The Art of the Deal. The title of Donald J. Trump’s first-ever book, published in 1987, and indeed, words to live by for the former US President.
He certainly said as much about the high-profile Meng Wanzhou case, which began when Canada positively responded to an extradition request from DC on Dec 1, 2018 and arrested the chief financial officer of Chinese telecom conglomerate Huawei for violating sanctions on Iran.
When interviewed by Reuters on whether Meng would be used as a bargaining chip in US discussions for a better trade deal with China, Trump’s response was as follows: “If I think it’s good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made – which is a very important thing – what’s good for national security – I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary.”
Two and a half years on, Trump has moved on from the White House, but the Chinese executive remains in Vancouver under strict bail conditions. Meng’s arrest has triggered an intertwined entanglement of decisions and responses across national borders, strained relations between Canada, China and the US, and resulted in consequential if not fatalistic problems beyond the grasp of even the most seasoned diplomats and statesmen.
China detained two Canadian nationals, Michael Spavor and Michael Korvig, shortly after the arrest of Meng, at a time the Trump administration was in the middle of a calculated campaign to escalate tensions with China and Iran. Spavor was found guilty of spying last week and sentenced to 11 years in prison, while Korvig remains in custody.
According to Beijing, there was nothing political about the arrest of the “two Michaels”. The same could be argued about Meng’s arrest for DC. But it has been difficult for Ottawa to align with that rhetoric: while the American request to detain and extradite Meng might be perceived as inherently political, the position of Canada’s judicial independence in the case of Meng could not be (nor could it be allowed to be interpreted as) undermined or weakened. The real question for Canada is, how far is it willing to go in the American trade and foreign policy battles? And more importantly for the court, to what extent are the charges against Meng justifiable and sound?
The latest questioning came last week from none other than Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes, who presided over the extradition hearings. “Isn’t it unusual that one would see a fraud case with no actual harm many years later and one in which the alleged victim, a large institution, appears to have numerous people within the institution who had all the facts that are now said to have been misrepresented?” She asked.
The alleged victim in this case is HSBC. The entire US case against Meng rests on the allegation that Meng misled the bank about relations between Huawei and its subsidiary Skycom, which did business in Iran, during a presentation to its officials at a meeting in Hong Kong in 2013.
For Judge Holmes, whether the bank itself, eight years following that fateful meeting, should be considered a “victim or accomplice” is open to question.
She also questioned whether it is “reasonable to assume that an international bank would rely on an assurance from one person about compliance by other companies not under Huawei’s direct control”.
The judge’s comments followed her ruling last month, when she rejected proposed new evidence obtained by Meng’s lawyers from HSBC through a court agreement in Hong Kong. Although Meng’s lawyers maintain that the documents, if admitted, would definitively prove the US had misled the court in its case summary to Canada, the court’s rejection of request from Meng meant that the evidence, including hundreds of pages of internal bank emails and spreadsheets, is now in the public domain.
While judges in extradition hearings would only have a limited weighing of the evidence, and that most extradition cases involving the US so far have succeeded, former chief justice Beverley McLachlin of the Supreme Court of Canada once cautioned: “The judge must act as a judge, not a rubber stamp.” For her part, Associate Chief Justice Holmes has explicitly stated she had no intention of being a rubber stamp.
It would be premature to conclude the prospects for Meng’s case are any more promising than they were at any point since 2018. But in light of these latest developments surrounding the foundations of the charges against her, important questions have to be raised and asked.
And in any case, south of the border, the US has long moved on from a president used to claiming he “knows more about how to close deals than anybody”. The Meng case, it so appears, was one of the many “deals” he left behind. The first book by the incumbent president, in comparison, was titled: Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose. Indeed – hope, hardship and purpose are quintessential if we are to end this folly.