Premier Li Keqiang’s four-day visit to Canada is being overshadowed by revelations that the two countries are negotiating a bilateral extradition treaty. Judging by media commentaries and letters to editors, Canadian public opinion is firmly against it, primarily out of human rights concerns.
Beijing has sought for such a treaty in the past 20 years. It went nowhere with the previous Conservative government. But the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau appears to be far keener on having better economic relations and advancing the national interests than addressing human rights concerns.
Many Canadian critics believe their country has little to gain from such a treaty, as fugitives tend to flee from China rather than the other way round. Some argue it would breach the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by extraditing suspects who may face torture, execution and other abuses. Others say the lack of a guarantee of a fair trial and of an independent judiciary and due process in China should be reason enough to reject Beijing’s overture.
Canadians are by and large idealists and moralists. That is why many believe the kind of migrants who should be welcome are those fleeing war, oppression and famine; and why they are generally critical of any immigration scheme based on investment or wealth.
But their political leaders have to operate in the real world and pursue the national interest as powerful countries continue to pay the “great game”. Today’s China simply cannot be ignored or denied. Twenty-five of China’s most wanted are believed to be living in Canada.
The reason why so many Chinese criminals flee to Canada is precisely because it offers an excellent sanctuary for their personal safety and ill-gotten gains. Does Canada really want to harbour such criminals? Extraditing a suspect to China does not automatically breach the Canadian Charter. He or she can challenge their extradition in a Canadian court, and if they lose, they can appeal to a higher court.
Canada has extradition pacts with about 50 countries. Many are not full democracies and don’t have the same legal system or comparable judicial standards. A treaty with China would primarily target those accused of corruption or financial crimes. It’s virtually unthinkable that Canada would ever hand over a dissident or a rights lawyer and advocate facing persecution on the mainland.