British Columbia

Who paid for the (fake) protest outside Meng Wanzhou's hearing? We still don't know

Huawei Technologies says it had nothing to do with the group of young people who were paid to hold signs supporting Meng outside of B.C. Supreme Court.

Mystery deepens over who paid for the protesters seen outside B.C. Supreme Court supporting Meng

Protesters stand outside B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver before the arrival of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou on Jan. 20, 2020. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

It's still not clear who organized and paid for a number of young people who appeared with signs supporting Meng Wanzhou outside of B.C. Supreme Court on Jan. 20, the first day of the Huawei CFO's extradition hearing. 

CBC spoke to two women who said they were offered money to show up at the courthouse and hold signs with slogans like "Free Ms. Meng," and "Equal Justice." 

One of the women said she was paid $150. The other, actor Julia Hackstaff, said she and others in the local film community were led to believe they were working as extras on a movie shoot in exchange for $100.

Meng is in court for hearings over a U.S. request to extradite the Chinese telecom executive on fraud charges

She was arrested at Vancouver Airport in December 2018 and has been out on $10-million bail, living in one of her two multi-million dollar Vancouver mansions.

In a statement, Huawei Technologies denied having anything to do with the protest.

Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou enters B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Jan. 20, 2020. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

"Huawei had no involvement with the protesters or supporters outside the Vancouver courthouse and is unaware of any plans by those responsible." 

The Chinese Consulate General in Vancouver also told CBC it knew nothing about the paid protesters and that any claims that it did were "pure malicious smears." 

The group did appear in a Central China Television news report, portrayed uncritically as "protesters asking for Meng's freedom."

However, many in the local media who witnessed the odd gathering suspected instantly there was more to the story.

CBC News producer Georgina Smyth said after attempting to speak to some of the individuals, it became apparent they didn't have a clue about Meng or the issues surrounding her extradition hearing.  

"The people I spoke to were either bored or confused as to why they were there and were becoming increasingly agitated and angry at reporters questions," said Smyth.

Protesters supporting Meng Wanzhou outside of court on Day 1 of her extradition trial. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

"Many of the signs were the same pink cardboard colour and they had obviously been written by the same person. Others were simply pieces of paper that had text marks on them. A very rush job."

The two protesters CBC spoke with said they didn't know who was ultimately behind recruiting or paying them.

They said a woman who identified herself only as "Joey" appeared to be the on-site organizer, handing out signs, marshalling the group of actors and distributing payments.

When contacted by a Mandarin speaking CBC reporter, Joey denied having anything to do with the protest saying she was in Toronto, before hanging up.

With files from Georgie Smyth

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