OTTAWA — The federal Justice Department gave the go-ahead Friday for an extradition case to proceed against Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who is wanted in the United States on fraud allegations.
The decision marks the formal start of the high-profile extradition process for Meng, whose arrest has put Canada in a deeply uncomfortable position between two superpowers.
Canada's relationship with China — its second-biggest trading partner — has deteriorated since Meng's December arrest in Vancouver.
The arrest of the Chinese telecom giant's chief financial officer has angered Beijing, which has warned Ottawa of serious consequences unless she is released.
China has also criticized Canada for acting on what it sees as a politically motivated extradition request from the Americans, particularly after U.S. President Donald Trump publicly contemplated intervening in Meng's case in the interests of securing a better trade deal with China.
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Throughout, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has maintained Canada is simply following the rule of law.
The government news release Friday announcing the decision appeared to take into consideration the deeply sensitive nature of Meng's case and the allegations of political interference that have surrounded it. The first line in the release declares: "Canada is a country governed by the rule of law."
It goes on to say the decision follows a "thorough and diligent review" of the evidence in this case.
Ultimately, Justice Minister David Lametti must decide whether Meng is extradited, which is why his department said that he will not comment on the facts of the case.
The case heads back to the British Columbia Supreme Court on Wednesday to confirm that the "authority to proceed" has been issued. The court will also schedule the date for the extradition hearing.
The document also said the extradition hearing is not a trial and it won't render a verdict of guilt or innocence. If Meng is eventually extradited, her actual trial will take place in the United States.
Following Friday's decision, Meng's defence team said in a statement that it is disappointed the justice minister is proceeding with the process "in the face of the political nature of the U.S. charges and where the president of the United States has repeatedly stated that he would interfere in Ms. Meng's case if he thought it would assist the U.S. negotiations with China over a trade deal."
The statement, signed by David J. Martin, said the defence is also concerned the minister gave his approval even though the acts the U.S. wants to try Meng for would not be an offence in Canada.
"This is an affront to the foundational extradition principle of double criminality," the statement said. "Our client maintains that she is innocent of any wrongdoing and that the U.S. prosecution and extradition constitutes an abuse of the processes of law. Our client looks forward to having her rights vindicated in the judicial phase of the extradition process."
The U.S. Department of Justice has laid out 13 criminal counts of conspiracy, fraud and obstruction against Huawei and Meng, who is the daughter of company founder Ren Zhengfei.
The indictment accuses Huawei and Meng of misrepresenting their ownership of a Hong Kong-based subsidiary between 2007 and 2017 to circumvent U.S. sanctions against Iran. The company's U.S. branch is also accused of stealing trade secrets and equipment from cellphone provider T-Mobile USA.
In the days that followed Meng's arrest, China detained two Canadians. Michael Kovrig, a Canadian diplomat on leave, and Michael Spavor, an entrepreneur, on allegations of engaging in activities that have endangered China's national security. They remain in Chinese custody, getting monthly visits from Canadian diplomats.
China also sentenced another Canadian, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, to death in a sudden retrial of his drug-smuggling case. He was originally sentenced in 2016 to a 15-year term, but the court delivered the new sentence after reconsidering his case.
Western analysts believe the arrests and the death sentence are part of an attempt by Beijing to pressure Canada into releasing Meng.