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Courts mull ways to deliver Meng decision in socially distant manner

Socially-distant Meng ruling?

The B.C. Supreme Court is considering creative ways to deliver a decision in an extradition hearing for Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou as a global pandemic restricts travel and gatherings.

Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes convened a meeting Monday between Crown prosecutors, defence lawyers, Meng and her interpreter via teleconference.

The United States is seeking Meng's extradition on fraud charges and the court heard arguments in January about whether her alleged conduct would constitute a crime in Canada.

A court transcript shows Holmes told those who dialled in that she does not plan to release her decision on those arguments "in the near future."

But when the decision is released and if the COVID-19 crisis is still ongoing, one of Meng's lawyers outlined a proposal that would require Meng's physical presence in court only if Holmes rules in her favour.

According to the transcript, defence lawyer David Martin says there is a need for an in-person appearance only if the judgment falls in her favour.

"Ms. Meng would only appear if the circumstances were appropriate, but the suggestion that she not appear if the application was dismissed is motivated by a concern for the court's and its staff's health and safety," Martin said during the conference.

Holmes said she would take the proposal into account and the interests of the public, media and whatever safety restrictions are in place at the time.

The case is adjourned until April 27, when another case management meeting is scheduled. Holmes warned Meng that the next meeting would also likely be conducted via teleconference.

Meng is accused of lying to HSBC about Huawei's relationship with an Iran-based subsidiary, putting the bank at risk of violating American sanctions against Iran.

Her defence has argued that the court must dismiss the case because Canada has rejected similar sanctions, while the Crown said the judge's job is to determine if there's evidence of fraud, not to uphold Canadian sovereignty.

Holmes' ruling on the test of "double criminality" will determine if Meng is set free or if the court will hear further arguments, including whether her arrest at Vancouver's airport in December 2018 was unlawful.

Court hearings have been cancelled across Canada due to COVID-19 and directions from public health officials prohibiting large gatherings.

But those on the conference call said they wanted to keep pushing Meng's case forward.

"This is a unique case occurring in unique times, but it's important, and this has been communicated with my learned friends, to keep this litigation moving forward as best as possible despite the difficult circumstances," prosecutor John Gibb-Carsley said.

While counsel participated by phone, Holmes was in court and counted eight other people in the room, saying she directed the sheriffs to ensure everyone obeyed social distancing regulations.

Given widespread public interest in the case, Holmes suggested teleconferencing is not a long-term solution.

Meng's arrest in December 2018 at Vancouver's airport ignited diplomatic tensions between Canada and China. The detention of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in China the same month is widely viewed as retaliation for her arrest.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chinese embassy in Canada said earlier this month said that Kovrig was allowed to have a telephone conversation with his father, who is very ill.

The embassy said in a statement that they allowed this for humanitarian reasons, and it also says Kovrig and Spavor were being given better food to strengthen their immunity against the novel coronavirus, which originated in China.



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