not the first country they've applied this to.”

A public opinion survey at the end of June by the Angus Reid Institute found that over 72 percent of Canadians backed Trudeau’s refusal to stop the extradition hearing and send Meng back to China in exchange for the two Michaels. Trudeau said doing so would set a dangerous precedent and that he would let the Canadian justice system, instead of politics, take care of the matter.

Before that actual extradition hearing next April, Meng and her lawyers will spend the summer months tied up in legal maneuvers.

The next scheduled federal court date is July 16. Defense lawyers are trying to get more information from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the country’s spy agency, that they claim can help Meng. Canada’s attorney general says that information needs to remain secret for reasons of national security.

Defense claims rights violations

Meng’s lawyers are also alleging that U.S. and Canadian authorities improperly conspired to open a criminal investigation when Meng initially arrived at Vancouver’s airport. She was held for several hours, had her computers and cellphones seized, and was questioned at length. Meng’s lawyers say that instead, Canadian authorities should have simply taken her into custody on the existing arrest warrants. Not doing so, the defense says, violated her basic legal rights.

Her lawyers are also claiming that the United States deliberately misled the court to get the legal proceedings underway. Hearings to secure documents and evidence for these arguments will be held in the British Columbia Supreme Court on August 17.

As the summer turns into fall, a week in September has been set aside for Meng’s legal team to present evidence regarding the accuracy of the information in the U.S. charges filed in New York that instigated the extradition process.

On February 16 of next year, there will be a hearing, scheduled to last three weeks, regarding Meng’s arrest and alleged interference by U.S. President Donald Trump. Shortly after the arrest, Trump remarked that the charges against Meng could be used as a bargaining chip in the ongoing U.S.-China trade negotiations.

Assuming that none of the decisions arising from all these hearings is appealed, the court will move to the actual extradition hearing in April.

Ironically, if the court does find Meng should be extradited and she loses all appeals, the Canadian legal extradition process does become political. Canada’s attorney general, who is also justice minister, would then have to decide whether or not to sign the extradition papers.