A Crown lawyer delivered a withering attack Monday on attempts by what he called Meng Wanzhou’s “legal dream team” to prove she was the victim of a conspiracy between Canadian and U.S. authorities.
Robert Frater promised B.C. Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes a “reality check” on a defence theory that the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and RCMP officers conspired to violate the Huawei executive’s rights.
Meng’s lawyers claim the agencies plotted with the FBI to conduct a covert investigation using the CBSA’s “extraordinary powers” to detain and question her for three hours before she was actually arrested last December.
But Frater said the behaviour is “not at all sinister” if viewed in the proper context.
He then went on to refute — one by one — the 16-point argument Meng’s lawyers made the week before.
“With respect, 16 nothings do not make an anything,” Frater said at one point. “Much less a something.”
‘That’s what they have — a nothing’
The U.S. wants to extradite Meng for allegedly lying to banks about Huawei’s relationship with a hidden subsidiary that attempted to sell U.S. telecommunications equipment in Tehran.
Prosecutors claim Meng’s alleged misrepresentations put financial institutions at risk of violating U.S. sanctions meant to isolate Iran from the global community.
Meng has denied the allegations and plans to fight extradition at a hearing that starts in January.
This week’s proceedings relate to a separate but related process in which Meng’s lawyers will attempt to argue that the way she was treated at the airport amount to an abuse of process.
They want Holmes to order the Crown to disclose documents they believe will help them make their case.
The legal bar for success in the hearing is for the defence to establish “an air of reality” to their claims.
Frater argued that they have failed to do that.
“If it were an investigation, it produced paltry results,” Frater said. “You can’t get to an air of reality from a nothing. And that’s what they have — a nothing.”
‘Resplendent in their ordinariness’
Frater pointed to the fact that RCMP officers kept notes of their attendance at a meeting with their CBSA counterparts before Meng’s arrival at Vancouver International Airport on Dec. 1.
“As a coverup, it’s a complete failure when four of the participants in the coverup are noting their presence at the meeting,” he said.
Frater repeatedly mocked the dramatic overtones of the defence’s accusations, calling their revelations “astonishing stuff,” “nefarious stuff” and “pedestrian stuff.”
If anything, he said, videos of Meng going through secondary inspection revealed just how “mundane” her treatment actually was: “They were resplendent in their ordinariness.”
But the judge repeatedly interrupted Frater, asking him why Meng was questioned and searched by CBSA officers before the RCMP took her into custody, despite a warrant that called for her “immediate” arrest.
Frater said “immediate” didn’t mean border officers didn’t have to execute their duties.
“They did it immediately,” he said. “As soon as the CBSA had asked their questions about a person presenting themselves at the border.”
‘Routine customs questions’?
A CBSA officer asked Meng questions about Huawei’s business with the U.S. and the company’s activities in Iran; Holmes asked Frater what she should make of that.
“These don’t appear to be routine customs questions,” the judge said.
Holmes also asked Frater what would have happened if Meng had admitted to violating U.S. sanctions against Iran and lying to banks. Would customs officials have turned her away?
“It’s actually quite a complex question,” Frater replied, promising to come back to the issue later in the week.
The Crown lawyers also insisted that they have gone above and beyond the call of duty in providing Meng’s legal team with records surrounding her arrest and that anything more is simply a “fishing” expedition.
‘Maybe even the pebbles’
Frater said they even filed new documents with the court after last week’s proceedings, in a bid to be forthcoming.
The latest set of records include the notes of a former RCMP staff sergeant, written on Dec. 4 — three days after Meng’s arrest, but before her bail hearing — contemplating what might happen if she was released.
“What could RCMP/CBSA do if she went to Chinese consulate, then to private airport?” the note reads.
“If no grounds, she is hidden, we could not act. Do you have electronic monitoring for people on bail?”
Meng has been in court every day for the two week hearing, sitting at a table alongside her counsel.
She sported a white designer dress suit Monday, Jimmy Choo pumps and the GPS ankle monitoring bracelet she has to wear as part of a $10 million bail agreement that sees her movement limited to exclude access to the airport.
Frater wrapped up his arguments with a rhetorical flourish.
“Ms. Meng has received an extraordinary level of disclosure,” he said.
“She has been assisted by a legal dream team of five lawyers who have left no stone unturned. Maybe even the pebbles under the stones they’ve looked into as well …”
But Holmes cut him off. She said she wanted to hear more about the law.