A media consortium is asking the British Columbia Supreme Court to allow video and web broadcasting of the extradition hearings of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, arguing there’s significant public interest in the case.
Daniel Coles, a lawyer who represents 13 domestic and international media outlets including The Canadian Press, told Justice Heather Holmes on Wednesday that broadcasting the proceedings would “engage with the very meaning of open and accessible justice in the modern era.”
Lawyers for Meng and Canada’s attorney general are opposing the request but have not yet presented their arguments.
Meng, Huawei’s chief financial officer, is free on bail and living in one of her homes in Vancouver while awaiting the extradition hearing.
She was detained by border officials at Vancouver’s airport last December, then arrested by the RCMP at the request of the United States, which is seeking her extradition on fraud charges.
Meng is fighting the order and has denied any wrongdoing. Her lawyers argue her arrest and detention were unlawful.
Coles says comments by Canadian, American and Chinese politicians and diplomats show the case has been politicized.
“Depending on what happens in this case, there are political ramifications,” Coles said.
The court’s public gallery is often full, he said, and many members of the public have an interest in the case but are unable to watch it unfold in the courtroom because they don’t live in Vancouver or are tied up with jobs and other obligations.
They range from canola farmers affected by Chinese sanctions to the friends of the families of two Canadians detained by China, decisions widely seen as retaliation against Canada for Meng’s arrest.
Broadcasting the proceedings would give them access to the court, unfiltered by a reporter’s observations, he said.
In an affidavit, Treena Wood, news director at CBC Vancouver, makes the argument for access.
“The ability to view a live-stream would effectively remove the reporter/broadcaster filter because the viewer’s experience would be akin to sitting in a courtroom,” the affidavit says.
And in cases where clips are used in news broadcasts, which would inevitably involve editorial selection, viewers would at least be afforded a more direct experience of the court, she says.
A series of hearings in the case is set to begin in January and Coles is requesting authorization for the first one, or portions of it, to be broadcast. He also wants to apply again for access to more hearings next year.
Court rules give discretion to a judge to authorize video recording or broadcasting but do not provide a legal framework for making that decision, Coles said.
He urged Holmes to consider the principles set out by a Supreme Court of Canada decision known as Dagenais v. Canadian Broadcasting Corp. While that case addressed publication bans, it has been used several time as a broader test for assessing press freedom in judicial proceedings, he added.
Coles argued the Meng case passes the test, because broadcasting proceedings poses no “real and substantial risk” to the administration of justice.
The courts have also demonstrated an interested in increasing accessibility, he said, mentioning a pilot project of the B.C. Court of Appeal to webcast select proceedings.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 27, 2019.