The director general for Global Affairs Canada in South Asia says disclosing sensitive information from CSIS to Meng Wanzhou as part of her battle against extradition could risk Canadian lives, further damage Chinese-Canadian relations and even compromise the fight against COVID-19.
David Hartman warned against giving the Huawei executive’s lawyers unredacted copies of documents from Canada’s spy agency in an affidavit sworn as part of a proceeding that will be heard in federal court later this month.
The affidavit was filed in late June in support of the attorney general, who is fighting to keep from public view communication about Meng’s arrest between CSIS and the FBI.
“Generally speaking, such disclosure would inflame tensions between the governments of Canada and China, and would, necessarily, provoke a response harmful to bilateral relations and Canadian interests,” Hartman’s affidavit says.
“Given the consular considerations, disclosure could also risk causing harm to individual Canadian lives.”
Hartman served as Global Affairs’ executive director for greater China until August 2017.
He and CSIS intelligence officer Michel Guay both filed affidavits in the federal court case, which will be heard during four days of hearings at the end of the month.
The first day of proceedings will be held in public on July 27; the remaining three days will be behind closed doors.
The fight centres on six heavily redacted CSIS documents the attorney general disclosed to Meng’s lawyers after an order from the B.C. Supreme Court judge overseeing her extradition case.
The U.S. wants the Huawei chief financial officer sent to New York to face fraud charges in relation to an allegation that she lied to an HSBC executive in August 2013 about her company’s control of a firm accused of violating U.S. economic sanctions against Iran.
Prosecutors claim Meng’s alleged lies put the bank in danger of violating the same sanctions themselves, risking prosecution and loss as a result.
Meng’s lawyers plan to argue that the FBI and Canadian authorities mounted a “covert criminal investigation” against their client, sharing technical information about her electronic devices and conspiring to have Canadian border officers detain and question her without a lawyer for three hours before RCMP placed her under arrest.
‘Perception of influence’
The CSIS documents include an email, operational notes, a report and three so-called “situation reports” written before and after Meng’s arrest at Vancouver’s airport on Dec. 1, 2018.
The situation reports state that CSIS received word from the FBI the day before Meng’s arrest and that the U.S. agency would “not be present in an effort to avoid the perception of influence.”
The reports say the RCMP recognized the “highly political nature of the arrest” and predicted from the outset that Meng’s detention would “be of great consequence internationally and bilaterally.”
Large portions of all the documents have been redacted.
In their affidavits, both Hartman and Guay stress that they have not viewed the unredacted portions of the documents themselves, so that they won’t be at risk of inadvertently disclosing sensitive information during the public proceeding.
Hartman describes the damage Meng’s extradition case has already caused Canadian-Chinese relations, including the suspension of canola seed imports and the arbitrary detentions of former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor.
Kovrig and Spavor have been held in Chinese prisons since the days immediately following Meng’s arrest. Last month, the Chinese formally charged them with spying. Canada hasn’t had consular access to either man since January.
Souring public opinions
Hartman says the COVID-19 pandemic has only “underlined the necessity” for Canada to engage in bilateral relations with China.
“China has been an important supplier of personal protective equipment and pharmaceutical products in global supply chains and accounted for a significant portion of medical supplies procured by the Government of Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hartman wrote.
He says “Canadian media coverage and public opinion on China has grown increasingly negative, reflecting public opinion trends globally.”
The affidavit traces the change in sentiment to the introduction of a new national security law in Hong Kong, “reports of Chinese intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders in China as well as in Canada” and a “Chinese disinformation campaign around the origins of COVID-19.”
As a result, Hartman says “it is in Canada’s interest to ensure that the management of our necessary but complex engagement with China is not negatively affected even further by the public disclosure of sensitive information.”
Guay’s concerns about the redacted material are related solely to the impact it might have on national security. He writes about the importance of maintaining confidential sources and of the need CSIS has to share information on the understanding it will be kept confidential.
“If foreign agencies were to lose faith in the commitment of the service to protect confidential third party information, there would be significant impact on the willingness of those agencies to provide information to the service in the future,” he says.
‘An ongoing role in her arrest’
In federal court documents, Meng’s lawyers say the unredacted portions of the CSIS documents make it plain that “not only was CSIS involved in communicating with the FBI and others regarding the planning of Ms. Meng’s arrest prior to December 1, 2018, but that CSIS had an ongoing role in the arrest.”
As such, they are also seeking emails, texts, telephone logs and briefing notes from CSIS as well as the identity of the authors of the reports.
Meng’s lawyers hope to use that information in upcoming B.C. Supreme Court hearings to argue that she was the victim of abuses of process and breaches of charter rights so egregious that the extradition proceedings should be tossed.
The 48-year-old’s case is predicted to extend well into 2021. Meng has denied all the allegations against her.
She has been living under a form of house arrest — trailed by security guards and ordered to wear a GPS-monitoring ankle bracelet — in one of two multimillion dollar homes she owns on Vancouver’s west side, since her release on $10 million bail the week after her arrest.