Monday, October 24, 2016

Canada removes dozens of people to China every year, despite fears over torture and the death penalty

Canada removes dozens of people to China every year, despite fears over torture and the death penalty

 |  | Last Updated: Oct 24 5:19 PM ET
More from Marie-Danielle Smith
A paramilitary guard stands before the bars of a main gate to the No.1 Detention Center in Beijing on October 25, 2012
Ed Jones / AFP / Getty ImagesA paramilitary guard stands before the bars of a main gate to the No.1 Detention Center in Beijing on October 25, 2012
OTTAWA — As fears over the treatment of prisoners continue to dominate debate about a possible extradition treaty with China, data show Canada has already been removing dozens of Chinese nationals annually.
The previous Conservative government sent back more than 330, according to Canada Border Services Agency data. So far this year, Canada has returned 24 people to China.
Conservatives are pummelling the Liberal government for indicating it is “discussing” an extradition treaty with China, saying China is known to use torture and the death penalty — a fact Chinese Premier Li Keqiang defended during a recent visit to Ottawa. But some experts say there could be benefits to a well-negotiated agreement.
“The return of inadmissible persons is a normal part of the bilateral relationship with any country. Nothing has changed with this policy since the change in government in 2015,” said Nicholas Dorion of the Canada Border Services Agency. A working group of Chinese and Canadian officials has been meeting regularly on “common law-enforcement issues, including the return of Chinese fugitives to China,” since 1999.
Documents obtained with an access to information request show prime minister Stephen Harper told Chinese leadership in 2014 that he was eager to collaborate on the return of fugitives. China’s ambassador to Canada at the time, Luo Zhaohui, praised the fact that Harper “stressed that Canada has no intention to ‘harbour fugitives’ ” in a Globe and Mail op-ed published that November.
The deputy minister of foreign affairs at the time, Daniel Jean, said in a 2015 memorandum: “It is in Canada’s interest to have such persons removed.”
Fred Chartrand / Canadian Press
Fred Chartrand / Canadian PressChinese Premier Li Keqiang and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, September 22, 2016
In 2015, numbers reached a 10-year high of 43. The lowest number of returned fugitives over the last 10 years was 18, in 2010. The average number was 33. Over the decade of data, 13 people are also listed as having been “removed to China” who did not have Chinese citizenship.
The “criminality” statistics do not say what crimes people were accused of, but immigration cases would fall under a different category, according to a former diplomat.
Engagement with China on this issue included a meeting in June 2015 between Jean and the head of China’s national bureau of corruption prevention, vice-minister Fu Kui. The meeting was not made public.
Documents prepared for Jean included information about a new “working group on the repatriation of inadmissible foreign nationals” that was to meet for the first time last fall. Canadians “do not believe it would be useful to refer to fugitives in the title of this working group and would prefer if China not use the term when discussing (it),” said a briefing note.
Fred Chartrand / Canadian Press
Fred Chartrand / Canadian PressPremier of the State Council of the People's Republic of China Li Keqiang in Ottawa
At the meeting, Justice Canada officials were to be at the ready in case the Chinese specifically brought up an extradition treaty. “What Fu may ultimately be seeking is political will in Canada to accelerate bilateral co-operation on fugitives,” the briefing note says.
“We will want to reiterate to China that co-operation with Canada on fugitives must be based on pro-active communication, agreed-upon protocols which meet legal standards of both countries, and clear asks,” it goes on. “Canada’s intention to strengthen co-operation with China on combating transnational crime and repatriation of fugitives has been affirmed during several bilateral visits of the prime minister.”
Jean is now Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s national security advisor.
A Sept. 13 communique on a new high-level dialogue between Canada and China showed Jean and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yongqing, agreed to “start discussions on an extradition treaty and a transfer of offenders treaty.”
While China has repeatedly asked Canada for an extradition treaty in the past, according to sources, it’s the first time that Canada has publicly indicated a “discussion.”
A former advisor to Harper said that’s the important distinction to make, because a public mention of a treaty — even if it’s not a formal “negotiation” — means that bureaucrats in the foreign department will start mobilizing to make it happen, in case a ministerial directive comes down.
“We still haven’t had a clarification or an explanation from the government on why they’re doing this, whether there were strings attached,” said Conservative foreign affairs critic Peter Kent, noting the extradition treaty news came on the heels of China’s release of jailed Canadian Kevin Garratt.
Supplied family photo
Supplied family photoKevin and Julie Garratt embrace at Vancouver airport following his return to Canada
“It doesn’t make sense to negotiate a formal treaty if some of the people that are probably on the China wish list could very well be subject to either capital punishment or imprisonment,” he said.
Kent admitted “we know there have been transfers” in the past, but he said “they took place only after full and complete investigation of the circumstances and the allegations … I’m sure that for every return that was granted there may have been any number of requests that weren’t granted.”
“There could be some benefits to a well-negotiated extradition agreement that would allow Canada to remove people who it’s not in our interest to have in Canada, while living up to our human rights obligations with respect to execution and torture,” said Phil Calvert, most recently the ambassador to Thailand, who worked on Chinese issues for more than 15 years within the Global Affairs department, including while being posted to Beijing.
Noting that Canada already extradites people to China and negotiates the terms of those transfers each time, Calvert suggested a treaty could put a better framework in place for managing those removals and could include mechanisms to monitor the treatment of prisoners after they are returned.
“We have good negotiators in Canada, we have good legal people in the government of Canada who understand this very well, good people with China experience,” Calvert said. “They will negotiate a good agreement, or it won’t happen.”
Calvert added that other countries would be “much more suspicious” of China if it didn’t live up to promises within a treaty. It would start to face immense difficulty getting extraditions not only from Canada but from other like-minded countries, too. “It would really not be in China’s interest to violate these obligations.”
It would really not be in China’s interest to violate these obligations
Dorion said the Canadian government doesn’t make extradition decisions lightly. People’s fugitive status must be proven, including with such documents as police reports and court records. Whether in the context of an extradition treaty or not, people cannot be sent back to a country unless the crime exists in both legal systems. They always have access to appeal processes and “pre-removal risk assessment” is in place to ensure “people in need of protection are not removed.”
That means a Chinese person could not be sent back to China for speaking out against the government, for example, because human rights are protected under Canadian law.
Gordon Houlden, director of the China Institute at the University of Alberta, said that although he is skeptical a deal can be negotiated, “the volume of cases warrants an extradition treaty.”
He said it’s possible to work on a case-by-case basis, but that’s more cumbersome than a treaty with an agreed-upon set of procedures.
Because the two legal systems are very different and Canadians are not confident in the Chinese judiciary, “I would not hold one’s breath for this agreement to be concluded,” Houlden said, calling it “a bridge too far.”
But he said Canada can use discussions to bring up other issues, short of a “proper” treaty.
“There is little risk in discussions,” Houlden concluded.