Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 23, 2016
Fresh off a field trip of sorts, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seems to be making all kinds of new friends on the playground, friends like Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
Trudeau recently returned from a diplomatic trip to China, where he and his government attempted to mend fences with a Chinese government that had grown used to the icy reception often conveyed by former prime minister Stephen Harper.
As far as trading partners go, China could be vital for a country like Canada. The population base and buying ability alone makes China appealing, albeit somewhat one-sided in the balance offered in a trade agreement. Financially, over the long term it makes sense for Canada to look at increasing trade with China for many reasons. Where problems arise is when Canada enters into some form of an extradition treaty with a country like China, as part of that overall discussion.
The Chinese government has been condemned for some time for its deplorable human rights record. Under an extradition treaty, Canada would agree to hand over Chinese fugitives to be dealt with by the letter of China’s law. That law often includes behaviours such as torture and capital punishment, both practices which are thought to be considered barbaric in Canada.
The very thought that Trudeau and the Liberal government are considering signing an extradition treaty with China seems to contradict a long-held belief of the prime minister. By welcoming scores of political and social refugees over the last number of months, Canada is again recognizable as a leader on the human rights stage, and by offering up opportunities for those who have come from some of the worst areas of the world is rewarding for this government and Canadians in general.
By entertaining a treaty of this nature, Canada without a doubt opens itself up to the Chinese government seeking to weed out dissidents who once fled after speaking out against the oppressive communist rule. Surely there are some who merely fled as fugitives for corrupt reasons, but they stand the chance to be rounded up much like those who came here on the grounds of political asylum.
The prime minister clearly sees relationship building with China as a fresh start for Canada, calling the future of our trade partnership “robust.” However boisterous that business potential may be, it still doesn’t offset the fact our government has been entertaining the notion of an extradition treaty for months.
Case in point: Canadian missionary Kevin Garratt spent the balance of two years detained as a Chinese prisoner, on charges that he was a spy against the government. The Harper Conservatives tried in vain to free him before the last federal election, and now close to a year into his first term, Trudeau has miraculously succeeded in securing Garratt’s release.
Garratt’s freedom may come at a steep price, though. Could the extradition treaty be the final return on investment for China allowing Canada to repatriate one of its own? Having the Canadian government secure the return of Garratt is tremendously positive, but may have ultimately put more lives in danger.
Even though the dollar value batted between the two countries may eclipse $1.2 billion in trade, it still does not make up for the human rights issues that the Canadian government is poised to ignore should it choose to go down this path. It is a very slippery moral slope for the Liberals and more so for the prime minister. As someone who touts his government’s compassion to support refugees, turning his back on many potential human rights concerns would only water down his resolve.
For decades, there has been a belief that there were pro- communist Chinese members in Canada attempting to locate former citizens who skipped the country for legal or political reasons. The prime minister signing an extradition treaty would merely legitimize their ability to remain here in what some would consider nothing more than a social and political purge.
The prime minister has done plenty of good since assuming office. His actions have caused even the most skeptical of opinion makers to support his ideas. This one seems a bit too problematic, though.
It appears Mr. Trudeau and company may have bought into some of their messiah-like hype. Perhaps the prime minister believes he can change the errant ways of a long-standing regime. But in all reality, he may end up being labelled a patsy for what is clearly a political superpower.