Canada-China legal war

By Jerome A. Cohen

Some observers think the US-PRC trade war is a good thing since it stimulates some reforms in the PRC economic system. It may be that the Canada-PRC legal war will prove a good thing if it stimulates some reforms in the PRC legal system.

At least it is stimulating world attention to China’s legal system. Until now most of that attention has been bad for Beijing’s image. The PRC is seen to be interfering in Canada’s domestic legal system in absolute contravention of Beijing’s constant proclamations of its own sovereign rights when it is confronted with cases involving foreigners. Moreover, its own legal system is also seen to be dreadful and grossly unfair when the PRC itself handles cases involving foreigners — vague charges against apparently fine people who can be held for many months incommunicado without access to lawyers, family and friends and subject to coercion of various kinds that leaves no marks but stimulates public TV confessions.

The invitation of PRC propagandists for foreign journalists to attend court proceedings in Dalian against alleged Canadian drug smuggler is designed to counteract this situation. Here it shows that not all Canadians are fine people and that their violations of Chinese law can amount to more than minor visa violations, and indeed involve drug smuggling, which has always raised grave concerns today and in the past in both societies. And this case, held in open trial, will try to show that Chinese justice operates in a respectable way that treats Canadians fairly in terms of international human rights standards. It will also, presumably, present the justification for what could be a very long sentence that may not be immediately announced, adding to Chinese pressures upon the Canadian Government, since even the death penalty could be in the offing.