VANCOUVER—New court documents that allegedly show Canadian officials violated Meng Wanzhou’s rights during her arrest could potentially result in the Huawei executive’s release, say extradition lawyers.
Meng’s defence is alleging that RCMP and border officials had a “co-ordinated strategy” that included Mounties delaying the executive’s arrest so that border officials could question her under the pretence of a “routine immigration check.”
The documents released Tuesday are exhibits Meng’s lawyers requested as they prepare to argue for her release. None of the allegations — by or against Meng — have been proven in court.
Video footage at Vancouver airport and dozens of pages of handwritten notes from Canadian officials allegedly show RCMP officers waited three hours after Meng arrived at Vancouver’s airport before arresting her.
This alleged delay in executing the arrest is a serious issue Crown lawyers will have to address, said Peter Edelmann, an extradition lawyer based in Vancouver.
“Based on the details that have come out … this doesn’t come across as a frivolous application,” he told Star Vancouver on Wednesday.
Edelmann is not involved in the case but said the sequence of events, if true, “appears to be quite problematic.”
“If the allegations are true, (Meng) wasn’t questioned in circumstances where she was able to assert her right not to speak.”
Meng’s lawyers are also arguing that the Canadian Border Services Agency deliberately kept spotty notes as a “strategic omission.”
Three CBSA officers immediately detained Meng when she disembarked the plane while two RCMP officers stood nearby and watched, despite knowing the warrant called for her “immediate” arrest, the defence says.
According to the documents released Tuesday, she was taken to the secondary screening area for three hours, and her electronic devices were seized. At one point, the documents indicate, a border official questioned her about her business and its alleged activity in Iran.
If she had been arrested right away and told it was for a criminal matter, she would have been given her right to counsel and wouldn’t have an obligation to answer any questions, said Edelmann.
The defence said the materials show “a clear pattern”: that the CBSA and the RCMP “have strategically drafted these documents to subvert the applicant’s ability to learn the truth regarding her detention.”
Meng has filed a separate civil suit against the CBSA, the RCMP and the federal government, alleging “false imprisonment” and “breach of constitutional rights,” according to B.C. Supreme Court documents.
The RCMP and CBSA did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the new documents but have said in a response to the civil claim that border officials only examined Meng and her luggage for immigration and customs purposes. The Attorney General of Canada has yet to file a response.
Meng was arrested Dec. 1 at Vancouver airport at the behest of the United States, which is seeking her extradition to face allegations of fraud related to sanctions against Iran. She is currently free on bail in Vancouver. Both Meng and Huawei have denied any wrongdoing.
Her lawyers have said in previous court appearances that they also plan to argue the American fraud charges Meng faces do not exist in Canada and therefore she should not have been arrested on Canadian soil.
Meng’s lawyers also argue her arrest was political in nature, citing suggestions by U.S. President Donald Trump that he might personally intervene in the case should a favourable outcome in U.S.-China trade negotiations be forthcoming.
Immigration lawyer Gary Botting has been following the case from the sidelines. Based on the court documents, he said that the chances of Meng avoiding extradition are actually “fairly good,” due to the alleged actions of a few officers.
“Here, a bunch of low-ranking officers, whether CBSA or RCMP, have lost themselves in the excitement of the chase,” he said. “Big fish to catch here, rather than the small fry of usual customs violations or immigration infringements that they are used to dealing with.”
If Meng’s Charter rights were violated — namely, the right to be promptly told why you’re being arrested and the right to be allowed to see a lawyer without delay — the judge could order that Meng be released immediately, said Botting.
Beijing responded furiously to Meng’s arrest last December. In a move widely viewed as retaliation, a pair of Canadians — ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor — have been detained for months without access to lawyers or family. Beijing has also halted Canadian exports of pork and canola.
A ruling in Meng’s extradition case could also have consequences for people who are arrested at the Canadian border but don’t have the same financial resources that Meng has to defend themselves in court, said Edelmann.
This case raises questions of how far police and border authorities can go when exercising the “exceptional” powers they hold, he said.
“They can arrest, they can detain, they can put people into custody, they have weapons they can deploy against people if they don’t comply … Those powers should be deployed in very strictly controlled conditions,” he said.
If the RCMP and border agency acted inappropriately and the court nonetheless allows extradition proceedings to go ahead, it sends a dangerous signal to police, Edelmann added.
“It becomes a problem with the person whose rights have been infringed, but it also sends a message to the police that it’s not a big deal.”