Crown lawyer says border officers miscommunicated about note-taking in Meng case

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VANCOUVER — A "misunderstanding" lies at the heart of a Canadian border official's belief that she was ordered not to take notes about Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou's arrest at Vancouver's airport, a Crown lawyer said Friday.

Marta Zemojtel urged a B.C. Supreme Court judge to take the word of Roslyn MacVicar, who "vehemently" denied making the request, when she was Pacific regional director general for the Canada Border Services Agency.

"There was a misunderstanding or miscommunication," Zemojtel said Friday.

Zemojtel made the comment as part of a hearing to determine if Meng, Huawei's chief financial officer, was subjected to an abuse of process by RCMP and border officers during in her arrest.

Meng was arrested at the request of the United States, where she is wanted on fraud charges relating to U.S. sanctions against Iran that both she and the telecom company deny.

Among many claims, Meng's lawyers accuse Canadian officials of deliberately taking poor notes on the case in order to obscure a covert criminal investigation and coverup.

Her lawyers have told the court Canadian officials were all too eager to jump at the request of U.S. investigators and improperly collected evidence under the guise of a routine border exam.

Nicole Goodman, who oversaw passenger operations at the Vancouver airport for the border agency, testified in December that MacVicar advised her not to make additional records about the case in the weeks following Meng's arrest. Goodman wanted to create a case summary and timeline, but MacVicar, now retired, told her the notes could be subject to an access to information request, Goodman said.

She told the court that not taking notes in the case "weighed" on her.

However, MacVicar told the court she "would never" have said that and it's inconsistent with anything she has ever said as a public servant.

On Friday, Zemojtel asked the judge to reject the defence team's claim that Goodman's understanding of the conversation suggests there was an effort to rewrite history.

A more sound conclusion is that after a high-profile event at the airport, the border agency engaged in expected debriefings and updating procedures.

She pointed to testimony from another officer involved in the conversation who said he remembered MacVicar commenting that additional notes should not be created, but he did not believe her intention was to suppress or recast information.

If it was an order, it would have been passed down through the chain of command, which never happened, she said.

And despite the miscommunication, there were no real consequences, Zemojtel said, adding the most that was lost was a timeline of events constructed weeks after Meng's arrest.

"There's no evidence that CBSA at any level sought to recast the evidence related to the applicant's examination or concealed facts about their conduct," she said.

Zemojtel also disputed an argument from Meng's defence team, who said broadly "shoddy" note-taking by both RCMP and CBSA officers make them unreliable witnesses.

There may be inconsistencies, but the officers were all forthcoming and candid when asked about absences, lapses of memory and information outside the scope of their knowledge, she said.

Another Crown lawyer tackled the topic of whether Meng's rights were violated when RCMP officers collected serial numbers from her electronic devices days after the arrest.

The court has heard that the Federal Bureau of Investigation asked for the numbers in order to enter a legal request for the devices.

John Gibb-Carsley said the RCMP did not need a search warrant to obtain the devices or collect their serial numbers. Meng's charter rights weren't violated because her devices were seized as part of the arrest and the collection of numbers was an extension of that.

"The collection of electronic serial numbers was a logical and necessary continuation" of the airport search, Gibb-Carsley said Friday.

Meng's legal team has argued the numbers were improperly obtained because they were collected through a new search that needed judicial authorization.

The B.C. Supreme Court case is set to wrap up with an actual extradition or committal hearing in May.

Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes is first hearing four branches of arguments over whether Meng was subjected to an abuse of process that would compromise the fairness of proceedings against her.

Meng's team has argued that then-U.S. president Donald Trump poisoned proceedings when he suggested he might intervene in the case to facilitate a trade deal with China.

The court will hear arguments next week claiming the case violates common international law.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 26, 2021.

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press