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After much anticipation, on January 28, the United States made public its case against the Chinese tech giant, Huawei, and its representatives, including the Chief Financial Officer, Meng Wanzhou.In a display of power, a phalanx of senior officials, including the Acting US Attorney General and the FBI Director, outlined thirteen charges against Huawei and Meng.

Meng is in Vancouver, out on a $7.46 million bail after her provisional arrest on December 1, 2018by Canadian security officials as she was changing flights on her way from Hong Kong to Mexico. The Canadians were acting on a request from the US Justice Department to detain her to face charges of committing fraud and violating US sanctions against Iran.

Now that the US has provided Canada’s Justice Minister the reasons for its request to extradite her to stand trial, the necessary legal proceedings will ensue, if approved by Canada. This must be done within 30 days from the receipt of the request.

China has vigorously and vociferously objected to Meng’s detention as well as the case against Huwaei. It has alleged that the actions of Canada and the US are politically motivated designed to create pressure as it engages in trade negotiations with Donald Trump’s administration.

Both countries have rejected that charge strongly and repeatedly. They have been swearing up and down that as countries that follow the rule of law, these proceedings are not dictated by any political considerations.

The current imbroglio brought to mind another incident that occurred a little over 35 years ago involving a huge loss of life, major environmental damage and decades of children being born with birth defectsdue to the questionable safety practices of a major American corporation. In that case, the US, for all its self-proclaimed adherence to the rule of law, actively blocked the extradition of this company’s powerful Chairman and CEO to the country where the tragedy had occurred.

That country made several attempts to seek hisextradition so he could be held accountable for a devastating industrial accident.Curiously, in that case, the US authorities did not invoke the rule of law. Instead, they actively prevented the legal proceedings demanded by the thousands of this company’s victims from ever taking place.

I am referring to Union Carbide, one of the largest manufacturers of toxic chemicals now owned by Dow Chemicals, and Warren Anderson, its Chairman and CEO at the time of the disaster.

It is estimated that a massive leakage of a deadly gas from an insecticide called Methyl Isocyanate between the midnight and early morning of December 2-3, 1984 in the central Indian city of Bhopal resulted in the death of over 20,000 people  and injuries to countless others from inhaling the gas.

There is no estimate of children who were born with deformities and are, to this day, paying a most severe price.

I remember vividly arriving in Bhopal by train on the morning of December 5 to attend a cousin’s wedding, which was, of course, cancelled. The atmosphere prevailing in that ghostly city was eery.

It remains the world’s worst peace time industrial disaster. While eight low level Indian executives of Union Carbide were convicted for negligence, no action has been taken against any American. The company did pay US$450 million to the Indian government. By all accounts, it was grossly inadequate and did not compensate all the victims proportionate to the damage caused.

Then Anderson sold the company to Dow, which denied any liability.

Initially, there was collusion between Indian politicians and the Americans. Anderson came to Bhopal four days after the event. He was arrested on multiple charges of culpable homicide but promptly released on a bail of a measly 25,000 Indian rupees (US$500 by today’s exchange rate). Late at night on December 7, he was secretly whisked out of Bhopal in the official aircraft of Arjun Singh, the Chief Minister of the state of which it is the capital – Madhya Pradesh.

Anderson never returned to India. He evaded any legal documents being served on him by continuously moving from one to the other of his homes in different parts of the US.

Nineteen years later, in May 2003, the government of India bowed to public pressure and made a formal request for Anderson’s extradition. Indian courts had declared him an absconder due to his refusal to face the charge of culpable homicide laid against him days after the disaster.

A year later, in June 2004, the US government rejected the request saying that it did “not meet certain provisions” of the bilateral extradition treaty. There were, in fact, multiple attempts to seek his extradition. However, as an October 30, 2014New York Times obituary, published after his death at the age of 92 on September 29, said, “With the support of the United States government, he escaped extradition.”

After five years in July 2009, a court in India issued a warrant for his arrest. Anderson was never arrested. The US legal system refused to cooperate, in fact actively blocked, execution of the warrant. To the end of his life, as far as the Indian courts are concerned, he remained a fugitive from justice.

Or, perhaps, he did pay a personal price – seeking refuge in his multiple homes and living a solitary life outside the public gaze from those dark days of 1984 to his death in 2014.

But those who remember this sorry episode, may be forgiven for taking the US government’s invocation of the rule of law with more than a grain of salt.

As for the Huawei CFO, Meng Wanzhou, Canada’s Justice Minister now has 30 days to determine if the extradition request from the US meets all provisions of the bilateral extradition treaty between these two countries.

Clearly, Canada has been handed a hot potato by the US, and it is paying a price in terms of its relations with China.

Though it has changed its tune now and moved away from its claim that it was simply following the rule of law and trusted its independent judiciary to make the correct decision, there is no question that the country is in a tizzy over the growing presence of Huawei in the tech world – and of China.

With no concrete proof, Canadian politicians and media have convinced themselves that Huawei is up to no good, that it has stolen technology and its close ties to China’s authoritarian regime mean that its access to G5 technology poses a serious national security risk. There is no dearth of self-styled experts – mostly ex-diplomats – parroting and legitimizing this narrative.

And what about Canada’s respect for the rule of law?

Well, I am reminded of another case. This one involving Leonard Peltier, a Native American activist and leading member of the American Indian Movement of the 1970s. Accused of killing two FBI agents during a confrontation between the law enforcement agencies and Native Americans, he fled to Canada. He was arrested and, based on an extradition request from the US, handed over to the Americans in 1975.

Extradition treaties have a provision that allows one party to the treaty to deny a request if the crime or offense alleged is not a crime or offense in the country of refuge.

The crime Peltier was accused of could bring him the death penalty, which does not exist in Canada. Despite knowing that he could be put to death, Canada sent him back.

In this case, all provisions of the extradition treaty between the US and Canada were miraculously or mysteriously deemed to have been met. Only later, no longer in office, Warren Allmand, who as Canada’s Solicitor General sent Peltier back to the US, claimed that he had been given false information by the FBI.

Rule of law, really? Or, different strokes for different folks?

Alok Mukherjee is a Distinguished Visiting Professor in Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada, and co-author, with Tim Harper, of Excessive Force: Toronto’s Fight to Reform City Policing (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2018). He was chair of the Toronto Police Services Board from 2005 to 2015. Mukherjee can be reached at amukherjee@ryerson.ca

One Comment

  1. Farooque Chowdhury says:

    “Rule of law, really? Or, different strokes for different folks?” Thanks, Alok da, for raising the correct question.