Cutting corners to avoid arresting a Chinese executive at the request of the Americans simply was not an option to keep Canada out of a difficult political situation, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Monday.
In an interview with The Canadian Press, Freeland said that type of tactic would erode Canada’s commitment to the rule of law at a time when it is under threat across the globe.
“I think people need to be very careful when they start to suggest that corners be cut when it comes to the rule of law and when it comes to international treaty obligations,” said Freeland.
“That is one of the core foundations of everything that’s great about our country, one of the core foundations of our democracy,” she added.
“It’s not an accident that among our heroes are the RCMP.”
Two Canadians have been detained in Beijing since the Dec. 1 arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies, by the RCMP.
Some business leaders and analysts have suggested Canada should have found a way to circumvent its treaty obligations with the United States under the Extradition Act to avoid the current political turmoil with China and the U.S.
Freeland rejected that notion outright, saying it would undermine Canada’s credibility with other countries, including Canada’s “extradition partners.”
The Chinese government and state-run media have vilified the Canadian decision to arrest Meng, and ridiculed the rule-of-law argument. U.S. President Donald Trump also undermined Canada’s position when he mused in an interview last week he might intervene in the Meng case if it would help him get a trade deal with China.
“You might call it a slippery slope approach; you could call it a salad bar approach,” Freeland said.
“The rule of law is not about following the rule of law when it suits you.”
Freeland said it is important that John McCallum, Canada’s ambassador to China, has been able to meet in recent days with the two detained Canadians, the entrepreneur Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who is on a leave of absence from Global Affairs.
But she said the access is only a “first step” in providing assistance to them and their families.
“It’s important to Canada that we were able to see them. We know where they are,” Freeland said. “We are really throwing everything we have at this.”
Freeland said she has also spoken personally to families of the two men.
“I also hope that Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor will hear my comments too, ultimately. We are incredibly seized with this case.”
Former diplomats said the fact that Canada was granted access to the two men relatively quickly is a positive sign.
Gar Pardy, a retired director general of the consular affairs bureau of Canada’s foreign ministry, has said it was “quite extraordinary” for Canadian officials to gain access to citizens detained in China within a matter of days.
Meng has since been released on bail and is to return to court in February for what most legal observers predict could be a long, drawn out legal process.
The Meng incident has cast a shadow over the Trudeau government’s desire to deepen trade with China as the cornerstone of a broader strategy to diversify into Asian markets.
On Friday, Tourism Minister Melanie Joly cancelled a planned trip to China to mark the end of a special year of tourism exchanges.
But that same day, China’s ambassador to Canada, Lu Shaye, sounded a more conciliatory note about the bilateral relationship, saying there was potential for Canada to take part in his country’s massive international infrastructure project known as the Belt and Road Initiative.
“Although achieving a China-Canada Free Trade Agreement faces new obstacles due to reasons known to all, the two sides can strengthen policy co-ordination and adopt trade and investment facilitation,” Lu said in a speech at Ottawa’s Carleton University that was posted on the Chinese embassy’s website.
“It is also of great significance for China and Canada to strengthen people-to-people co-operation by promoting exchanges so as to enhance mutual understanding and trust of the two peoples.”
Lu’s tone was far more positive than the column he wrote in the Globe and Mail newspaper the previous day when he called Meng’s arrest in Canada “a miscarriage of justice” that has “chilled” the feelings of the Chinese people towards Canada. Lu said Canada was complicit in a U.S. “witch hunt.”
The Chinese embassy has said Lu is not available for interviews.
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press