Meng Wanzhou at conference in Milan, Italy on May 11 2018. Photo by Shutterstock / Stocked House Studio.
Canada’s calamitous approach to the crisis of the two Michaels began on November 30, 2018, the day we received an explosive U.S. extradition request for an emergency arrest of Huawei’s CFO, Meng Wanzhou. To be carried out the very next morning, when her flight from Hong Kong landed in Vancouver.
The warning signs should have flashed red across the federal government that this request would likely result in the seizure of Canadians in China.
Taking Canadians hostage worked for China the last time
More than anything, Canada needed to buy time.
Because taking two Canadian civilians hostage is exactly what China the last time we detained a politically sensitive Chinese citizen on a U.S. warrant, in 2014.
Beijing’s political calculus is pretty clear. Canadian hostages for each Chinese national arrest.
They knew it. We knew it. The Americans knew it.
An emergency provisional warrant request endangering Canadians demanded, above all, immediate diplomacy with the Americans, rather than the timid and unquestioning processing it apparently received.
As outraged as all Canadians rightfully are at the conduct of President Xi Jinping’s government, our own leadership should object to being strong-armed by our supposedly closest ally in a way that jeopardized our citizens’ safety. Sermons about the rule of law unfairly distort the bigger picture that the public is entitled to know.
Canadians deserve to know that the Americans ginned up this foolhardy extradition application, possibly for political purposes.
“Our justice system, and the federal Crown have been hoodwinked into participating in a show trial and shakedown, against our own national interests and risking our citizens.”
They should know the history of America’s noble, but ultimately failed strategy behind these indictments.
Over the last decade, beginning under president Barack Obama, the DOJ, State and Defense departments became impatient with passively monitoring an alarming increase of cyber-espionage, theft, and threat to critical infrastructure, particularly when conducted by proxies of nation-states such as China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea.
As John Carlin, then assistant attorney general for U.S. national security, outlined in an address on cyber-forensics in 2015:
…(W)e face an onslaught of new threats and intrusions that raise national security concerns…
We have a host of tools available to us to combat online threats to the national security – criminal prosecution, sanctions, designations and diplomatic options – and we have the ability to pick the best tool or combination of tools to get the job done under the rule of law.
The United States is pursuing a comprehensive, whole-of-government strategy to confront malicious actors who seek to harm critical infrastructure, damage computer systems and steal trade secrets and sensitive information.
The criminal justice system is a central and effective component of this disruption effort. Indictments and prosecutions are a clear and powerful way, governed by the rule of law, to legitimize and prove allegations.
In May 2014, the DOJ launched a new strategy of publicly naming and charging state-sponsored individuals, even those beyond reach of U.S. arrest. Such was the infamous “Ugly Gorilla” case, in which the U.S. indicted five members of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on charges of conspiracy, hacking, and espionage directed at six American companies in the U.S. nuclear power, metals and solar products industries.
Even though the alleged PLA hackers were beyond the reach of authorities, just laying the charge was considered incendiary. Paul M. Tiao, a former senior counsellor on cybersecurity to FBI director Robert Mueller, told Bloomberg at the time, “This will have significant diplomatic implications and will affect our relationship with the Chinese government.”
As Canada was about to discover, it most certainly would.
As dramatic as his PLA indictment was, Carlin wanted to inflict even greater pain on Beijing. The DOJ’s calculation at the time was that the Chinese government is a rational actor that will respond rationally to pressure. “The next case,” he told colleagues, “we need a body.”
That “next body” would come from Canada. In June 2014, the U.S. requested Canadian authorities to arrest and extradite Su Bin, a Chinese national living in Richmond, B.C., on cyber-espionage charges.
Su had spent almost six years guiding a PLA hacking operation that broke into multiple senior defense contractor sites and stole massive files of critical U.S. military plans representing tens of billions of dollars in development cost. His oversight enabled the PLA, among other things, to replicate Lockheed Martin fighter jets and Boeing military cargo planes.
Su Bin was arrested in British Columbia on a US extradition request alleging multiple counts of conspiracy, espionage, and theft of military secrets.
But Beijing didn’t play the rational actor game as Carlin expected. They retaliated by abducting and imprisoning two Canadian missionaries, Julia and Kevin Garratt, for six months and two years, respectively.
In one move, China flipped Washington’s script, and turned the criminal trial into a hostage negotiation, and Washington blinked.
In terms of U.S. national security, criminal targets don’t come much higher value than Su Bin. Yet he consented to extradition and pled guilty to a single count, for which he was fined $10,000 and sentenced to a mere 18 additional months in custody.
By contrast, the typical plea bargain sentencing for espionage is in the range of 25 years to life imprisonment.
This was an unimaginably sweet deal for Su, but perhaps sweetest of all for Kevin Garratt, who was released shortly after the sentencing in 2016.
While informed sources suggest that Su’s deal took the Chinese government by surprise, there are likely only two explanations for such a weak plea agreement: either Su Bin became a cooperating witness, providing the U.S. government valuable Chinese military intelligence, or he was, in effect, traded for Garratt.
