Ever since Beijing erupted in a rage following last December’s detention of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. Justice Department warrant in Vancouver, Justin Trudeau’s government has been strangely incoherent in its attempts to explain away the most spectacular rupture in diplomatic relations between Canada and China since the first exchange of ambassadors back in 1970.
Well, now we know why.
There was a lot going on in the background that Chrystia Freeland could not candidly reveal last week when she dismissed Liberal Party patriarch Jean Chrétien’s formula for capitulating to China. The formula is simple. 1. Abdicate from the Canada-U.S. extradition treaty and let Meng walk free. 2. Ask Beijing to be nice to us. 3. See what happens.
Freeland quite sensibly noted that this would be a “dangerous precedent.” No kidding.
It’s quite true that Chrétien knows his way around the parasitical Communist Party elites that have lately decided to scuttle any of the institutions of the global order that would resist Beijing’s efforts to reshape the world in its own image and likeness. Chrétien’s 15 years of service to Chinese and Canadian corporations as a lobbyist, adviser, deal-maker, consultant and errand runner began officially only days after he resigned as Prime Minister after a decade in office in 2003.
But what Freeland could not say out loud was that sending Chrétien and his cronies from the Canada-China Business Council as envoys to Beijing would be to surrender Canada’s foreign policy to the same Liberal Party old guard that cleared the way for Beijing to put the boots to Canada in the first place. Neither could she disclose that the Trudeau government has been subjected to sustained backroom browbeating to take the course Chrétien is counselling ever since things blew up last December.
It was only little more than a week ago that the former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, in a move heavily freighted by message control and the floating of propositions, came straight out with it, publicly. It would run like this: Ottawa sends Chrétien to Beijing, accompanied by his son-in-law André Desmarais, the Power Corporation heir and honorary chairman of the Canada-China Business Council. The pair leads a delegation to propose a surrender on the terms Chrétien has been lobbying Ottawa to take ever since last December—release Meng Wanzhou. Beijing agrees and offers to lift its boot from Canada’s neck— an offer Trudeau would be damned if he refused.
This has all been far too awkward for the Trudeau government to come clean about. So instead, we’re expected to believe the cover story, the one about how the problem with Beijing’s various shouting ministers and emissaries is that they just don’t understand how Canada’s legal system works. The one about how they simply can’t get their heads around the idea that Trudeau can’t just call up a judge and clear the way for an otherwise untouchable member of the Red Royalty to board an airplane at Vancouver International Airport and fly away home to Shenzhen.
But whatever would have made them think such a thing was possible in the first place?
It’s because of what Beijing has been hearing loudly, clearly and consistently since last December, because that’s what Chrétien, former deputy prime minister John Manley, the dependably pro-Beijing think-tanker Wenran Jiang and quite a few others from that crowd have been saying, loudly, clearly and consistently, from the beginning. It’s this: All Trudeau has to do is say the word and for the first time in its 48 years of existence, the extradition treaty between Canada and the United States can simply be ignored, just like that.
And Canada would be welcomed into China’s camp, and turned against the United States at last, just as Beijing has been hoping for all along.
“I don’t think they know or care what kind of damage they’re doing to this country,” is the way a senior Team Trudeau insider put it to me the other day. “With what they’ve done, there’s no reason for China to take our protestations seriously.”
Chrétien has not responded to Maclean’s’ request for a response.
It’s no wonder that Xi Jinping and his ministers are furious that Trudeau hasn’t played along. It’s no wonder that Chrystia Freeland can’t get Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to return her calls.
It’s not just China that’s putting the onus on Canada to pick up the pieces and re-assemble Canada’s obsequious, kowtowing relationship with Beijing. “We hope that Canada will take seriously our severe concerns and immediately release Ms. Meng Wanzhou and actively take substantial measures to push China-Canada relations back on track as soon as possible.” That could have been Jean Chretien talking, or John Manley. It was Geng Shuang, China’s foreign ministry spokesman, just last week.
It didn’t help matters when U.S. president Donald Trump intimated that he could somehow monkey with the Justice Department charges against Meng if it suited the American side in trade talks with China. The daughter of Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei, Meng is wanted on a U.S. Justice Department warrant from last August, containing 13 counts of bank fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy, all related to an investigation going back eight years into Huawei’s alleged sanctions-evading racket in Iran.
Trump’s stupid remark will no doubt be the thing Trudeau will be dancing around in his meetings in Washington this week, and he’ll have to be ginger about it. Trudeau is hoping to enlist Trump’s help with Xi at the upcoming G20 summit in Japan.
But more importantly, it hasn’t helped that by long and lucrative acquaintance, Beijing has come to see the Liberal Party of Canada as the political wing of the Canada-China Business Council. It’s why Beijing has been expecting that sooner or later, a Liberal government in Ottawa will do as Chretien and the Liberal old guard are advising and resume its customary, slavish behaviour.
It should have come as no surprise that it was the Conservative Mulroney who was tasked with the job of going public with the plan for the Chrétien-Desmarais delegation. Mulroney is perhaps the most illustrious protégé of the late Power Corporation elder Paul Desmarais Sr., the CCBC’s founding chairman.
