Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Rule of Unjust Law

By David G. Young

Savannah, Georgia, December 18, 2018 --  

Canada's arrest of a Huawei executive tarnishes the very rule of law the country claims to follow.

When Canada arrested the Chief Financial Officer of Chinese business giant Huawei for violating sanctions against Iran, Canadian officials insisted the case had nothing to do with great power struggles and had everything to do with the rule of law.

Canada, we were told, had no choice but to execute an arrest warrant under its extradition treaty with the United States1. Yet the treaty explicitly allows Canada to reject requests that are politically motivated.2 And while few outside of China are alleging that arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, has been politically targeted in this case, it is also true that the sanctions laws she is alleged to have broken are inherently political.

Indeed, the very purpose of America's sanctions on Iran is to achieve political goals. U.S. lawmakers' opposition toward Iran's nuclear program, its missile program, its policies toward Israel and other countries, and its treatment of domestic opponents have all been used as justifications for sanctions against Iran, which impose penalties against companies doing business in that country.

But not every country agrees with these laws. European leaders reacted with dismay as the Trump administration withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal earlier this year, vowing to fight the effects of new U.S. sanctions on Iran, and continuing to pursue a policy of engagement.3 France and Germany most certainly will not be extraditing people on their territory to the United States to face charges for violating laws with which they strongly disagree.

And China, in addition to being a party to the Iran agreement, has long opposed most sanctions on the principle of non-interference in other countries internal affairs. Given China's own authoritarian government, abuse of dissidents and long-established nuclear program, it's not hard to understand why it opposes America's attempt to punish Iran for China-like behavior. And it is even less hard to understand why Huawei's CFO -- like many of her European colleagues -- would seek to circumvent America's controversial policies.

If the U.S. were a small country or even a normal sized country, its unusual sanctions laws wouldn't really matter. Citizens of their countries would simply shake their heads and go about their business as the U.S. prosecuted its own citizens for Iranian trade that is entirely legal in most of the world.

But the U.S. is not a normal country. It has outsized control over economic institutions, particularly with the oil trade, in which international transactions have long been made in U.S. Dollars. Almost all international banks have a presence in the United States, making them subject to prosecution for not complying with sanctions law.

This extraterritorial application of American law -- especially politically-motivated sanctions laws that China and Europe hate-- understandably angers people in these countries.

The bank that worked with Huawei in this case, UK-based HSBC4, has branches all over the United States and has previously run into American legal trouble for failing to comply with anti-money laundering regulations.

Canada is not a party to the Iran deal, and has a long history of legal cooperation with its huge neighbor to the south. But that doesn't mean its arrest of Huawei's CFO was a good idea. In this case the law is highly political and controversial. The specific law does not apply in Canada, and most of Canada's allies aside from the United States actively oppose the law.

For Canada to cooperate in such a case is a terrible idea. While it may appear to follow the rule of law in principle, the fact that the specific law is widely reviled and political in nature tarnishes not just this case, but the very concept of the rule of law.


1. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation,Canada had No Choice but to Arrest Huawei Executive at Washington's Request: Expert, December 7, 2018

2. Ibid

3. CNBC, US sanctions war against Iran prompts fight-back from Europe, May 17, 2018

4. Wall Street Journal, HSBC Monitor Flagged Suspicious Huawei Transactions to Prosecutors, December 6, 2018