By the time Meng Wanzhou arrived with her bodyguards at the Law Courts in downtown Vancouver, the Huawei chief financial officer knew she would not be returning to China anytime soon.
Her lawyers had received the written decision of Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes after 9 a.m. and were free to share it with her after 10 a.m. Meng strutted out of her $13.6 million Shaughnessy mansion under blue skies after 10:30 a.m.
The public learned the B.C. Supreme Court ruling that the U.S. extradition cleared its first hurdle at 11 a.m., when reporters were free to turn on their mobile phones. They had been in an hour-long embargo session inside the same courtroom where lawyers for both sides argued their cases before Holmes over four days in late January, just before the Lunar New Year weekend.
Meng, who is wanted by the U.S. for defrauding HSBC in 2013, wore a facemask while she sat next to lawyers Richard Peck and David Martin in courtroom 55. The 32-minute hearing included an unscheduled seven-minute intermission to resolve embarrassing technical problems.
Closed circuit video was shown in courtrooms 53 and 54, where reporters and others were at least three chairs apart. Same with courtroom 20, where most of the accredited media remained. TV crews and protesters waited outside on street level, by the same steps where Meng mysteriously appeared for a celebratory Saturday night photo shoot believed to be in anticipation of a court victory that did not come. Someone had tipped off a CBC reporter and photographer to be there for the moment of audacity.
A consortium of major Canadian and international media outlets could not convince Holmes last fall to allow the case to be broadcast. But, when the coronavirus pandemic hit B.C. before spring, officials allowed reporters and lawyers to call-in and listen to court proceedings.
Easier said than done on this day, as Holmes’s patience was tested by a noisy connection on the speakerphone. More than one person on the B.C. government system (provided by local Huawei partner Telus) failed to heed instructions to mute the microphone. The system did not allow a remote operator to regulate.
Holmes read the conclusion of her verdict, but eventually gave up.
“That is not proving successful, because well you can hear voices,” Holmes said. “Can we do something about that Mr. Registrar, please? I’m going to find it distracting. So either we stop that or we will have to make different arrangements.”
The registrar asked all to mute. There was momentary silence.
“If it gets noisy again, we will move to plan B,” Holmes said, before invoking plan B.
The only solution was a nearly seven-minute recess.
When the court reconvened, Holmes scheduled a case management conference for June 3 at 9 a.m. and cancelled the June 15-19 and June 22-26 hearings.
The first phase took four months for a decision. Two more issues remain to be decided: whether border guards and police overstepped their authority and whether Donald Trump interfered. Holmes wants to get back on track after the pandemic threw the courts a scheduling curveball.
“I would prefer the overall schedule be a lot more condensed,” she said.
When it finally adjourned after noon, Meng, her lawyers, Huawei staff and executives, and officials from the People’s Republic of China consul poured out of the room. Nearly all wearing face masks.
Most of the two-dozen people headed for the elevators. Meng’s chauffeur-driven SUV awaited.
Xi Jinping’s top envoy on the west coast of Canada, Consul General Tong Xiaoling, left the Nelson Street doors to a waiting Mercedes Benz.
Only one reporter followed. Tong and her staff refused to answer any questions about the judge’s decision, the fate of Canadian hostages Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig and about the Uyghur Muslim protesters outside the court.
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