Lawyers for Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei Technologies executive held in Canada on U.S. charges, are calling on Canada’s minister of justice to withdraw extradition proceedings against their client, a move that could complicate a standoff that’s left Ottawa stuck between Washington and Beijing.
In a news release issued Monday, Meng’s legal team called on Canada to protect its national interests by stopping the hearings that could see the Chinese company’s chief financial officer sent stateside to face charges. It also says the team made submissions to Canada’s minister of justice, “clarifying” how he could withdraw the proceedings against Meng in a way that is consistent with the law.
A spokesman for the minister’s office did not confirm whether the submission was received and did not respond to a request for comment.
The appeal would be cheered by China, which has cast the case as a politically-motivated, U.S.-led campaign to undermine the country’s rise. It could also heighten pressure on Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take action to de-escalate with China as he heads into an upcoming election.
Under Canadian law, the justice minister can step in to stop an extradition process, though it is unusual for Canadian lawyers to make their case so publicly. “This is not a common move,” said Leo Adler, a Toronto-based criminal lawyer with expertise extradition. “I’ve done a lot of extradition hearings that never had press releases. A case like this has political aspect as well.”
The politics of the Meng case are particularly complex — and its implications far-reaching.
Meng, who is the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, was arrested in December at Vancouver’s airport, setting off a dispute between Canada, China and the United States.
U.S. authorities allege that Meng misled financial institutions about Huawei’s relationship with a subsidiary, SkyCom, effectively tricking them into violating U.S. sanctions on Iran. The company denies the charges.
In the wake of Meng’s arrest, China detained two Canadians on vague security charges in an apparent act of retaliation. They have been held without access to lawyers and charged with spying.
President Trump twice suggested that he might be willing to free Meng in return for trade war concessions from China — an idea that has been used by Meng’s lawyers to argue that the case against her is political. Trudeau and his team have repeatedly dismissed Trump’s deal suggestion, saying that the issue is an ordinary, legal matter and will proceed through Canadian courts.
But some prominent Canadians, including Trudeau’s former ambassador to China and, most recently, former prime minister Jean Chretien, have suggested that Canada ought to drop the charges against Meng. According to Canadian media, Chretien this month said that Canada’s justice minister should intervene in the hope of improving Canada-China relations and helping the detained Canadians.
But Canada’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, said dropping the charges would set a “dangerous precedent.”
In a meeting between Trudeau and Trump in Washington last week, the U.S. leader promised to do whatever he can to help the detained Canadians. Though he did not mention the Meng case, the remark immediately renewed speculation that some sort of deal could be struck.
Meng’s team may be trying to use that momentum to generate public pressure for Trudeau’s government to improve Canadian-Chinese ties by backing off Meng. The lawyers’ statement included appeals to Canadian nationalism that could resonate with some Canadian voters.
“Canada does not police the conduct of foreign persons in foreign lands that have nothing to do with Canada,” the statement said. “Canadian governments have had to make difficult decisions, sometimes at odds with the foreign policy initiatives of its allies, including the United States, in order to assert essential Canadian values of human decency, fairness, tolerance and respect for human rights and the rule of law.”