It’s like watching two people in a donkey costume, front end and back end, trying to walk in different directions: That’s the current dynamic between Canada and the United States.
On Dec. 1, Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, Huawei Technologies' chief financial officer and the daughter of the Chinese tech giant’s founder, Ren Zhengfei. The arrest was carried out at the request of the United States, whose government alleges Meng committed fraud and violated sanctions prohibitions on doing business with Iran.
The arrest in Canada was conducted in accordance with the rule of law and the country’s international obligations. On Tuesday, Meng was granted bail in Vancouver, under tight conditions, including $10 million (CAD) in bail underwritten by five guarantors, the surrendering of her passports, agreement to remain at home between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., and 24-hour surveillance (some of which she is paying for).
The Canadian end of the donkey is walking on the side of line that respects due process and the rule of law, domestic and international. The other end, President Trump’s end — let’s call it the rear end — is walking back toward the years of centuries prior in which royalty and other notables were captured and held for ransom by kingdoms and other polities.
This week, Kelly Craft, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, assured us that Meng’s arrest wasn’t political. This isn’t about trade or retribution, she said. Hours later, Trump undermined Craft by suggesting he could intervene in the case. To ensure the rule of law is respected? To ensure that Canada doesn’t face reprisals for doing the right thing — which may have already begun with the detention in China of former diplomat and current nongovernmental organization employee Michael Kovrig?
No, of course not. Trump jumped in to say that he would use Meng as a bargaining chip as the United States and China sort out their trade and national security relationships. In an interview with Reuters, Trump politicized the Meng affair in a few sentences: “If I think it’s good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made — which is a very important thing — what’s good for national security, I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary.”
Trump’s recklessness puts Canada in an awkward position. As Justin Trudeau’s government tries to act in good faith in an effort to play this high-profile, politically sensitive case by the books, the American president is a wild card — a threat to legal proceedings and to the delicate geopolitical balance that must be maintained lest the Meng affair becomes a crisis.
Decades, indeed, centuries of legal, political and social evolution have been necessary to establish domestic and international laws, protocols and institutions. These have been years of careful construction, of moving away from the renegade, ad hoc power politics of whimsy and caprice. With the arrest of Meng, Canada has shown its commitment to maintaining that delicate order. Some in the Trump administration have, too. Unfortunately, the head of that administration has not.
Regrettably, in this instance, the president has the power to both botch the Meng case and undermine domestic and international processes. Not a bad day’s work for him. Canada, meanwhile, which is reviewing Huawei’s technology against its own national security concerns, is caught between China and the United States as the two play hardball with baseball bats wrapped in barbed wire.
The case against Meng could take years to unfold, and her extradition to the United States won’t happen overnight. Today, a year is a very long time. A lot can happen. As Canada, the United States and China face their own political uncertainties, this affair is likely to remain a scorching-hot potato that threatens to burn anyone who touches it — including Canadian officials who are just trying to handle it with care.