Bob Mackin and Ina Mitchell
theBreaker.news has learned the identities of two women who had roles in arranging the pro-Meng Wanzhou protest outside the opening day of the Huawei executive’s extradition hearing last month.
But questions remain about for whom they worked and why.
More than two dozen people were lured to downtown Vancouver on Jan. 20 with the promise of $100 to $150 each to appear as background actors in a two-hour music video or film shoot. When they arrived, they were told to stand outside the Law Courts and hold similar signs that included four slogans: “Free Ms. Meng. Bring Michael home. Trump stop bullying us. Equal justice.” (There are actually two Canadian Michaels jailed in retaliation by China, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.)
Several of the sign-holders quickly encountered reporters who asked questions that they were either unwilling or unable to answer. Some, like actress Julia Hackstaff, realized it was not a production, but a protest. She abruptly left without collecting payment.
Hackstaff told CTV News Vancouver and theBreaker.news that she was angry after being duped to support a cause she knew little about and did not support. Hackstaff said she believes there were multiple layers of organization. She wants to know who was ultimately in charge. “So that person gets called out,” she said.
The bizarre incident gained global media attention and may have overshadowed the proceedings inside, which are at the centre of a diplomatic rift between China and Canada. The United States government wants a Canadian judge to send Meng to New York for a trial on charges that she defrauded HSBC in 2013 in order to circumvent sanctions against Iran. A judge has reserved decision on whether Meng’s U.S. charges are compatible with Canadian law, a key requirement for the extradition case to proceed. In the meantime, Meng lives under curfew at her Shaughnessy mansion in the same block as the U.S. consular mansion.
Huawei Canada and the Canadian correspondent for state broadcaster CCTV both denied involvement in the Jan. 20 protest. Executives from the Vancouver office of Huawei’s public relations company, Hill and Knowlton, did not respond to a query from theBreaker.news.
China’s Vancouver Consul-Gen. Tong Xiaoling told CBC Radio on Feb. 8: “I’m wondering myself, who these people are, or where they come from. I have no idea of them.”
One of the women involved in finding people to hold the signs is a corporate director of a local production company and a 2018 donor to the BC Liberal Party.
Costa Vassos, a Vancouver film and TV producer, said he was called in the evening of Jan. 19 while he was attending a wedding anniversary party for relatives. He said the caller was Helen Zhou, a woman that he had met during a Chinese TV production called Pei du ma ma. Zhou, he said, was a friend of the show’s producer and she had worked as a translator.
“She needed 30 extras, paying $50 an hour for two hours, and [wondered] do I know people, how can I help crew it up,” Vassos said. He said that he passed on some names to contact, not knowing what would happen the next day.
“From my perspective, as a producer, I work for people, but I also have my own projects. When someone potentially can be an investor, you’re nice to everybody,” he said.
Helen Zhou is also known as Jiaming Zhou. She has not replied to phone calls and emails about this story.
Zhou was listed among several defendants in B.C. Supreme Court lawsuits related to Yangtze Capital Holding Inc., which owns the Richmond site of the former Ridgeside Winery, now Arcadia Winery. Elections BC lists her as a $1,200 donor to the BC Liberal Party in September 2018.
Corporate registry documents show Zhou is a director of CC Media Production Company Ltd. which is registered to an address in a condo tower near the University of B.C.
CC Media’s website describes the company as an “international media operation providing TV programs production, event planning, advertising agencies and other media related services.” CC Media touts a partnership with HaiRun Television Productions Co. Ltd. and the website lists an office is in Aberdeen Centre. The address, however is for the eHome Travel agency.
Zhou is also director of Arcadia Winery and Arcadia Trading Inc. of Richmond.
A second woman was involved in recruiting and reportedly paid one of the participants.
News1130 reported Jan. 21 that a 20-year-old Burnaby woman had been paid $150 by an Asian woman in her 30s, who wore all black clothing and went by the name “Joey.”
From one of the unwitting Jan. 20 protest participants, theBreaker.news obtained the Saskatchewan phone number for a woman whose mobile phone outgoing avatar matches the mugshot on the WeChat account for Joey Zhang of Regina.
Zhang has not responded for comment.
A person with the same name and phone number advertised on a Chinese language online forum last summer for a cannabis-growing class.
This story will be updated should Zhou and/or Zhang respond.
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