MY TAKE
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Canada’s thorny dilemma over extradition treaty with China

The government recognises such an arrangement is in the national interest, but the public opinion backlash means it won’t come any time soon

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 September, 2016, 1:02am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 September, 2016, 1:02am

When news broke that Canada and China were quietly negotiating an extradition treaty, the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau braced itself for a terrible public opinion backlash. The revelation meant Premier Li Keqiang’s (李克強) visit to Ottawa last week was completely overshadowed by news coverage of the negotiations.

As Jeremy Paltiel, a professor of political science specialising in Sino-Canadian relations at Carleton University, put it: “[The] coverage of the first official visit of a Chinese government leader in six years has been saturated with negative reporting on an extradition treaty.”

Canada has nothing to lose from an extradition deal with China

To convey a sense of the journalistic overkill, during Li’s four-day visit, the Globe and Mail, Canada’s leading national daily, led its front page every day with a story about extradition. Elsewhere in the paper there were lengthy stories, editorial leaders and cartoons, and special features throughout the week, almost all of which were negative about an extradition deal.

This explains the seemingly contradictory statements from Trudeau and Foreign Minister Stephane Dion. At the start of Li’s tour, Trudeau admitted there had been negotiations. By the end, Dion denied them. At most, sources from his ministry would say there had been “some talks” in that direction.

It’s probably fair to say the negative coverage has killed any chance of a full treaty in the near future. But it would be foolish to blame the media. Their reporting reflects an overwhelmingly negative perception – accurate or not – on the part of the Canadian public about China’s human rights record and its lack of a credible judiciary.

China and Canada seal deal on return of assets stolen by fugitive corruption suspects

Li didn’t leave empty-handed. Beijing did secure an agreement on the freezing and sharing of illegal proceeds from Chinese fugitives in Canada. Canadian border agencies will also speed up the deportation of Chinese citizens denied entry. But a full extradition treaty will not come anytime soon.

This may be hard to understand. The Trudeau government recognises a treaty is in the national interest. It doesn’t want the country to harbour fugitives whose dirty money almost certainly fuels laundering activities and the overheating property markets in Vancouver, Toronto and elsewhere.

The agreements reached last week address some of these concerns. Often, Canadians value ideals of justice over material national interests.