A Dozen Reasons Why the Canadian Minister of Justice Should Release the Huawei CFO, Sabrina Meng Wanzhou
The "Canadian Extradition Act" Gives the Minister of Justice the Right and Obligation to Release MengIt's becoming more and more obvious in the media (social, anti-social and other) that the request for Sabrina Meng Wanzhou's extradition is bogus. Contrary to what you may have read or heard from Canadian politicians about extradition proceedings being out of the hands of the political leadership, the Canadian Extradition Act clearly states that : "The Minister [of Justice] is responsible for the implementation of extradition agreements, the administration of this Act and dealing with requests for extradition made under them." (For more see Was Freeland Lying? and How Canada Arrested a Chinese Exec.)
According to The Act, the Canadian Minister of Justice,
1. The charges against Meng are not substantive enough to warrant extradition.Various media outlets have repeated the claim that each of the charges against Meng is punishable by 30 years of imprisonment. Stop and consider: why are we being fed this piece of information? The exact details of her alleged crimes have remained sketchy, so why has this precise detail of 30 years of imprisonment been so widely and precisely promulgated? Who is spreading this claim? For what purpose? More to the point, even based on the most exaggerated rumours of the seriousness of Meng's alleged crimes, does anybody really believe that an American court is going to throw her in jail for the next 30 or 60 or 90 or 120 years? So why this emphasis on the maximum sentence? Because, according to the Extradition Act, in order for the extradition process to proceed, it must be clear that Meng's crimes would be punishable by at least two years of imprisonment. We don't extradite people for minor crimes; we don't extradite people to pay fines, or be put on probation or be imprisoned for less than two years. In the aftermath of the financial collapse of 2008 and extensive evidence of wrongdoing, no American was convicted of a crime, but the punishment for white-collar crime in the USA has become a much debated topic. Based on the information leaked to the public so far, Meng's alleged white-collar crimes fall well below the two-years-of-imprisonment threshold required for extradition.
2. The accusations against Meng would not constitute a criminal offence in Canada.According to media reports, Meng is accused of contravening trade sanctions against Iran; Huawei, of which she is CFO, is accused of selling technology in Iran which contained US components and/or patents, and Meng is accused of bank fraud. Of these three accusations only "bank fraud" would be a criminal offence in Canada. To keep it simple, "bank fraud" is stealing money from a bank--but without pointing a gun at anyone. (You might want to have a look at Should Bank Robbery Be Deregulated?) However, the "bank fraud" in this case is related to sanctions against Iran in that she is accused of failing to inform or hiding from bankers that Huawei owned a shell company which owned a company called Skycom which was doing business with Iran. (For more detail see: The Chaos Theory of International Trade.) How much money did she steal? There is no hint of an answer to this question in the media. I suspect the answer will be zero. How much the banks lost determines how long the prison sentence could possibly be. The claims of a 30-year prison sentence imply that the banks (or a bank) lost billions. I have seen no claims concerning the amounts that the banks lost despite the repeated claims of multiple 30-year prison sentences. As reporters for the New York Times point out: HSBC (the bank Meng is accused of defrauding) has repeatedly been convicted of money laundering. In order to avoid another conviction in the USA for moving money in Iran, they threw Huawei CFO Meng under the bus, claiming that she tricked them into doing it.
Patent Infringement would be a civil and not a criminal case, therefore not grounds for extradition. Moreover, patent infringement is such a common occurrence in large American companies that the practice has spawned a new expression: infringement efficiency, which means, in short, that stealing patents is good business as long as the amount of money you end up paying if you are found guilty in court is less than the profit made from the stolen patents.
