The strange tale of the paid protesters supporting Meng Wanzhou at her extradition hearing
Woman says she was paid $150 to hold sign, another thought she was hired as a movie extra
Two people who demonstrated in support of Meng Wanzhou outside B.C. Supreme Court during her extradition hearing say they were unwittingly recruited under false pretences and paid to be there.
Meng, the CFO of Chinese tech giant Huawei, was arrested at Vancouver International Airport in December 2018 at the request of the U.S., which seeks to extradite her to face charges of fraud. A number of people showed up on the first day of her hearing Monday and held signs supporting her.
For actor Julia Hackstaff of Vancouver it all started with a promise of $100 for two hours of work in what she understood to be an appearance as an extra in a movie shoot. Hackstaff said the offer came over Facebook from a person in the acting community she has never met.
"It's terrible, it's horrifying," she said. "I was sincerely going to participate in something that seemed cool and a nice opportunity. And they took advantage of my profession and my passion ... to make a false protest."
The second person, whom CBC News has agreed not to identify and will refer to as SP, said she was recruited by a friend promising a $150 payday just to show up at the courthouse and hold a sign.
"I was told it was to free Ms. Meng. I had never heard that name before in my life," said SP, also of Vancouver. "I had to go after and Google what Huawei was because I never heard that [name] before in my life. I didn't even know it was a company."
Both women say they don't know who was ultimately offering the payment for their participation.
SP says a woman identified only as "Jowe" [pronounced "Joey"] handed out the signs at the courthouse.
"She didn't say much, she just shook our hands," said SP, who was standing with a small group of people. "She disappeared for a bit and came back and she had the red signs that you can see in the pictures a lot of people holding. So I assume either she made them or someone got them made for her, and she just basically handed them out. That was it. We were given no instruction, no information on what we're doing."
Hackstaff says she and a friend were told by her contact to go to the Holiday Inn a few blocks away and then brought to the courthouse. When they arrived, they approached a group of young people who looked "lost" she assumed were background actors.
"I went and asked, 'Are you guys the extras?' And one guy said yes. He then asked me my name and my friend's name. So we gave him our first names and he checked on his phone like [as] if he had a list."
Hackstaff said she was handed a red sign that said "Free Ms. Meng, Equal Justice!" Soon after, she began questioning what was actually going on.
There was something very strange about this protest this morning. Participants said they had only heard about the hearing last minute, hence the basic signs. They were unwilling to tell media about their cause and where they were from and were becoming agitated at questions. <a href="https://t.co/Gnva9yaW4b">https://t.co/Gnva9yaW4b</a>—@GeorgieSmyth
"A CBS reporter approached me and my friend and she started interviewing us. And it was in those moments and questions where I started realizing, OK, if this was background work, they wouldn't need detail on background people."
"And then I started realizing, wait, no one called 'action,'" she said.
Hackstaff says she "freaked out" when a second reporter approached, coming to the realization that the movie she thought she was appearing in was, in fact, something very real. She says that's when she left without being paid.
SP says her friend paid her $150 via an e-transfer. She says after she read up on Meng and Huawei, she feels deep regret at having participated in what she feels was a faux protest.
"I wasn't educated ... and that's a shame on me," she said. "I really wish there was a way to go back in time."
CBC News has left messages with the woman identified as Jowe. She has not responded.
- An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported Hackstaff identified another one of the protest organizers. In fact, Hackstaff says she did not have direct contact with protest organizers.Jan 21, 2020 6:40 PM PT
With files from Georgie Smyth