A B.C. Supreme Court judge has turned down a request by media to allow cameras in the courtroom for Meng Wanzhou’s extradition proceedings next week, saying broadcast materials presented without proper context could potentially damage the Huawei executive’s right to a fair trial.
Chief Justice Heather Holmes said such broadcasts could create potential risks for Ms. Meng’s trial “far greater than would the publication of similarly deficient commentary in other forms of media coverage” such as printed reports or television commentary.
“This is because of the well-known power of audio-visual representation, as well as because of the increased authenticity flowing from an apparent reproduction of courtroom proceedings,” Justice Holmes said in a written ruling released Monday.
“Similarly, broadcasting sound bites out of context would detract from the public understanding of the proceedings, and therefore their transparency, and for this and other reasons would undermine the dignity of the proceedings.”
U.S. prosecutors allege that Ms. Meng made misrepresentations to foreign banks, including Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp. (HSBC), about Huawei’s relationship with Skycom Tech, which the U.S. Department of Justice calls a subsidiary that sold telecommunications equipment to Iran. That put the financial institutions at risk of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran.
A person can only be extradited from Canada if the alleged conduct is recognized as a crime in both countries; lawyers for Ms. Meng will be arguing next week that Canada didn’t have the same sanctions against Iran as the United States did at the time the extradition warrant was sworn.
Justice Holmes said the technical nature relating to double criminality could be perceived as an acknowledgment of guilt and “entrench a public perception that Ms. Meng has no real defence.”
The media consortium behind the application argued that the case involves domestic and international political and economic issues, and has attracted significant public interest. Streaming and broadcasting of the proceedings would make the case more accessible to the public and, in turn, improve the public’s understanding in the administration of justice in B.C., the consortium said.
Lawyers for Ms. Meng opposed video recording and broadcast of any kind, saying the consortium had not met its burden of showing it would serve the public interest. As well, broadcasting the hearings could compromise her fair trial rights in the extradition proceedings, and in a trial in the U.S. if she is extradited, by tainting the evidence of witnesses who may testify and the impartiality of a potential jury pool, they said.
Ms. Meng’s lawyers added that broadcasting would “increase the already sensationalized media coverage of the proceedings, impairing the public’s understanding of their nature and substance,” according to the written judgment.
The media consortium includes 13 international print and broadcast news organizations, including The Globe and Mail, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., CNN and The New York Times.
On Friday, lawyers for Canada’s Attorney-General submitted legal arguments in advance of the hearing, saying the “essence” of the alleged offence is fraud – and that is a crime in both countries.
“To establish HSBC’s deprivation, there is no need to consider American sanctions law,” read the submission.
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