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Fate of two Canadians could be affected by Meng decision: former ambassador

Last Updated May 26, 2020 at 3:24 pm EDT

Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, leaves B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on January 23, 2020. A former ambassador to China says tomorrow's decision in the extradition case of Huawei exective Meng Wanzhou could also determine the fate of two Canadians detained in China. David Mulroney, who served as Canada's ambassador to the People's Republic of China between 2009 to 2012, says if Meng is released then he expects China will eventually follow suit and release Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

VANCOUVER — A former ambassador to China says Wednesday’s decision in the extradition case of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou could also determine the fate of two Canadians detained in China.

David Mulroney, who served as Canada’s ambassador to the People’s Republic of China between 2009 and 2012, says if Meng is released then he expects China will eventually follow suit and release Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

The detention of Kovrig and Spavor has widely been seen as arbitrary retaliation against Canada for the arrest of Meng, who is wanted on fraud charges in the United States.

If Meng’s case instead proceeds to the next stage, Mulroney says he worries that China may choose to more actively prosecute the two Canadians on the national security charges they face.

While Meng’s arrest in December 2018 was a lightning rod for the collapse of Canada-China relations, Mulroney says he believes China’s behaviour over the past year has had the effect of “decoupling” the case from its initial influence on bilateral relations.

He says he believes China’s interference in Hong Kong and other events have caused Canadians to become disenchanted with the idea or goal of returning to some kind of “golden status quo” with the Asian superpower.

“I think if Ms. Meng were to go back to China, it would probably mean good news on the part of the two Michaels but I don’t think it would or should change Canada-China relations,” says Mulroney, who is also a distinguished fellow with the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto.

“I think even the most ardent China boosters have been forced to reconsider things and I think have been forced to admit that there’s no going back to a golden status quo ante. It never existed and China is anything but a normal partner.”

Justice Heather Holmes of the B.C. Supreme Court is scheduled to release her ruling on the issue of so-called double criminality on Wednesday in Vancouver.

The legal arguments on double criminality centre on whether the allegations Meng is facing in the United States would be a crime in Canada.

The decision could lead to her release or it could start a new round of legal arguments, including on whether her arrest at Vancouver’s airport in December 2018 was unlawful.

The United States has charged her with fraud over allegations she violated American sanctions against Iran, which she and the Chinese telecommunications giant have denied.

Her lawyers have argued the court should dismiss the case because Canada has rejected similar sanctions, while the Crown has said the judge’s role is to determine if there’s evidence of fraud.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2020.

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press