A lawyer for Meng Wanzhou says police could have ensured the Huawei executive’s rights were respected by arresting her for extradition and advising her of her right to a lawyer within minutes of stepping off a flight from Hong Kong in December 2018.
Instead, the RCMP let Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers detain and question Meng alone for three hours, seizing her electronic goods and asking her to give up the passcodes without giving her any indication she was wanted for fraud in the United States.
Defence lawyer Richard Peck grilled the officer tasked with handling the high-profile arrest, Const. Winston Yep, about that decision on Tuesday as he testified in B.C. Supreme Court.
Meng’s lawyers claim the RCMP and CBSA deliberately denied Meng rights guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in order to assist U.S. authorities in a covert plan to investigate the telecommunications executive.
“All I’m suggesting to you is, it could have been just as easy for you to arrest her as she stepped off that plane and hand her over to the CBSA to do whatever they had to do, and then take her away,” Peck said to Yep.
“And that way she’d have her rights: charter rights.”
“That was not what we discussed,” Yep responded.
Not a ‘trick question’
Yep spent all of Tuesday under cross-examination, offering often-hesitant responses to Peck, one of B.C.’s — and Canada’s — most prominent lawyers, who assured the RCMP officer at one point that he was not asking “a trick question.”
Meng was arrested on Dec. 1, 2018 for extradition to the U.S. on fraud charges related to allegations that she lied to an HSBC executive about Huawei’s control of a subsidiary accused of violating U.S. economic sanctions against Iran.
Prosecutors claim that, by relying on Meng’s alleged lies to continue a financial relationship with Huawei, HSBC risked loss and prosecution for breaching the same set of sanctions.
Yep is one of 10 RCMP and CBSA officers expected to testify over the course of two weeks in advance of a hearing in February at which the defence will attempt to have the case thrown out because of alleged violations of Meng’s rights.
On his first day on the stand, Yep insisted that he didn’t follow a superior’s “suggestion” that Meng be arrested on the plane because of safety concerns. Once she stepped into the airport, Yep said the CBSA had jurisdiction.
‘Weren’t you concerned?’
Peck questioned the officer in detail about the affidavit he swore the day before Meng arrived in Canada in order persuade a judge to issue a warrant for her arrest.
Yep said the document was prepared for him, but said he read the contents carefully before signing his name to the affidavit. Peck pointed out that it said Meng had “no ties” to Canada when she was known to own two houses.
Yep said he didn’t learn that fact until discussing the case with the CBSA a few hours after obtaining the warrant.
Peck asked him if “alarm bells” went off at the thought that he might have made a mistake.
“Weren’t you concerned with the truthfulness of your affidavit?” Peck asked.
“Maybe I would have been concerned if I recalled the exact content of the affidavit,” Yep answered, admitting that he had made an error in saying she had no ties.
“But, I did not recall the exact content.”
Peck asked Yep about instructions he received from Department of Justice lawyer John Gibb-Carsley the day before Meng’s arrival, in which he was told to discretely locate Meng, arrest her and advise her of her charter rights.
Yep, who said what he knew of the CBSA’s secondary inspection procedures what he had gathered from TV, said he sat in a room with a one-way window watching as Meng spent three hours answering CBSA questions. He said he stepped out for lunch during that time.
The defence is likely to focus on that delay when it comes to arguing that an abuse of process took place, because the judge who signed the warrant said it should be executed “immediately” — which Yep said he understood to mean as soon as was practical.
Peck said he expected to question Yep for one more hour on Wednesday before moving on to other witnesses.
Meng’s lawyers have accused the RCMP and CBSA of conspiring to pass technical information from Meng’s electronic devices to the FBI in violation of the Extradition Act.
The RCMP officers in charge of the unit which arranged for Meng’s arrest have sworn that they didn’t share those details with U.S. authorities, but future witnesses are expected to face questioning about notes that suggest otherwise.
Meng watched from the prisoner’s box with a translator as Yep was questioned. She has denied the allegations against her.