John Manley was head of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives in 2016 when that blue-ribbon body co-produced a report with the CCBC sternly warning Canada to acquiesce to Beijing’s wishes for a free trade deal, which would have been the first for a G7 country. The CCBC is strewn with Liberal Party grandees, and Peter Harder, the CCBC’s former president, now leads the government side in the Senate, after having been plucked from the CCBC to head Justin Trudeau’s transition team following the 2015 election.
It’s no wonder that Beijing has calculated that by the steady application of gangland-style persuasion— the kidnapping of diplomat-on-leave Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor, the embargo on Canadian canola imports, and so on—the Trudeau government will be gifted with the political excuse to accede to whatever surrender terms Chrétien and his friends in Beijing might dictate.
That it would come to this was only a matter of time.
Within a week of Meng’s arrest last December, Chrétien was on the phone to the Prime Minister’s Office haranguing anyone who would listen that Jody Wilson-Raybould, the attorney-general and justice minister at the time, should be instructed to cancel the extradition proceedings against Meng. But since that time, even if a justification for such an unprecedented and brazenly political hijacking of the judiciary on Meng’s behalf could be divined from some clever reading of the Canada-U.S. extradition treaty, Trudeau has paid a brutal price for the pressure his office applied to Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the SNC-Lavalin corruption case on the company’s behalf.
It was Raybould who Manley singled out last December as the stubborn culprit behind Meng’s predicament. “If there’s a politician that’s on the hook on this,” Manley told CBC last December, “it’s the attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould.” Raybould did not respond to Maclean’s’ request for comment.
It was Manley, too, who blasted the Trudeau government for not having dodged the whole rule-of-law thing to begin with by employing what he called a bit of “creative incompetence.” The idea there was that Canada should have deliberately allowed Meng to quietly slip back into Canada, or otherwise just pretend we’d lost the extradition warrant in the mailroom.
Meng was detained on the warrant during a layover on a flight to Mexico when she checked into customs at Vancouver International Airport, explaining that she wanted to pop into one of the mansions she owns in town. Of course, someone in Canada tipping off Meng would have pleased Beijing tremendously. It would also have been what you could call an act of obstruction in the years-long U.S. Justice Department investigation into Huawei’s dealings in Iran that resulted in the charges against Meng.
Manley has dismissed the case against Meng as “an attempt to get China to buy more soybeans from the mid-western United States.” Chrétien has explained the warrant along similar lines: the Americans had tricked us into detaining her.
The final decision in Meng’s extradition case, which is expected to take two years to wind its way through the courts, now falls to David Lametti, who is widely seen as far more compliant than his predecessor in matters of judicial independence. Wilson-Raybould, as is well known, was shuffled out of her post in what became a scandalous upheaval, and she ultimately resigned in despair from Trudeau’s cabinet over the very concept that we’ve all been led to believe Xi Jinping is somehow incapable of grasping: judicial independence.
It’s here, too, that the cover story falls apart. President Xi is not ill-informed on the subject, and he doesn’t need a briefing by Canadian officials about what judicial independence is all about. Xi has been very clear that he knows exactly what an independent judiciary is.
Just this past February, Xi wrote a 5,000-word essay in the Chinese Communist Party’s main theoretical journal, headlined “Strengthening the Party’s Leadership over the Overall Rule of Law,” in which he makes it plain as day that he fully understands judicial independence to be the bedrock of “western constitutionalism.” It’s a defining feature of civilized countries that he insists his state-capitalist regime must never tolerate.
Trudeau has been wishy-washy in his responses to the Team Chrétien ideas. Freeland stands alone in being unequivocal. “When it comes to Ms. Meng, there has been no political interference,” Freeland told reporters last week. “This has been entirely about officials taking decisions according to Canada’s commitments, and that is the right way for extradition requests to proceed.” As for Chrétien’s interventions and the way all that could play out, it’s Trudeau’s call, Freeland added.
But there is one person who could fix the whole thing in an instant, and it’s not Xi, or Trump, or Trudeau, or Chrétien, or Desmarais, or Freeland. It’s Meng Wanzhou.
Meng claims to be innocent on all counts, and Meng’s boss, which is to say her father, Huawei CEO Ren Zhenfei, says the same, and has gone further about Meng’s prospects: “We will count on the law to address these issues. We believe U.S. laws are open, transparent, fair, and just.” This is obviously disingenuous, but it’s also one of the only unambiguously true things that can be said about this whole mess.
Instead of tying up Canadian and U.S. courts with comical lawsuits claiming her various constitutional rights have been stepped upon, all Meng has to do is call up the Canadian Border Services Agency and tell them to come and collect her from her mansion in Vancouver’s swank Shaughnessy neighbourhood, and take her to the Canada-U.S. border so she can turn herself in.
If Chrétien and Desmarais and the rest are so good at making things happen in the Canada-China relationship, maybe they might think about figuring out how to get Meng Wanzhou to do just that.