Claims protesters were paid to support Meng Wanzhou ‘troubling’, expert says

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – A political scientist says it’s troubling to hear that a number of people may have been paid to protest in support of a Chinese tech executive outside her extradition hearing in Vancouver on Monday.

Some people have come forward to the media, including to NEWS 1130, to say they were given money in exchange for standing outside B.C. Supreme Court on day one of Meng Wanzhou’s proceedings, while holding signs that demanded she be freed.

UBC Political Scientist Max Cameron says protests have an important place in any democracy, and paying people to take part could cause others to look at demonstrations in a more skeptical way.

“We pay attention to them because we assume that the people who are out on the streets are well-meaning, that they’re intending to shine a public spotlight on what they see as a problem, but if they’re actually being paid by somebody to do that, they’re really actors, not protesters,” he explains. “It can cause people to look at protests in a, sort of, slightly more skeptical way and wonder, when they see people protesting, what the ulterior motives are. Maybe that’s appropriate, but I think it’s certainly a practice that we would want to energetically discourage.”

It’s unclear who exactly these protesters were being paid by, but Cameron says it could be problematic if a government was behind the cash.

“And I’m not saying that that’s the case here, but there’s a reasonable chance that there is that going on, then not only is this, sort of astroturfing, but it’s astroturfing by a government that’s trying to influence politics in another government,” he says.

The Huawei chief financial officer was detained at Vancouver International Airport in December of 2018. She is currently out on bail in Vancouver, but her detention has put a major strain on Canada’s relationship with China.

Beijing has made repeated calls for Meng’s release, and in an apparent retaliation, detained two Canadians just days after Meng’s arrest.

Meanwhile, Huawei has said it had no involvement with protesters outside of court on Monday.

A Burnaby woman who said she was paid to protest in support of Meng told NEWS 1130 she was horrified to see photos of herself outside court go viral. She has apologized for agreeing to participate in a manufactured protest, and said she didn’t know what she was signing up for at the time.

“It’s wrong for protesters to pretend to be something other than what they really are,” Cameron says.

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