Defence lawyers for Meng Wanzhou claim the Huawei executive was “tricked” into volunteering information about herself and her company when border officers detained her at Vancouver airport in December 2018.
Meng’s legal team accused Canadian authorities Wednesday of manipulating details and leaving out crucial facts pertaining to the 47-year-old’s arrest in their attempts to make it look like Meng was taken into custody in textbook fashion.
“Ms. Meng was tricked and she was both unlawfully and unfairly deprived of her constitutional rights,” defence lawyer Scott Fenton told B.C. Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes.
“There appears to be evidence of a strategy to recast events differently than they were.”
Holding forth to well-wishers
Fenton wrapped three days of defence submissions Wednesday afternoon in which he asked Holmes to order Canada’s attorney general to produce records that might bolster their claims of an abuse of process.
Meng is fighting extradition to the United States, where she faces fraud charges for allegedly lying to banks about Huawei’s relationship to a shadow subsidiary accused of evading sanctions against Iran.
This week marked Meng’s in-person return to the court after four months away from the spotlight.
Wearing blue slacks, a striped blouse and a green sweater draped over her shoulders, Meng followed the arguments intently from a desk alongside her counsel.
The public gallery had thinned out by day three, but a clutch of Huawei employees remained.
During the breaks, Meng walked up and down the corridors of the courtroom, holding forth to her companions as earpiece-wearing security guards fanned out around her.
Abuse of extraordinary powers?
Meng’s actual extradition hearing is scheduled for January 2020.
But this week’s proceedings relate to a separate but included process in which her lawyers will ultimately argue the case should be tossed because of charter rights violations.
The allegations at the heart of the hearing relate to the three hours Meng spent in CBSA custody before she was arrested and afforded the right to call a lawyer.
During that time, her lawyers say CBSA officers seized Meng’s electronic devices, asked for her passwords and questioned her about Huawei’s business in Iran — all without ever divulging the existence of an arrest warrant.
Meng’s lawyers claim the CBSA used their extraordinary powers to gather information for the RCMP and the FBI as part of a “covert criminal investigation.”
‘In no universe of possibilities’
The Crown claims the defence is on a “fishing” expedition and that the CBSA officers were simply acting according to their mandate, processing Meng through customs as her entry into Canada was not a foregone conclusion.
But Fenton said that assertion is “absurd.”
“She was never going to be returned to Hong Kong or not allowed into Canada,” he told Holmes.
“In no universe of possibilities was Ms. Meng going to be turned away.”
Fenton also accused CBSA officers of attempting to conceal their actions by omitting details from the notes provided to defence.
In one case, he said, the officer who seized Meng’s laptop and phones makes no mention of the fact he was provided with bags specially designed to block any outside attempts to wipe their contents.
Fenton claimed that key details about meetings between CBSA and RCMP officers were missing.
And that while one border officer’s declaration that he was on hand to screen passengers as they emerged from the plane might have been technically correct, in reality, there was only one passenger he was there to intercept.
“If one simply read the CBSA’s version of events, one would never know that those events occurred,” Fenton said.
CBSA concerned about public perception?
The Crown is expected to make its arguments next week. Neither side has to argue the merits of the abuse of process claims at this point, but the defence has to establish that there is an “air of reality” to the allegations.
Fenton presented the court a narrowed list of the kinds of documents the defence is looking for, indicating that he was interested in travelling up the chain of command within the RCMP for documents relating to the arrest.
He said Meng’s legal team is also hoping for more information from an assistant to the vice-president of the CBSA whose “troubling” notes have already revealed concerns within the agency about public perception.
“For outsiders/lawyers looks like may have been collusion, even if not,” one of the notes read.
A lawyer for the attorney general told the judge that despite defence attempts to narrow their demand for documents, the Crown was likely to argue it had already provided all the information it can.
Next week’s hearing is expected to last for five days.