British Columbia

Border officer 'went white' after realizing he lost Meng Wanzhou passcodes, his boss testifies

The Canada Border Service Agency’s Vancouver airport chief recalled in vivid detail Tuesday the moment that one of her officers realized he had likely given the RCMP the passcodes to Meng Wanzhou’s phones in breach of agency protocols.

CBSA's Vancouver airport chief tells court that handing the codes to the RCMP was an honest mistake

Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou departs her home for court on Tuesday. The CBSA and RCMP officers involved in her arrest are testifying as part of extradition proceedings. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The Canada Border Service Agency's Vancouver airport chief recalled in vivid detail Tuesday the moment that one of her officers realized he had likely given the RCMP the passcodes to Meng Wanzhou's phones in breach of agency protocols.

Nicole Goodman testified in B.C. Supreme Court that she called a meeting a few days after the Huawei executive's arrest on Dec. 1, 2018, to go over the CBSA's role in the case.

One of her chief concerns was about information sharing. And she noticed a sudden change in border services officer Scott Kirkland.

"While I was having that discussion I remember it vividly because BSO Kirkland — we were at a boardroom table and he was directly across from me — and as I was having that discussion with the team, I just saw he went white and seemed distressed," Goodman said.

"It's like he had an epiphany that he had this piece of paper that had Ms. Meng's passwords on it, and he doesn't know where it is."

'Heart-wrenching' mistake

Goodman is one of at least 10 CBSA and RCMP officers expected to testify at Meng's extradition proceedings in relation to her arrest.

The 48-year-old chief financial officer is charged with fraud for allegedly lying to an HSBC executive about Huawei's control of a subsidiary accused of violating U.S. economic sanctions against Iran.

CBSA officers asked Meng for the passcodes for her phones when they seized her electronic devices. They later passed those codes in error to the RCMP. (B.C. Supreme Court)

Prosecutors claim that by relying on Meng's assurances to continue a financial relationship with the Chinese telecommunications giant, HSBC was placed at risk of loss and prosecution.

Meng's lawyers claim the CBSA and RCMP were directed by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation to gather information in violation of Meng's rights, by having CBSA officers question her without a lawyer and pass information on to the FBI.

Kirkland has already testified about asking Meng for her passcodes and then handing them to the RCMP along with the rest of her luggage after police arrested her following nearly three hours in CBSA custody. 

Kirkland said it was a "heart-wrenching" mistake.

'Not our practice'

In direct examination by the Crown, Goodman said she had no doubt Kirkland was telling the truth.

"One hundred per cent accidental," Goodman said.

She said she was certain "first of all because of his reaction. And second because that's not our practice."

Canada Border Services Agency officer Scott Kirkland was featured in CBSA promotional material for border services officers. Kirkland is the officer who took possession of Meng Wanzhou's phone when she arrived in Canada. (CBSA/Twitter)

Goodman said that in the days after Meng's arrest, she was in contact with an FBI legal attaché who was seeking a copy of the CBSA's customs examination and Meng's travel records in advance of a bail hearing.

She said he was "very persistent" and claimed that he had authority under a memorandum of understanding that governs information sharing between agencies. But Goodman said she needed to check with the CBSA's own people.

"I just had concerns that maybe because I wasn't providing them the information that they were seeking that they would try and get it from somewhere else," she said.

"And I had concerns that sometimes if you start shopping around for people, that maybe somebody might give you information if they're not familiar with the case."

No mention of rumoured deal

Goodman is the second witness to appear in the extradition proceedings since the Wall Street Journal and Reuters reported last week that Meng is in negotiations with the U.S. Department of Justice to resolve the case through some type of admission of wrongdoing.

According to the reports, which the CBC has not independently verified, the deal would see Meng reach a deferred prosecution agreement to either defer the charges or drop them at a later point.

Meng has denied the charges against her and has reportedly balked at the proposed deal so far.

In the meantime, the Canadian court process continues to play out with the defence gathering evidence to use at a hearing next spring when they will argue that the case should be tossed because of a series of rights violations — including the allegations around Meng's arrest.

The defence team also claims Meng is being used as a bargaining chip in a trade war between the U.S. and China and that the U.S. misled Canada about the strength of the case.

There has been no reference to the rumoured deal in the court, and neither Meng nor her lawyers have offered any comment.

Meng is living under a form of a house arrest that sees her wear a GPS monitoring bracelet on her ankle. She was released on $10-million bail in the days after her arrest.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.

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