3. Contravening trade sanctions against Iran is not a crime in Canada.(See the Canadian Government's Guide for Doing Business in Iran.) In order to continue to push for extradition, the US Attorney will have to keep pushing the idea of "bank fraud," despite the shadowy, sketchy chain of events which will need to be proven. The necessary sequence of accusations depends on trade sanctions against Iran. Canada does restrict trade with Iran, but those restrictions only apply to materials for the construction of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. The accusations against Meng refer to statements she made (or failed to make) in 2013 or 2014 (depending on which news report you believe). The year or years are crucial because in 2016 the Obama administration negotiated an anti-nuclear deal with Iran and trade sanctions were lifted. In 2018 the Trump administration reneged on and cancelled that agreement and unilaterally imposed new sanctions. Here's a legal question: Would we prosecute someone for committing a crime which is no longer a crime in Canada? Need some context? We just legalized possession of marijuana. Will we prosecute people if we find proof that they possessed pot before it was legalized? Still not convinced? In 1968, homosexuality and various forms of recreational sex were legalized in Canada. Do you imagine that we might have continued to convict people for acts of homosexuality and oral sex in the 1970s? We would not prosecute Meng in Canada because the underlying basis of her alleged crimes is currently not criminal in Canada.
4. There is an underlying conflict of interest in the request for Meng's extradition.As I outlined in an earlier post (The Chaos Theory of International Trade), Richard Donoghue is the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. In a matter of months, Donoghue went from being an employee of CA Technologies (their Chief Litigator, in fact) to spearheading the request for Meng's arrest, detention and extradition. The mere fact that he was so recently employed by a Huawei competitor strongly suggests that he might still be acting as an agent for the benefit of CA Technologies, which puts him in an apparent, if not actual, conflict of interest.
5. The extradition request is based on Meng's nationality and ethnicity.The Canadian Extradition Act explicitly instructs that the Minister of Justice "shall refuse to make a surrender order if the Minister is satisfied that . . . . the request for extradition is made for the purpose of prosecuting or punishing the person by reason of their race, religion, nationality, ethnic origin language, colour, political opinion, sex, sexual orientation, age, mental or physical disability or status or that the person’s position may be prejudiced for any of those reasons. German banks continue to do business in Iran. The USA has an extradition treaty with Germany, but there have been no reported moves to extradite executives of German banks. Skycom, the German company at the centre of the accusations against Meng, continues to operate, and there have been no moves to extradite German executives. When the Standard Chartered Bank of Britain was convicted, in 2012, of doing hundreds of billions of dollars of business with Iran through its New York office, they were required to pay a fine. No criminal charges have been laid. Banks found to be in noncompliance and fined with operations in the United States include Barclays, ING, Credit Suisse, Lloyds, and ABN Amro. No bank executive has faced criminal charges for doing business in Iran. There is little doubt that the only reason Meng is being singled out for criminal prosecution is because she is Chinese and her company is Chinese.
6. The extradition request is political.The Act specifies that the extradition will be refused if "the conduct in respect of which extradition is sought is a political offence or an offence of a political character." The political nature of the request is so obvious, it seems redundant to comment. However, the moment that President Donald Trump tweeted that he was prepared to intervene in the case, he made the case political (if there was any doubt that it already was). If this case is about "national security" as is being constantly and slyly implied by US politicians and others, then the extradition request is by definition political. To date, no one has claimed that Meng, as an individual, has done something to jeopardize American or, more importantly in this case, Canadian national security. [By firing the Canadian Ambassador to China, John McCallum, for stating the obvious--that Meng had a strong case against being extradited--PM Justin Trudeau reinforced the "political" nature of the case. Worse still, the PM has prejudiced the case against Meng. The new Justice Minister, David Lametti, will be hard pressed to refuse the extradition after his boss, the PM, fired the Ambassador just for saying Meng had a case.]
7. Canada is being played.For all intents and purposes the extradition request looks like a move by American tech giants to undermine a Chinese technology company which has been taking over a huge swath of the global market share. Far from attempting to further justice and punish the crimes of an individual, what we are witnessing is one group of business interests blocking the development of a competitor by arranging the arrest of the company's CFO. My prognosis is that Meng will never be convicted of a crime worthy of imprisonment. It is unlikely that she will ever stand trial. However, if the naivety and Dudly-Do-Rightism of Canadian leadership allow the extradition hearings and detainment of Meng to continue for years, then the corporate objective of slowing down the competition will have been achieved--and the Government of Canada will have colluded in that corrupt undertaking.
8. Public safety.The arrests of two Canadians by Chinese authorities, ostensibly in retaliation for the Meng detention, have made the optics of releasing Meng more difficult. Nonetheless, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Public Safety (Ralph Goodale) and the Minister of External Affairs (Chrystia Freeland) have the obligation to confer with one another and recognize that they have to prioritize the safety of Canadians over dubious demands for the extradition of one Chinese citizen.
