Canada border officer denies police directed handling of Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou, undermining her claims of covert plot

Ian Young
·9-min read

A Canadian border officer who took part in the interception of Meng Wanzhou at Vancouver’s airport testified he was “in shock” when he realised the scale of what he was becoming involved with, but said police played no role in how he and his colleagues treated the Huawei executive.

Wednesday’s testimony by Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) officer Scott Kirkland appeared to undermine a key argument of Meng’s lawyers in her extradition case, in the Supreme Court of British Columbia in Vancouver.

Her lawyers depict Meng’s handling before her arrest on December 1, 2018, as part of a covert plot involving the CBSA and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), directed by US authorities, to gather evidence for the American fraud case against her. That alleged plot included the decision to delay Meng’s arrest for more than three hours after she got off her flight from Hong Kong, to allow border officers to question her and seize her electronic devices and obtain their passwords for the Americans.

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But Kirkland said the RCMP played no role in the interception of Meng, nor in deciding how the inspection was conducted, he said.

“We made it explicit to them [the RCMP] that they were not to be involved, that they were to observe, and that’s it,” Kirkland told crown counsel Diba Majzub, representing US interests in the case. Kirkland said he had no communication with foreign law enforcement about Meng.

Although a note with the passwords for Meng’s devices, written by Kirkland, ended up in RCMP hands, this was a mistake, he testified.

Meng, 48, is attempting to defeat a US bid to have her sent to New York to face charges that she defrauded HSBC bank by lying about Huawei’s business dealings in Iran, putting the bank at risk of violating US sanctions.

Her treatment has infuriated Beijing and upended China’s relations with the US and Canada.

In his testimony, Kirkland depicted the border inspection as a process purely designed to determine Meng’s admissibility to Canada, addressing factors such as whether she was involved in espionage.

We made it explicit to them [the RCMP] that they were not to be involved, that they were to observe, and that’s it

CBSA officer Scott Kirkland

Kirkland said he was not aware of Meng’s impending arrival, and had not heard of her, before being told that morning. During a coffee break, a supervisor told him and colleague Sowsmith Katragadda, “there’s going to be something waiting for you when you come back”; that turned out to be the interception and inspection of Meng.

A meeting was held with RCMP Constable Winston Yep, who would later arrest Meng. He told them of the extradition warrant for her.

Kirkland said he looked on the internet and realised who Meng was, including that she was Huawei Technologies’ chief financial officer, that she was the daughter of the company’s founder, Ren Zhengfei, and that she may have been wanted in relation to US sanctions violations.

“We knew it was going to be a big deal,” he said, and he and Katragadda were “in shock that this has happened … we knew this was a big deal, a huge issue”.

Meng Wanzhou leaves her home to attend a court hearing in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Monday. Photo: Reuters
Meng Wanzhou leaves her home to attend a court hearing in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Monday. Photo: Reuters

He described scrambling to gather information about Meng in the hour before she arrived. “I don’t know if you’ve ever used government computers, but they’re not always the speediest systems,” he said.

At the pre-arrest meeting, the RCMP said they wanted Meng’s devices seized, put in mylar “anti-static” bags, and turned off. Kirkland said he would be seizing the devices regardless – “we were going to need them for our own [admissibility] investigation” – and he had no problem putting them in the bags provided by the RCMP.

But he said he refused to turn off the devices on behalf of the police.

During the meeting, “the RCMP were very distracted to be honest,” said Kirkland, apparently because of their concerns that others might try to interfere in the process. “Chinese government agents, I don’t know,” he said.

Kirkland said the RCMP gave the CBSA no other directions, depicting their respective roles as “you guys do what you gotta do, then we do what we’ve gotta do”.

Meng’s flight arrived at Gate 65 at 11:10am. Katragadda intercepted Meng and immediately obtained her two phones, which Kirkland took and placed in the mylar bag.

At the border inspection, Kirkland said Meng was only asked questions relevant to her admissibility. These including questions about Huawei’s activities in foreign countries, amid national security concerns.

Kirkland said he obtained the passwords for Meng’s devices, adding “it’s natural for me to do that”. These he wrote on a note, which he placed on a stack of Meng’s devices.