The only clue we have is that Kevin and Julia Garratt were both home, safe and sound, by 2016. If Su Bin was singing like a canary, they wouldn’t be.
At least during the Obama administration, it appears that Canada’s interests were observed and respected in extradition matters.
U.S. indictment strategy “a magnificent failure”
Yet on the international stage, the Su Bin plea agreement represented a humiliation for the DOJ and a vindication of China’s strategy of ruthless retribution.
The message could not have been clearer to everyone involved that the Chinese would see that hostage-taking works, and at all costs to avoid a replay of this scenario.
Yet just two years later, on November 30, the DOJ would try the extradition route again, Trump-style, this time seeking the arrest of the CFO of a major multinational telecom company, and the daughter of its founder, Ren Zhengfei.
Yet by now, Carlin’s indictment strategy was under fire for failing to deter Chinese theft of intellectual property. If anything, China’s brutal methods everywhere have only become stronger. Harvard law professor and US national security expert Jack Goldsmith declared it a “magnificent failure.”
A moment for emergency diplomatic intervention
So the request for yet another attempt at an unsuccessful strategy in Canada was a moment for emergency diplomatic intervention — for Canada to call on the U.S. State Department to suspend or postpone its request, in order for both countries to consider all options, given the dangers facing our citizens in China.
There’s no outward sign that anything of this nature happened. In any event, Canada appears to have meekly granted unquestioning deference to the United States. We walked straight into the buzzsaw.
While it’s easy to condemn China’s indefensible conduct both domestically and on the world stage, it’s vital that Canadians understand just how objectionable the U.S. conduct of this case has been, and how inadequately we met the moment.
Any extradition request that puts Canadians in harm’s way should be manifestly necessary, urgent, effective, and support a compelling national security interest.
Not one of those conditions applied here.
Unlike Su Bin, in criminal terms, Meng’s indictment is almost entirely gratuitous. While she may be technically guilty, the US has traditionally only charged corporate entities and not individuals for Iran sanctions violations. There is no defensible rationale supporting the endangerment of other civilians just to lay inconsequential charges.
The DOJ doesn’t need the Meng charges at all. They can easily proceed against their main target, Huawei, without her.
Extradition request misleading
Nor was there any urgency to her arrest, and the DOJ appears to have misled Canadian authorities in claiming that there was.
The Globe and Mail reported that the American warrant stated: “Unless Meng is provisionally arrested in Canada on Saturday, Dec. 1 … it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to secure her presence in the United States for prosecution…”
This was not true at all.
As a senior executive of a major multi-national corporation, Meng travelled routinely all over the world, and maintained two homes in Vancouver. As the Globe reported, she had recently traveled to the U.K., Ireland, France, Belgium, Poland and Japan, and was slated to next visit Mexico, Costa Rica and Argentina. All have mutual U.S. extradition treaties.
Why pick Canada for this request, since we’d just gone through years of hostage imprisonment on another U.S. case?
And why the unseemly rush?
There was no hint of time pressure, unless Americans had another, undisclosed objective in mind in urgently seeking a Dec. 1 arrest.
Which as it turns out, they very probably did.
Meng’s arrest a glorified perp walk for a G20 show
Mere hours after Meng’s arrest in Vancouver on Dec. 1, 2018, presidents Trump and Xi sat down to dinner with their trade teams at the G20 in Buenos Aires.
What could be a better pressure tactic in trade talks than to orchestrate a surprise glorified perp walk on the global stage?
Meng’s arrest wasn’t important, necessary or urgent.
It was a show.
Emerging from the meeting, Trump and Xi announced a cease-fire in the impending trade war. But days later, Trump twisted the knife into Xi by publicly offering to exchange Meng for trade concessions.
Just as he did with Ukraine, or with Turkey (for whom he fired U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara as a favour), or firing FBI director James Comey, or having his henchman AG Bill Barr get Mike Flynn’s charges dropped and Roger Stone’s sentencing manipulated, or unilaterally cancelling hard-won sanctions against China’s ZTE, Trump’s relationship with his DOJ and foreign relations is a study in dominance and self-dealing.
The moment Trump bartered Meng for a trade deal, he turned our justice system into his personal hostage-keeper. From that moment on, indeed from the moment the DOJ presented misleading evidence for its provisional extradition warrant, this proceeding has been stripped of legitimacy.
It was after this that China seized the two Michaels.
Our justice system, and the federal Crown have been hoodwinked into participating in a show trial and shakedown, against our own national interests and risking our citizens.
And we’ve been roped into a cartoonishly two-dimensional portrayal of the global dynamics at play. China bad, Canada good.
How did we get suckered so badly? How did we fail to protect our own citizens and courts from this reckless insult and abuse? How can we continue to dignify it by cloaking it in the robes of our judicial system, and lip-sync “rule of law” bromides?
We aren’t courageously standing on principle, we’re tip-toeing around Donald Trump, while our own citizens rot in a Chinese prison.
The time has come to put an end to this cruel charade.
End these extradition proceedings now, and bring our Michaels home.