It was a moment in the high-profile bail hearing for the jailed chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies Co. that flummoxed the Canadian court. Is her husband a resident here or not?

Meng Wanzhou is seeking bail as she confronts a U.S. extradition proceeding that could potentially last years. Her success may hinge on whether her defense can convince a judge that her husband Liu Xiaozong -- who flew into Vancouver last week on a multiple-entry visitor visa that expires in two months -- is a resident.

"Mr. Liu, what is his immigration status in Canada?," Justice William Ehrcke of the British Columbia Supreme Court asked Monday after Meng’s defense team proposed that Liu would act as Meng’s "surety" -- effectively a local guarantor who would be responsible for ensuring she meets bail terms. Liu also pledged to post bail equal to $15 million in cash and home equity.

"I’ve thought of many things but not that question," said Meng’s defense lawyer, David Martin. "I haven’t actually checked his visa. I suspect he has some sort of visa."

As Martin promised to find out during the lunch break, a member of his team scuttled out to retrieve a passport from a man in a brown velvet blazer and Louis Vuitton belt -- believed to be Liu -- who’d been intently following the proceedings from the front row of the public gallery.

Saga Twist

It’s an odd twist to the saga of Meng, the daughter of Huawei’s billionaire founder Ren Zhengfei, and a peculiarly Vancouver one. In a city that’s a magnet for millionaire migration, wealthy Asians have long wandered between residency and tourism -- buying houses used for only a few weeks of the year, obtaining permanent residency then leaving the country, leaving a child here for schooling.

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After lunch Monday, Martin offered ways in which Liu could effectively turn his tourist status into residency. He could stay six months on his current entry stamp, then fly to Hong Kong and come right back: "He gets another six months," Martin said. "This is done by many people."

Liu, a former regional manager for Huawei in Mexico, could perhaps come via a "so-called lateral transfer" used by companies to relocate employees, Martin said. The couple’s 10-year-old daughter could also pave the way if she were accepted into a private school -- "if she comes and goes to school here, he then is entitled to apply for a guardian visa for the period of her education."

Judge Questions

The judge appeared skeptical. “Someone here on a visitor’s visa is not a resident of B.C. It’s as simple as that, isn’t it?” Ehrcke asked Martin. He adjourned the case to Tuesday morning, telling both sides: "I am genuinely seeking more help from both...on this issue of the necessity and/or strong desirability of a surety being a resident of the province."

Meng’s case is an unsettling one for Vancouver, where tensions run high over the role of wealthy, part-time foreigners driving up property prices that have made the city the most unaffordable in North America. In a city with a long history of Asian immigration and neighbourhoods where the ethnic Chinese population tops 50 per cent, Meng’s arrest is also stoking a divide.

Outside the courtroom, protesters gathered in support of the 46-year-old mother, widely respected in her homeland, holding up placards that read: "Free Ms. Meng." Meanwhile, a man driving by in a car rolled down

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    his window to shout an expletive at China.

    A recurring theme in the bail hearing has been whether Meng’s ties to Vancouver are deep enough to stop her from fleeing. The couple own two homes valued at more than $20 million in the city -- vacation homes used by the family in the summer.

    If released, Meng proposes to first move into the couple’s $5.6 million, six-bedroom house first. Adding to the drama of the case, intruders broke into that house early Sunday morning, according to local media reports. Vancouver police confirmed a break in on that street but declined to elaborate. No arrests have been made, police said.

    Packed Gallery

    More than 250 people followed Monday’s proceedings from the public gallery and an overflow area in the hallway. Meng sat quietly at the back of the courtroom, dressed in a dark green sweatsuit, her shoulder-length hair worn down, as Crown attorney John Gibb-Carsley argued against her bail.

    He painted her connection to Vancouver as little more than that of a rich tourist. Her Canadian permanent resident card expired nine years ago. She hasn’t produced any letters of reference from anyone in Canada. Her defense hasn’t proposed a surety from the Vancouver community. There are no jailers in the community to ensure she abides by her conditions.

    "There’s only Mr. Liu," he said. Her presence in Canada is "more illusory than real."