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Meng’s ankle bracelet represents a modern-day ‘Scarlet Letter’

published January 13, 2021

Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou appeared in court this week to try to vary her bail conditions.

In my opinion, they should be varied. In fact, one of the main conditions – the forced wearing of an ankle bracelet in public – is nothing short of a national disgrace.

To date, Meng has not been convicted of anything. Her house arrest and the conditions associated with it would be fine for the expected month or two that dispensing with a provisional warrant such as this should have taken. But two years?

That ankle bracelet has become her scarlet letter.

Today’s Hester Prynne

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne is forced to wear the red letter “A” for Adulteress (although some come to regard it as “A” for Angel) until she names the man who impregnated her during her husband’s five-year absence. She is assumed to be guilty of adultery, the obvious product of which, little Pearl, stands beside her in her continuing ignominy. Hester refuses to name the Reverend Dimmesdale as Pearl’s father. Given the brutal nature of her returning husband’s obsession to find and punish Hester’s lover, we empathize with her plight.

In adding Meng’s name to the indictment and personalizing what otherwise would be a far-fetched criminal prosecution of an international corporation, she has been treated differently from other CFOs or other spokespersons of corporations found to be competing directly with American corporate interests.

The prosecution of Huawei and the indictment of the daughter of Huawei’s founder not only seems arbitrary but it appears to be politically motivated, perhaps protecting major 5G players in the United States.

Canada has aided and abetted the United States in crippling Huawei’s advancement in the 5G sector. But in the process, the Canadian justice system itself has proven to be unjust and unfair.

No comparison to the Two Michaels

Most Canadians cannot imagine living in a luxury mansion worth $12 million or more. Nor could we imagine ever being able to raise $10 million for bail surety to make sure that we were confined to quarters, allowed to wander within the set perimeter of Vancouver and its immediate environs while wearing an ignominious ankle bracelet. Meng wears it with a forced smile, whenever we see her, just like Hester Prynne. That is because she is proud of who she is and has nothing to hide. ‘

Huawei, her Pearl, is doing very well in the rest of the world, thank you very much, although the corporation has been pilloried alongside her.

It is a mistake to compare Meng’s treatment to the Two Michaels held in captivity in China. What is happening – being held for two years without a trial – is wrong either way, and two wrongs never make a right. However, Meng is also being held without a trial, in accordance with a wrong-headed extradition law. 

Extradition was designed to be complicated for a reason: all too often, persons were sent back to face an uncertain fate based on little or no evidence that would sustain prosecution in the requested country.

That is exactly the situation we have here.

A badge of dishonour

After she was arrested at Vancouver airport over an allegation that her firm had violated U.S. sanctions, Meng quite correctly was released on bail. But the condition of wearing an ankle bracelet wherever she goes is degrading. In fact, as Hawthorne made so poignantly clear, it is disgustingly hypocritical to force a woman to wear such a badge of dishonour for year after year.

The 1990s technology of the device Meng is forced to wear around her ankle everywhere she goes is particularly insulting to the prime representative and CFO of a corporate world leader in the use of microchip technology. Granted, cynical critics have alleged that she has made it into a fashion statement – again like Hester Prynne in the 1850 novel – and more power to her. Why is it necessary in 2021 for a homing device to be so clumpy and ugly and huge when, these days, a tiny pendant on a necklace or bracelet or even something the size of an earring would suffice?

Given the datedness of the contraption she has to pay for, Huawei is likely able to supply a much tinier and more effective security device gratis.

Nothing ‘common’ about her

She is not a common criminal. She is not “common” at all. Nor is she criminal, by any definition. Meng has not been convicted of anything at all in a court of law.

One also must ask why is the curfew from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.? Those time limits might have been appropriate for the first month or two while she was under provisional arrest, before the dust had settled around the complicit perpetrators of her incarceration: the departments of Justice of the United States and Canada. Beyond that, the curfew itself, not to mention the device she is forced to wear, amounts to the punishment of an innocent. 

Curfews are typically given to people who have perpetrated acts of violence or robbery or drug or sex crimes late at night. She is not alleged to have committed a nocturnal crime of any kind. There is therefore no logical reason to confine Meng to her house during the wee hours. That condition was put in place by the court by force of habit. The curfew should not merely be reduced, but removed altogether. It serves no purpose but further degradation.

In setting new bail conditions, law and logic, not politics, sentiment or judicial force of habit, should be the predominant factors.

Facing an ugly choice

We have seen in spades how fickle the United States, including its Department of Justice, has become when it comes to ascertaining and determining “truth” as being what is in the best interests of the most powerful or influential individuals or corporations in the state. Without Canada’s complicity, Meng would not be in the position of facing an impossible dilemma: capitulating to the hyenas in New York so anxious to rip her apart; or consenting to be caged in a zoo in Canada, protected from the carnivores but forced to expose herself to the cameras of the paparazzi to satisfy the lust of the curious, the callous and the contemptuous.

It is an ugly choice. And so easy for Canada to resolve: at any time, Minister of Justice David Lametti can act in accordance with his title and order her discharge.

Failing that, the B.C. Supreme Court should dispense with the scarlet letter that serves to shame Meng in public and make her the object of curiosity, contempt and scorn.

  • Gary Botting is the author of Canadian Extradition Law Practice (five editions), Extradition between Canada and the United States, Extradition: Individual Rights vs. International Obligations, Halsbury’s Laws of Canada: Extradition and Wrongful Conviction in Canada.