Canada and the Rule of Law

Canada’s fealty to the rule of law is much spoken of nowadays by Liberal politicians in regards to a current pending extradition request made by the United States to Canada. Canada became embroiled in the international trade spat between the US and China when it arrested Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of telecommunications giant Huawei at the behest of the US government. Indeed, some more critical types would characterize it as nothing short of a kidnapping. Meng has been alleged to have broken US sanctions against business dealings with Iran. The charges against Meng, however, are not considered to violate any Canadian laws — nor, according to China’s embassy in Canada, any US laws.

As a justification for the high-profile arrest, a repeating media chorus is heard in the Canadian political scene:

Former foreign minister Peter McKay said, “… we are following our rule of law.”

Current foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland intoned, “Canadians expect me to stand up for the rules.”

Prime minister Justin Trudeau asserted, “Canada is and always will remain a country of the rule of law.”

Trudeau emphasized that “all through this and through whatever happens in the world Canada stays consistent with the rule of law and applying our judicial system and we always will.”

Mind you, these words about adherence to the rule of law are spoken by Canada’s first prime minister found to have broken federal ethics laws.

China, however, was having none of this. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying forcefully stated,

The United States and Canada can’t continue to boast that they are abiding by the rule of law. But in my opinion this is simply a modern version of the emperor’s new clothes. No matter what excuse they use, they are displaying ignorance of the fact and contempt for the rule of law. They have become laughingstocks of the world.

What underpins the Rule of Law?

1. Accountability: all are accountable under the law.

2. Laws are Just: the laws are clear, publicized, stable, and just; are applied evenly; and protect fundamental rights, including the security of persons and property and certain core human rights.

3. Open Government: enacts and applies laws that are accessible, fair, and efficient.

4. Accessible & Impartial Dispute Resolution1

*****

It is in-one’s-face obvious that the US sanctions law against Iran is unjust. What became an international agreement under president Barack Obama, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action aka the Iran nuclear deal, was shunted aside early into the Donald Trump presidency, this despite Iran always being found in compliance with the agreement. Thus it is the US which violates the terms of the agreement by its withdrawal and sanctioning Iran and other actors who deal with Iran.

Moreover, the legality of unilateral sanctions is questionable and they are considered to violate the tenets of the United Nations Charter.2

Seldom one to hold back, Trump bumbled into the legal proceeding and commented that he might intervene in the case of Meng, thereby politicizing the process. Nevertheless, given all these circumstances, Canadian officials continue to parrot the following-the-rule-of-law line

But does Canada really have a reverence for the rule of law?

In Part 2: what does the record indicate about Canada’s adherence to the rule of law.

  1. “What is the Rule of Law?” World justice Project. []
  2. Rahmat Mohamad, “Unilateral Sanctions in International Law: A Quest for Legality,” in Marossi A., Bassett M. (eds) Economic Sanctions under International Law (The Hague: TMC Asser Press, 2015.) []
Kim Petersen is a former co-editor of the Dissident Voice newsletter. He can be reached at: kimohp@gmail.com. Twitter: @kimpetersen. Read other articles by Kim.