10/03/2016 06:37 EDT

Peter Kent: It's ‘Concerning' Trudeau's Office Won't Criticize China

PM’s office won’t weigh on on country’s justice system.

OTTAWA — Canadians should be concerned that the Trudeau government refuses to criticize China, Conservative critic Peter Kent said Monday.

Kent, the critic for foreign affairs, cited a Huffington Post Canada story in the House of Commons where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s spokesman had refused to denounce the Chinese justice system.

Conservative MP Peter Kent speaks in the House of Commons on Feb. 24, 2016 in Ottawa. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)

Trudeau’s press secretary Cameron Ahmad declined to answer last week when asked whether the prime minister trusted the Chinese justice system. The government recently announced it is in talks with the Chinese government over a possible extradition treaty.

Many critics raised alarms that Ottawa might send wanted expats back to China where they could face torture, mistreatment and the death penalty.

Canada and China have “different systems of law and order,” Ahmad told HuffPost, declining to outline their differences. “We are not going to start criticizing other countries’ systems.”

Canada has its standards, Ahmad said, and China has theirs.

‘We have high standards’

“We have high standards with respect to the rule of law and our own system … and we maintain those in discussion with any country.”

Kent said pursuing negotiations of an extradition treaty with China was “misguided” and he questioned why the government was so reluctant to speak out against human rights abuses.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion insisted there are no negotiations.

“Discussing is not necessarily negotiating, and there is no negotiation,” he responded.

“[The] Prime Minister and myself are speaking very strongly about human rights everywhere in the world, including in China.”

‘Discussing’ or ‘negotiating’

When they were both in China several weeks ago, Dion said, he and Trudeau explained to the Chinese authorities the rigorous criteria that Canada applies for extradition.

“In these criteria about all human rights, there is also our steadfast opposition to the death penalty, something that his government dropped and that we brought up, because it is important for Canada to say that it wants it abolished everywhere in the world, in every circumstance.”

Canada already has laws that state the government cannot expatriate someone without clear assurances the death penalty won’t be applied. But Amnesty International’s Alex Neve, for example, has questioned how Canada could obtain such assurances when the Chinese justice system and executions, specifically, are shrouded in secrecy.

Kent said the whole thing is “very concerning.”

‘China uses the death penalty universally’

“China uses the death penalty universally, there is no due process, white-collar criminals and others of non-capital crimes are regularly put to death, one way or another, sometimes by neglect, sometimes by torture, mistreatment, by organ harvesting. And in other cases, it is a formal execution… We don’t understand why they are bothering to discuss, or talk, or negotiate at all.”

If the government isn’t interested in negotiating, why are they talking about it, he asked. “It doesn’t make sense. If they could clarify exactly why they are doing [discussing]…we would probably ask questions about other important issues of the day,” he said.

NDP foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière said it’s well known that the Chinese justice system is used to squash dissent very often.

“I’m very, very worried about those negotiations — or discussions...on an extradition treaty.”

As a former diplomat, Laverdière said it is possible to engage with China and “still be very firm” in our principles and defending our values. “It’s possible to do both.”

NDP: Canada too cozy with China

Canada had swung from one side of the pendulum — too cold under the Harper government — to the other — too friendly. Prime Minister Trudeau, she said, was being “naive” in his approach.

Several Liberal sources, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak, suggested the government had agreed to discuss an extradition treaty to with China in order to get Canadian Kevin Garratt released from a Chinese prison, where the government feared he might die. Garratt had been detained for two years under suspicion he was spying on the Chinese — an accusation his family vehemently denied.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Justin Trudeau attend the signing ceremony of a series of bilateral cooperation documents in Ottawa, Sept. 22. (Photo: Xinhua/Pang Xinglei via Getty Images)

Charles Burton, an associate professor at Brock University and a well-known expert on Canada-China relations and human rights, told HuffPost it is unwise of the government agree to talk about an extradition treaty if Canada has no intention of following through.

“If you agree to start with the process, the expectation is that you anticipate that it will be successful. You don’t say ‘We’re going to do something.’ And then, not do it,” he said.

Burton said he worries China will be encouraged to send more illegal agents to Canada to try to get Chinese expats through coercions or deception.

The whole thing, he said, “troubles” him.

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