Is Canada’s extradition system free from political interference? Here’s how the process works

Is Canada’s extradition system free from political interference? Here’s how the process works
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OTTAWA — Controversy erupted on Wednesday after John McCallum, Canada’s ambassador to China, told Chinese-language media that he thinks Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou has “quite a strong case” against extradition to the United States.

McCallum’s comments raised concerns over political interference in the case, as McCallum even outlined specific arguments Meng could make to prevent her extradition.

Yet Canada’s extradition process has always allowed for some political discretion, while also including an extensive court process to protect the rights of accused persons.

Last month, following the arrest of Meng, officials in Canada’s justice department gave a background briefing to journalists on how Canada’s extradition system works. Unlike McCallum, the officials were very careful not to weigh in on the merits of the case, emphasizing instead the importance of due process.

Initial stages

A provisional arrest warrant for Meng was issued by a B.C. Supreme Court judge after the U.S. government sent a five-page document setting out its accusations against Meng. The U.S. alleges Meng deceived financial institutions and violated sanctions against Iran.

Following that arrest, the U.S. has 60 days to formally request extradition (the U.S. has not yet done this for Meng, but is expected to do so soon). Canada’s justice minister then has 30 days to issue an Authority to Proceed, which triggers the full extradition hearing.

At the Dec. 12 briefing, justice officials said these initial decisions are typically non-political, delegated to public servants who analyze the case to make sure it has met the statutory legal threshold for extradition.

Extradition hearing

Once the Authority to Proceed is issued, extradition hearings are held before a judge. In this case, it would be in the B.C. Supreme Court.

This is where the U.S. Department of Justice will provide a detailed record of its case against Meng, and Meng’s legal team will be able to challenge it. The judge will have to decide whether the U.S. has enough evidence to hold a fair trial, and whether the crime being alleged would also be a crime if it was committed in Canada.

If the judge orders the extradition to proceed, Meng can appeal that decision to the B.C. Court of Appeal, and ultimately to the Supreme Court of Canada. Those courts may decline to hear the appeal.

Minister’s decision

Until now, the process has been carried out at arm’s-length from politicians. But at this point it comes to the desk of Justice Minister David Lametti, who makes the final call on handing someone over to another country’s justice system.

“If a judge says you are good to go in terms of (extradition), it’s still up to the minister to decide whether to send someone, to surrender someone, for extradition,” a justice official said at the Dec. 12 briefing. “That’s a ministerial decision (Lametti) has to make…to look at and balance things that ministers balance.”

Justice Minister David Lametti Paul Chiasson/CP

Meng will be entitled to see the justice department advice Lametti received before making his decision, and can file for judicial review if she feels the decision was made improperly.

Canada’s track record shows that the vast majority of U.S. extradition requests are successful. The justice official told reporters more than 90 per cent of U.S. extraditions go through.

“It’s pretty likely that by the time they make a request and by the time they perfect it, by the time we have had a discussion back and forth to make sure that we fully appreciate what it is that they’re presenting, most of those go through,” the official said.

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