After the inspection, Kirkland said he handed off Meng’s luggage and devices to the RCMP.

He said he recalled no discussion about the note, and it as a mistake that it ended up with the RCMP. “No, it was not my intention,” he said.

It was only the next week, at a meeting about Meng’s case, that Kirkland remembered the note, he said. He looked for it in his files, at the counter where Meng was processed and at his desk, and concluded the note was likely with the RCMP.

Had he realised at the time “I would have grabbed it off them. They are not allowed to have them”, Kirkland said. It was a Privacy Act violation for him to have given the passwords to police, he said.

Kirkland was the second witness in this week’s hearings.

Canada given ‘virtual’ consular access to Spavor and Kovrig detained in China

Earlier on Wednesday, Meng’s lawyer Richard Peck had accused Constable Yep of lying on the witness box when he testified that safety considerations guided his decision not to arrest Meng as soon as she stepped off her flight.

Peck delivered gruelling cross-examination of Yep over three days, attempting to depict his conduct as part of the plot to gather evidence for the US.

On Wednesday morning, Peck pressed Yep about why he did not arrest Meng on the airport jetway. He rejected the officer’s assertion this decision was partly premised on safety considerations.

“My view is that that is not an honest answer, that safety was never an issue,” said Peck, having spent Monday and Tuesday building up to the accusation.

Meng’s lawyers say the decision to let border officers question Meng and seize her devices breached her rights because she was not told she was about to be arrested, nor given the opportunity to have a lawyer present.

The delay also breached the terms of the warrant which said she should be arrested “immediately”, they say, and because of the violation of Meng’s rights the US extradition bid should be thrown out.

Presiding over the Canadian extradition case is Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes, who will make the ruling.

Peck asked on Wednesday if the delay in the arrest was deliberately intended to deny Meng her rights.

Officer’s boss held ‘no safety concerns’ about Meng Wanzhou’s arrest

“No, it was not intentional,” Yep said. He added: “I don’t think the three-hour delay was unreasonable.”

Yep, who became the first witness in Meng’s extradition battle when he took to the witness box on Monday, had said the arrest was a normal operation. He earlier testified that he allowed the CBSA officers to intercept and question Meng – instead of himself arresting her on the plane or as soon as she stepped off it – because the airport was CBSA jurisdiction.

Yep said Meng might have “put up a fight” on the plane, an assertion Peck repeatedly questioned. Peck raised an email between Yep’s RCMP superiors the day before the operation, that said it carried “no officer safety concerns”.

On Monday, Peck asked Yep if the safety considerations “just popped into your head” on the witness box.

Peck’s questioning of Yep sketched out the 24 hours leading up Meng’s arrest.

On Tuesday, Peck quizzed Yep about an affidavit he swore the day before the operation, in which he said Meng “appears to have no ties to Canada”, and this supported the need for a judge to issue a warrant to prevent her escaping the country.

Yet Meng owned two houses in Vancouver, something Yep agreed he became aware of a few hours later, and was discussed with CBSA officers at a pre-arrest meeting Yep attended. Meng also held Canadian residency at one point, and Yep knew CBSA officers wanted to determine her immigration status.

Peck asked why these inconsistencies with Yep’s affidavit – prepared by Department of Justice (DOJ) officials for him to sign – did not set off “alarm bells” in his head. Yep said “it didn’t cross my mind at the time”, calling it “an error on my part for not catching that”.

Canadian officer feared Meng Wanzhou ‘would put up a fight’ during arrest

In his initial questioning by crown counsel John Gibb-Carsley, also representing US interests in the case, Yep said the only reason it fell on him to arrest Meng – a momentous event that would sent China’s relations with the US and Canada into a two-year downward spiral – was because the RCMP was short-staffed that Friday afternoon. He happened to be heading to the DOJ office on another task when the pre-arrest affidavit needed to be signed.

Beijing subsequently arrested Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, accusing them of spying. In Canada, their situation is widely seen as hostage-taking.

Meng is under partial house arrest in Vancouver, living in one of her two homes in the city. Her extradition proceedings are scheduled to last well into next year, but appeals could drag out the process for much longer.

Holmes adjourned the hearing until Thursday morning.

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