(Read the press release here.)

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau
Prime Minister of Canada
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2

June 26, 2020

Dear Prime Minister,

Canadian authorities lawfully detained Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in late December 2018, following an extradition request from the United States on charges of alleged fraud. In response China, among other aggressive actions, arbitrarily detained and has now charged Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor on completely spurious national security grounds.

Since these arrests, some have argued that Ottawa should simply release Meng in exchange for the release of Kovrig and Spavor, most recently in interviews with and letters signed by a number of high-profile Canadians. These arguments are not only wrong in principle but would involve Canada betraying important values and letting down a number of our key allies.

This would be no “prisoner exchange.” That assumes a false equivalence between Canada’s legitimate arrest of Meng in accordance with our legal obligations and China’s kidnapping of Kovrig and Spavor – an equivalence as spurious as it is heart-breaking. Such an exchange would be nothing less than the abandonment of the rule of law and acceding to the demands of hostage-takers.

On the matter of the rule of law and extradition it is vital to recall that Canada has a reciprocal relationship with the US and other trusted countries where we undertake to turn over people with a case to answer before the other countries’ courts. Under our tradition of the rule of law, however, we don’t simply hand people over. There must be strong evidence that a relevant law has been broken, that the person we have detained has a case to answer and that they will be treated fairly if we release them into the other country’s custody. It is this judicial process that Meng is now undergoing.

A Canadian judge has ruled that Meng’s alleged offences would be crimes if committed in Canada.

Moreover our view is the alleged crimes involved are not minor, but enabled a scheme that saw hundreds of millions of dollars flow illegally to Iran in defiance of international sanctions. China aims, through its hostage diplomacy, to weaken the international community’s ability to enforce such rules.

Historically we have only declined to extradite in very narrow and exceptional cases. What is being asked of us in Meng’s case is that we abandon this honourable tradition, not because of some flaw in the extradition case brought by the Americans, but because China is holding our citizens hostage. The integrity of the rule of law and our judicial system requires that we decline to do so.

As for the hostage-taking itself, as you have already acknowledged, there is good reason why political leaders across many countries, including Canada, consistently refuse to negotiate with hostage-takers. Once you give in to their demands, you prove that such hostage-taking works. That creates incentives for them to try again.

A prisoner exchange would confirm for China’s Communist rulers the value of kidnapping Canadian citizens. Once we capitulate, China--and other authoritarian regimes--would reasonably expect us to do so again. If Canada were to ban Huawei from our 5G networks, to pick just one example, what would stop China from simply taking more Canadians hostage to get us to change our minds?

Nor is this just about Canada. China has detained citizens from countries like Australia, Japan, Great Britain and the US for political ends. If Canada capitulates to Chinese hostage-taking, we would be abandoning solidarity with our allies and making ourselves a weak link when it comes to dealing with Chinese aggression.

Ottawa would almost certainly find itself isolated from many of our key allies and partners – and not just the Trump administration. Whatever one thinks of the current US president, to engage in a “prisoner exchange” now would break faith with those US officials who have spoken up repeatedly and in public both thanking Canada for honouring the rule of law and our extradition treaty on the one hand and condemning China's hostage-taking on the other. Releasing Meng now would justifiably cause leaders in both the administration and in Congress to see us as a weak and untrustworthy ally at a time when we need all the goodwill we can muster in Washington. The damage to Canada-US relations would be incalculable and would persist irrespective of the outcome of the presidential election in November.

All Canadians, including the signatories of this letter, want fervently for Kovrig and Spavor to be released from their outrageous predicament. As painful as it may be, however, we must protect Canadians from hostage diplomacy, uphold the rule of law and maintain Canada’s sovereign decision-making capacity. A “prisoner exchange” is the antithesis of these vital aims.

Holding firm against China’s scandalous treatment of Kovrig and Spavor does not exhaust our options. Ottawa is rightly working with our allies to denounce China’s illegal hostage diplomacy and to improve the deplorable conditions in which Kovrig and Spavor are being held. Yet more can still be done. For instance, Ottawa should issue a warning to Canadians that it cannot guarantee their safety when travelling in China. Canada should also apply Magnitsky sanctions against Chinese officials responsible for the detention of Kovrig and Spavor.

We were heartened by your statement before the media on 22 June when asked if your government was considering a prisoner exchange. You replied then, “No. We’re not considering that … [A]nyone who's considering weakening our values or weakening the independence of our justice system doesn't understand the importance of standing strong on our principles and our values.” Such leadership is just what Canada needs at this time.

While appeasement might return Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor to Canada, the cost of such appeasement would be the safety and security of Canadians all over the world, the independence of our judiciary, and the integrity of our sovereign decision-making capacity. We therefore urge you to remain resolute in defence of the rule of law, our traditional values and our relations with friends and allies by not giving in to China’s  improper and odious strategy of hostage diplomacy.

