In a June 23 letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a group of former parliamentarians and diplomats wrote that the government ought to end the extradition proceedings against Meng — and suggested that it had the legal authority to do so. The plea was signed by a former Supreme Court justice, former Conservative and Liberal cabinet ministers, former ambassadors, a former leader of the New Democratic Party and many other distinguished individuals, who made a compelling case. On Thursday, Trudeau rejected the idea outright.
Speaking from outside his home, Trudeau said: “If countries around the world, including China, realize that by arbitrarily arresting random Canadians they can get what they want out of Canada politically? Well, that makes an awful lot more Canadians … vulnerable to that kind of pressure.”
He’s right. And as persuasive as the argument for making a deal might be, he’s right to refuse to negotiate this particular one with China.
Canada is in an extraordinarily difficult position. Caught between the United States and China (once more), competing conceptions of the rule of law and the moral duty to bring home two innocent men, there is no unambiguously good decision. But in resisting China’s bullying in this instance, Trudeau is drawing a line that not only might help protect other Canadians abroad but also might begin to delineate a foreign policy that refuses to accept a moral equivalency between Meng’s case and that of Spavor and Kovrig. Ideally, this will be a foreign policy that recognizes that the United States is no innocent ally or model state, but also that American failures do not excuse China’s thuggery. Moreover, on balance, it ought to be a foreign policy that stipulates Canada refuses to let autocracies leverage innocent lives to save face while dictating the global order.
Trudeau’s refusal to trade Spavor and Kovrig for Meng might not itself fulfill calls to “get tough on China” —especially those coming from the right — and future decisions vis-à-vis China might contrast with this one. Such a test is already forthcoming, as a group of senators has called on the government to levy sanctions against Chinese officials under the Magnitsky Act. It’s fine if some decisions don’t align with a nebulous call for “toughness.” Foreign policy can’t be reduced to sloganeering, and we shouldn’t try to do so. There will always be edge cases, judgment calls and inconsistency in international relations. It was ever so and ever will be.
But there ought to be lines that a country that purports to respect human rights and the law will not cross, especially when it comes to such an egregious human rights abuser as China. And swapping Kovrig and Spavor for Meng is one of them.
As tragic, unjust and heartbreaking as the detentions in China are, Canada has made the right decision in this case. Knowing better where the line is now, the Trudeau government ought to continue its efforts to release the two men, and the world ought to rally to the cause in support of justice and human rights.