Developer gets earful from judge for 'evasiveness,' wins $1 in defamation suit

A B.C. Supreme Court has found that some of a Vancouver blogger's most inflammatory claims about Miaofei Pan — including allegations of tax evasion — were likely true.

B.C. Supreme Court judge finds Miaofei Pan likely did evade taxes and claim child benefit

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen here at a fundraiser held at the West Vancouver mansion of B.C. developer Miaofei Pan. (Foreign and Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the Wenszhou People's Government)

A multimillionaire developer has been awarded a paltry $1 for defamation, while earning a healthy scolding from a B.C. judge for his "lack of candour with the court."

In a judgment issued Friday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Neena Sharma rebuked Miaofei Pan for his conduct during his defamation trial against Vancouver blogger Bing Chen Gao, writing that she had serious concerns about his credibility.

Though Sharma ruled that Gao had defamed Pan in two of 10 online articles named in the suit, she also said some of Gao's most inflammatory claims about Pan appeared to be true — including allegations of tax evasion. She rejected Pan's suggestion of damages between $360,000 and $450,000 and said a single dollar would be more appropriate,

"I am disturbed by the plaintiff's lack of candour with the court, manifested both in his testimony and his lack of document production in this litigation," Sharma wrote.

Of particular concern was his response to Gao's claim that Pan had received the Canadian child tax benefit, despite his obvious wealth. This was one of the centrepieces of Pan's defamation suit, and he initially told the court that he did not qualify for or receive the benefit.

But Pan failed to present all of his tax returns to the court, and the judge found it was likely that he had, in fact, claimed the child tax benefit.

"His evasiveness with this court on that issue is deserving of rebuke, and I decline to award him substantial damages on that basis," Sharma wrote.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge found Miaofei Pan likely did evade taxes and claim the child tax benefit, despite his wealth. (David Horemans/CBC)

She also found it was likely that Pan had evaded paying taxes, just as Gao had claimed in his articles.

And she said it appeared Pan had completely fabricated a story about someone trying to blackmail him by asking for cash to stop Gao from writing about him.

"Anchoring all of these concerns is my serious concerns about the plaintiff's credibility. From my purview as the trial judge and exclusive fact-finder, the plaintiff demonstrated on a number of occasions throughout his testimony an attitude that he should not have to answer to the defendant, and indirectly to this court, about his business affairs," Sharma wrote.

Pan held fundraiser for Trudeau

Pan is a real estate developer who once hosted a fundraiser for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at Pan's West Vancouver mansion. Pan moved to Canada from China more than a decade ago — according to his legal submissions, he'd been embroiled in business "troubles" and lawsuits in his home country.

Another mansion Pan owns in Vancouver's ritzy Shaughnessy neighbourhood was severely damaged in a suspected arson last year. Four months after the fire, Pan was ordered by the city to fix up the property.

Meanwhile Gao, who uses the pen name Huang Hebian, spent two decades as a journalist in China, and now writes for Chinese language media outlets in Canada. He testified that he wrote about Pan because he wanted to expose "problematic" leaders in the Chinese-Canadian community.

The lawsuit prompted Gao's supporters to rally against what they described as an attack on free speech. In the summer of 2017, more than 280 people gathered at a Chinatown restaurant for a fundraiser, and contributed at least $69,000 for his defence.

Gao represented himself in court.

Judge says blogger was not motivated by malice

When Pan filed suit, he pointed to 10 posts Gao published on the popular Chinese social media site WeChat between 2016 and 2017. Just two of those were found to be defamatory, and the judge said Pan had failed to prove that Gao was motivated by malice.

Beyond that, she said there was little proof that Pan's reputation as a community leader had actually been hurt by the postings. Even the witnesses who offered evidence on his behalf said they only had temporary doubts about Pan's character.

"Most telling is the fact that the plaintiff was not asked to resign any position on any community association. He claimed his reputation was harmed, yet the associations themselves apparently did not think so," Sharma wrote.

Though Pan complained he had trouble sleeping and suffered from stress and anxiety because of the shame caused by the articles, the judge said his credibility problems made it difficult to believe him.

"Moreover, I would have found it at least equally probable (if not more) that the stress and anxiety were caused by the allegation that he claimed the CTB [child tax benefit], which I have concluded is true," Sharma said.

Sharma declined to issue an injunction permanently restraining Gao from publishing defamatory material about Pan, but she did order Gao to remove the two articles.

About the Author

Bethany Lindsay

Journalist

Bethany Lindsay has more than a decade of experience in B.C. journalism, with a focus on the courts, health and social justice issues. She has also reported on human rights and crimes against humanity in Cambodia. Questions or news tips? Get in touch at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.

With files from Yvette Brend