A Canada Border Services Agency officer involved in questioning Meng Wanzhou says a supervisor told him the Huawei executive had been flagged by the agency’s national targeting centre for national security reasons ahead of her arrest in Vancouver in December 2018.
Testifying in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver Wednesday, border services officer Scott Kirkland didn’t elaborate on the exact reasons the chief financial officer had been singled out, but said his own open-source searches led him to believe she might be suspected of espionage.
“Is she working for a company, a firm that’s involved in espionage against Canada or another country?” Kirkland said.
The CBSA officer said he saw from news articles that Australia and New Zealand had already banned Huawei equipment at the time of Meng’s arrival from Hong Kong on Dec. 1, 2018. And the United Kingdom was thinking of following suit.
“It was a concern,” Kirkland said. “Evidently some of our partners and allies already had serious concerns, and I assume some sort of evidence before they would do such a thing.”
‘Concerns’ of possible Charter issues
Kirkland is one of 10 officers expected to testify over a two-week period about the events leading up to and immediately following Meng’s arrest on an extradition warrant to the United States, where she faces charges of fraud and conspiracy.
Meng is accused of lying to an HSBC executive about Huawei’s relationship with a subsidiary accused of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. Prosecutors claim that Meng’s alleged lies placed the bank at risk of loss and prosecution for breaching the same set of U.S. sanctions through its financial dealings with the telecommunications giant.
The 48-year-old’s lawyers claim Meng’s rights were violated on arrival, when a decision was made to have the CBSA question Meng without a lawyer for three hours before her actual arrest.
The testimony given by the RCMP and CBSA officers will be used at a hearing in February at which the defence team plans to argue that the case should be tossed.
Kirkland admitted to having concerns about the impact of any delay on Meng’s rights at the time that a colleague first floated the prospect of having the CBSA pull her aside once she got off a plane from Hong Kong.
“I stated that maybe we should just identify and pass on to the RCMP immediately,” Kirkland said.
“There was concerns of possible Charter [of Rights and Freedoms] issues being raised if we were going to court … but at the same time, we also have a job to do.”
‘We were shocked’
Kirkland’s testimony began after two-and-a-half days of evidence from the RCMP officer who was tasked with the job of arresting Meng.
Const. Winston Yep spent the bulk of his time under gruelling cross-examination, but insisted that the decision to have the CBSA deal with Meng first was a matter of jurisdiction and public safety.
Kirkland, who said he featured in an episode of the CBSA reality TV show Border Security, spent the first hour of his testimony explaining the inner workings of the agency.
He explained that border services officers had their own concerns about Meng’s immigration status and possible criminality separate to those of the RCMP.
After learning about the impending arrest and the national security concern, Kirkland said he saw the fraud charges on the CBSA’s own database and learned through news articles what the substance of the allegation was likely to be.
“We were shocked that this was happening,” Kirkland said.
“We had serious concerns and we knew that this was going to be a big deal and it was going to be a huge issue.”
‘I would have grabbed it back’
The CBSA officer said he accompanied Meng and a colleague to the secondary inspection area where she was questioned about her activities and her thoughts on why she might have been pulled to one side.
Kirkland said he asked Meng for her phones and placed them into the clear bags that had been provided by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation to keep them from being remotely wiped.
He said he later asked her for the numbers attached to the devices as well as the pin codes, which he wrote on a piece of paper.
He said he then placed the paper with the information alongside her iPad and USB key and other electronic devices.
At a previous hearing, the Crown admitted that those codes were later passed by mistake to the RCMP. Kirkland said he realized a few days after the arrest that he no longer had the piece of paper with the codes.
“If you had realized at the time that the RCMP was walking away with the passcodes, what would you have done,” Crown attorney Diba Majzub asked Kirkland.
“I would have grabbed it back from them,” Kirkland responded. “They’re not allowed to have them … because it’s a Privacy Act violation.”
Kirkland’s testimony is expected to continue on Thursday.
Meng, who was in the courtroom, has denied the allegations against her.