Yours sincerely,


Patricia Adams, Executive Director, Probe International

Christopher Alexander, former Minister of Citizenship and Immigration for Canada

Clive M. Ansley, former professor of Chinese Law, Canadian Human Rights lawyer, Sino-Canadian Relations consultant

John Arkelian, Journalist, Lawyer, and former diplomat

Joanna Baron, Executive Director, Canadian Constitution Foundation

Dean Baxendale, Publisher, Hidden Hand: Exposing How the Chinese Communist Party is Reshaping the World

David Bercuson, University of Calgary Centre for Military, Security, and Strategic Studies

James Boutilier, Distinguished Fellow, MLI, and former Special Advisor (Policy), MARPAC 

Charles Burton, MLI Senior Fellow and China scholar

Duanjie Chen, MLI Senior Fellow on China’s Economy

Daniel Coates, PhD, Former Senior Policy Advisor to Prime Minister John Turner, President, Centre for Effective Governance Inc.

Ken Coates, Canada Research Chair, University of Saskatchewan

David B. Collins, Retired High Commissioner and Ambassador in the Canadian Diplomatic Service, former naval officer

Brian Lee Crowley, MLI Managing Director

Chungsen (C. S.) Leung, former Member of Parliament, former Parliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism

Brian Dijkema, Vice President, External Affairs, Cardus

Hon. Ujjal Dosanjh, 33rd Premier of British Columbia & former Canadian Minister of Health

Hon. John Duncan, former Member of Parliament, former Minister of AANDC

Patrice Dutil, professor, Department of Politics and Public Administration, Ryerson University

Ward Elcock, former Canadian Security Intelligence Service Director & Deputy Minister of National Defence

James Fergusson, Centre for Defence and Security Studies, University of Manitoba

Matthew Fisher, veteran foreign correspondent

Gloria Fung, President, Canada-Hong Kong Link

Matthew P Harrington, Professeur titulaire, Faculte de droit, Université de Montréal

Asher Honickman, lawyer and president of Advocates for the Rule of Law

Rob Huebert, Associate Professor, University of Calgary

Hon. David Kilgour, Former Member of Parliament and Former Sec. State (Asia-Pacific)

Marcus Kolga, journalist, filmmaker and MLI Senior Fellow

Diego Lai, CEO, Laipac Technology Inc.

André Laliberté, Professor, University of Ottawa

Peter Lamont, Retired Military Judge, former federal prosecutor

Eric Lerhe, MLI Munk Senior Fellow and former Commander Canadian Fleet Pacific

Christian Leuprecht, MLI Munk Senior Fellow in Defence and Security

Preston Jordan Lim, J.D. Candidate, Yale Law School

Shuvaloy Majumdar, MLI Munk Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy, former Director of Policy to Canadian foreign ministers

Mark Mancini, National Director, Runnymede Society

Jonathan Manthorpe, author, Claws of the Panda

Scott Newark, former Security Policy Advisor to the governments of Ontario and Canada

Con Di Nino, retired Senator

Justice Jeffrey J. Oliphant, former Associate Chief Justice, Court of Queen's Bench in Manitoba, Adjunct professor, University of Victoria

Jacob Kovalio, Professor of Japanese, Chinese, Asian History, Carleton University

Hon. Joe Oliver, former Finance Minister of Canada

Richard Owens, MLI Munk Senior Fellow, adjunct professor, University of Toronto Faculty of Law

Hon. Brian Peckford,  3rd Premier of Newfoundland, former Minister of Mines and Energy of Newfoundland and Labrador

Raheel Raza, MLI Munk Senior Fellow on Human Rights

Kaveh Shahrooz, Senior Fellow, MLI and former senior policy adviser at Global Affairs Canada

Richard Shimooka, Senior Fellow, MLI

Geoffrey Sigalet, postdoctoral fellow, McGill University

Scott Simon, Professor, University of Ottawa

Jon Slater, MD, Assistant Professor, UBC

Alan Smith, Biotech and ICT Entrepreneur, Investor, CEO

Sarah Teich, lawyer and author, State Liability for the COVID-19 Pandemic (forthcoming)

Kenneth Wm. Thornicroft, Professor of Law & Employment Relations
University of Victoria

Mehmet Tohti,  Executive Director, Uyghurs' Rights Advocacy Project

Brian Weller, Founder and President, Precision Label and Tag Inc., Member, Concerned Manufacturers of Ontario, Former Member, Richmond Hill Chamber of Commerce

Cherie Wong, Executive Director, Alliance Canada Hong Kong

Ben Woodfinden, Ph.D. Student, Department of Political Science, McGill University

(List last updated on June 29, 2020 at 11:30am ET. The list is now closed for new signatories; thank you to everyone for their interest and participation.)

Media seeking comment are invited to contact:

Brett Byers
Communications and Digital Media Manager
613-482-8327 x 105

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