In The Media

Extradition treaty with China a polarizing issue, new poll indicates

by Tim Naumetz (feat. Hugh Stephens)

The Hill Times
October 13, 2016

One expert points out that an unusually high portion of respondents with no opinion indicates that Canadians, on average, are not familiar with extradition treaties, while another scholar said an explosion of media and political commentary criticizing the government’s plan has taken root in public opinion.

Canadians are polarized over whether they approve of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s plan to negotiate an extradition treaty with China, a new Forum Research poll indicates, but those who disapprove of the idea significantly outnumber supporters.

The survey suggests 36 per cent of voting-age Canadians would disapprove of an extradition treaty with China, which would establish a legal framework for Canada to arrest and return Chinese nationals living in Canada who are accused of crimes in China.

But the poll—the first on the topic by Forum Research since Mr. Trudeau announced the government’s intention following Mr. Trudeau’s visit to China last month—found that another 31 per cent did not know whether they would approve or disapprove of such a treaty.

“It appears Canadians are leery of opening up their legal system to exploitation by the Chinese government,” said Forum Research President Lorne Bozinoff. “While this is presented as levelling the playing field between the two countries, it may be that Canadians see the benefits of the agreement flowing mostly to China.”

In a puzzle for Mr. Trudeau and his government to try to solve, 31 per cent of respondents who selected Liberal as their current federal vote preference said they would approve of an extradition treaty with China, and an equal number, 31 per cent, replied that they would disapprove of such a treaty. The remaining 38 per cent had no opinion.

Among Conservative supporters, 35 per cent expressed approval and 41 per cent expressed disapproval, with 24 per cent of Conservative supporters expressing no opinion.
Only 27 per cent of New Democratic Party supporters said they would approve of an extradition treaty with China, with 41 per cent of New Democrat supporters expressing disapproval ad 32 selecting no opinion.

Lynette Ong, an expert on relations between Canada and China told The Hill Times the polarization, and an unusually high portion of respondents with no opinion, indicates that Canadians, on average, are not familiar with extradition treaties and what they mean, while another scholar on the topic said an explosion of media and political commentary criticizing the government’s plan took root in the public mind.

“There was a huge amount of media coverage, documenting every human rights abuse in China, and that gets a lot of air time,” said Hugh Stephens, a senior fellow with the Vancouver-based Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

“The only conclusion I can come to is that a lot of the people who are against it are thinking ‘oh, we shouldn’t be sending people back to Chinese gulags’ without necessarily taking it one step further and saying ‘yeah, but on what conditions and what sort of people? And are there in fact benefits for Canada in this, or this is just Canada caving into the Chinese, as some people have said?” Mr. Stephens said in a telephone interview from Vancouver.

“The point, I think that is important, is that if Canada and China had an extradition treaty, Canada would have to be satisfied, whether that would mean sending Canadian investigators to verify [allegations], I frankly doubt it, but it would require China submitting evidence that would be reviewed by a Canadian court and would have to meet the standards of a Canadian court in order for extradition to proceed,” said Mr. Stephens.

An associate professor and Asian expert at Ontario’s Munk School of Global Affairs said the range of views could likely be explained by the absence of detailed information at this early stage in discussions between the two countries.

“I don’t think an average person has good knowledge of what an extradition treaty means or entails,” said associate professor Lynette Ong. “The devil is in the details of the treaty—do all suspects get extradited? How about those who could potentially be subject to capital punishment? Lack of knowledge and ambiguity of the fine details could explain the large proportion of no opinion,” Asst. Prof. Ong said in a written response to questions. “If you ignore the proportion with no opinion, and take into account the margin of error, the sample is split equally between approval and disapproval; It is a polarized issue,” she said.

By age, approval was lowest in the age range of 18 to 34, at 28 per cent, and highest in the age range of 45 to 54, at 35 per cent.

By region, the lowest level of approval for an extradition treaty between Canada and China was in the four Atlantic provinces—with only 23 per cent of respondents in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland expressing approval; 40 per cent disapproving; and 37 per cent with no opinion. Forty-two per cent of respondents in Ontario said they would disapprove, compared to only 29 per cent who said they would approve.

The only region where approval for Mr. Trudeau’s proposal was higher than disapproval was in Quebec, where 33 per cent approved and 27 per cent disapproved. The remainder of respondents had no opinion.

In British Columbia, 35 per cent of respondents expressed approval compared to 39 per cent who disapproved. Only 29 per cent of B.C. respondents registered having no opinion.

Forum Research conducted the voice interactive telephone survey on Sunday, Oct. 9. It was a random sample of 1,143 Canadians 18 years of age or older, and results are considered accurate within plus or minus three per cent 19 times out of 20.

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