9. Canadian self-interest.Every kid in the school yard knows that if some bigger kid asks you to punch yourself in the head, you are being bullied--and if you submit to this bullying, you are encouraging more bullying in the future. It is in Canada's interests to diversify its trading partners. It is, in particular, in Canada's interests to increase trade and friendly relations with China. Canada will greatly benefit from Huawei's 5G technology, and the research funding and business development which Huawei Canada offers. Of course we need to maintain our trading partnership, friendly relations and military alliances with the USA, but the occasional demonstration that we are willing to act in our own best interests should strengthen the mutual respect that makes these relationships work.
10. Canadian sovereignty.Historically, when Canada has asserted its independence from American military and foreign policies, our independence has served us well. Prime Minister Jean Cretien's refusal to enter Georgre W. Bush's Iraq war in 2003 is a good example. Similarly PM Lester B. Pearson kept Canada out of the Vietnam War in the 60s. On June 1, 2018, the Trump administration's imposition of a 25% tariff on Canadian steel on the grounds of "US national security" together with Trump's alienated nationalism have provided a conspicuous opportunity for Canadians to recognize the importance of Canadian independence from American hegemony. Unfortunately Canada accepted the inclusion of the "China clause" in the recent US-Canada-Mexico trade agreement which, according to some analysts, has given the USA rights of veto over future Canadian trade deals--in particular, over our trade with China. The American warrant for the extradition of Sabrina Meng Wanzhou trapped us into the embarrassing situation of arresting Huawei's CFO at the same time that we are courting and receiving Huawei investment in Canada. Worse still, the arrest of Meng puts a halt to our developing relationship and plans for increased trade with China--once again surrendering our sovereignty to American interests. Pathetically, in the arrest of Meng we are not even serving explicit American national or security interests, just the corporate interests of American technology companies.
11. Canadian "peace, order and good government."Clearly Canada and China have ideological differences, although I suspect those differences are not well understood in either country. Canada's ideological tendencies are quite different from those of the USA, and the difference has become pronounced in recent years. In contrast to the American Declaration of Independence's valourization of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," the Canadian constitution sets out the objectives of the Federal Government as "peace, order and good government." The American pursuit of life, liberty and happiness has resulted in a state of near constant warfare throughout the USA's history. The question which our Minister of Justice needs to ask in the Meng extradition case is: "what decision will best promote and exemplify 'peace, order and good government' in Canada?" As sparsely and sporadically as I have been informed of the details of the case through the media--and I trust the Minister has been more thoroughly informed--I have become convinced that Canada would be best served by Meng's immediate release.
12. Canadian respect for the Chinese.The Chinese response to the Meng arrest has been to describe it as a gesture of disrespect toward China and the Chinese people. Canadian apathy toward the Meng arrest has led me to fear that Canadians have been conditioned to accept the melodramatic myth of "The American 'good guys' versus the Chinese [and Asian in general] 'bad guys'." Distance makes it easy for Canadians to ignore the empirical facts that while the Americans have been spending trillions of dollars on wars in Iraq and elsewhere, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths, the Chinese have raised 800 million of their fellow citizens out of poverty, and China has not been engaged in a war since the 1970s. Canada must also respect the Chinese because they have been part of its history since Canada's earliest development in the 18th century. There are 1.78 million Canadians of Chinese ancestry currently living here. They have contributed to every aspect of life and culture in Canada, perhaps most iconically represented by our former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson. Sabrina Meng Wanzhou has herself been a long-term resident of Canada. Attitudes of mistrust and suspicion are unwarranted and insulting to the Chinese of China and to our fellow citizens. No doubt, apologies will be forthcoming--because we're good at that--but the Government of Canada should act quickly and not allow this insult to linger.
PS Since I first published this post on January 5, 2019, Jody Wilson-Raybould was demoted from Justice to Veterans Affairs. The middle of a crisis requiring action from the Minister of Justice seems a very strange time (or was it deliberate obfuscation?) to be changing the Minister, but that is what the Government of Canada has chosen to do.