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May 27, 2020
Huawei case puts B.C. judge in spotlight amid frayed China-U.S. relations
How Beijing could react after B.C. court rules against Huawei CFO
The Canadian judge whose ruling on the extradition to the U.S. of Huawei Technologies Co.’s chief financial officer is reverberating in Washington, Beijing and Ottawa has spent 19 years on British Columbia’s top trial court, building a reputation for her broad and comfortable grasp of the law.
Meng Wanzhou’s case has put Heather Holmes, the associate chief justice of British Columbia’s Supreme Court, in the spotlight as relations between China and the U.S. — and China and Canada — frayed over the spread of the coronavirus, trade, a crackdown on Hong Kong and the apparently retaliatory arrests of two Canadians in China.
Holmes ruled on Wednesday that Meng can be sent to the U.S. to be prosecuted because the case meets a key test of Canada’s extradition law — whether her crime as alleged by the U.S. is also an offense in Canada. Still, the decision doesn’t end Meng’s extradition battle, with her next court hearing scheduled for June.
For Holmes, the fight is a far cry from the mix of criminal cases she has handled since her promotion to associate chief justice in 2018, which included murder cases and British Columbia’s biggest money-laundering case. But according to one trial lawyer, she’s up to the task of handling such a high-profile matter.
“In terms of a judge who a person facing a criminal trial may want, she would rank high up there in terms of good judges who know the law and are able to apply it well,” said Martin Peters, a Vancouver-based criminal attorney who has argued before Holmes. “That’s not always the case in the field of criminal law.”
Holmes is surely aware of the interest in the case in the U.S., Chinese and Canadian capitals. In an unusual move, she agreed to release her ruling in advance to the U.S. Justice Department and allowed media representatives to review it behind closed doors, before it was made public at 11 a.m. in Vancouver.
When Holmes was appointed Associate Chief Justice in 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the mother of two, and grandmother of four, is “highly regarded for her expertise in criminal law” and has “a strong sense of public service and a natural ability to bring people together.”
Holmes graduated from the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto. She began her legal career as a clerk in the British Columbia Court of Appeal and joined the Ministry of the Attorney General of British Columbia as a Crown prosecutor in 1982, handling general prosecutions before focusing on commercial crime.
From 1991 to 1995, Holmes was counsel with the Criminal Law Policy Section within the federal Department of Justice in Ottawa, where she helped develop amendments to Canada’s Criminal Code, including in the areas of sexual assault, criminal procedure and jury selection.
From 2015 to 2018, she chaired the court’s executive committee, helping to guide the court’s administration and relationship with the public.
In Meng’s case, she denied a media request to allow cameras in court. The risk of broadcasting sound-bites, without proper context, would harm Meng’s right to a fair hearing and “undermine the dignity of the proceedings,” Holmes ruled.
Last year, in the money-laundering case, Holmes ordered the release of US$2 million in cash to a man accused of laundering as much as US$220 million a year through an underground bank, reversing an order freezing his assets. She found the hearing that led to the freeze was improper because the man’s lawyer wasn’t present.
In March, she upheld a second-degree murder conviction of a homeless man who stabbed a teenager in a school hallway. Peters represented the man who sought to have his conviction reduced to manslaughter.
“She did find my client guilty, but I don’t have anything bad to say about her,” Peters said.
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