Chinese fugitive reportedly en route to China
Friday, July 22, 2011
By Fabian Dawson, The Province
After over a decade of trying to stay in Canada, China’s most wanted man was reportedly put on plane bound for Beijing Friday afternoon.
Police sources confirmed that Lai Changxing, along with an escort, was flying out of Vancouver International Airport around 2.30 pm direct to Beijing.
His reported removal from Canada comes after a last-ditch bid to stay in Canada failed Thursday night.
A federal judge issued a decision late Thursday denying the Chinese fugitive’s request to stay a deportation order against him.
CBSA officials would not confirm his removal.
“Mr. Lai is a common criminal fugitive from the Chinese justice system who has had full access to Canada’s immigration processes over the last eleven years and has been found not to be at risk if removed to China,” Judge Michel Shore wrote.
Bernee Bolton, a spokeswoman for the Canada Border Services Agency, said in an email Thursday that she could not say when Lai would be deported for security reasons. But the law requires that “removal orders must be enforced as soon as possible.”
Earlier Thursday, Lai’s lawyer had argued that if Lai was sent back to China, he faced a possibility of being tortured — or worse — and may not get a fair trial despite assurances from the Chinese government.
But federal lawyers said those concerns were speculative and that the Canadian government had “carefully and thoroughly” reviewed the evidence and found that he did not face such risks.
Lai, who has been described as one of China’s most-wanted fugitives, is accused of running a $10-billion smuggling operation in China. He has been fighting deportation from Canada for more than a decade.
David Matas, one of Lai’s lawyers, told the court that the Chinese government is going after Lai as part of a political campaign to fend off allegations of corruption within the government. “He’s become the poster boy for the fight against corruption,” Matas said.
Matas said assurances that Canadian officials would be able to visit Lai in detention would not mitigate against possible abuse, noting that Lai’s brother and accountant had died in prison.
The same thing “could easily happen to Mr. Lai,” he said.
In a statement Friday, the Chinese government said it welcomed the ruling so that Lai can “be tried according to the law.”
“Lai Changxing is the primary criminal suspect wanted by China’s judicial authorities in the huge Xiamen smuggling case and he has been a fugitive in Canada for many years since the case emerged,” a statement issued by the Chinese foreign ministry said.
Matas suggested the Chinese government does not distinguish between “common criminals” and ideological or political prisoners. They are all considered “hostile to socialism” and subject to mistreatment, he said.
He also raised concerns about whether Lai would receive a fair trial, including having access to counsel. Hearings, particularly “politically sensitive” ones, are often closed and there were no assurances that Canadian officials would be able to attend such hearings, he said.
Federal lawyer Jan Brongers said the government’s review of the evidence found that those who have been tortured in the past were those who belonged to “vulnerable groups,” such as Falun Gong practitioners, political dissidents and Tibetans. Lai does not belong to any of these groups, Brongers said.
Helen Park, another federal lawyer, added that while there is evidence that torture is used during investigations as a way to coerce confessions from people, a review of the Lai case found that the evidence is so strong that coercion is not necessary.
The federal lawyers also said that China’s assurance that it would not pursue the death penalty in this case was reliable because to do otherwise would impact China’s international reputation and make it difficult for China to persuade other countries to repatriate fugitives back to that country.
The evidence shows that criminal procedures in China, in general, are “not fundamentally unjust” and that proceedings are accessible, Brongers said.
A pre-removal risk assessment completed by Citizenship and Immigration Canada earlier this month concluded that Lai does not face the risk of torture.
That prompted Lai’s re-arrest and set into motion plans to have him deported. But Lai won a temporary stay of deportation, paving the way for Thursday’s court hearing.
Lai has been fighting deportation since his initial arrest in Niagara Falls in 2000. He is accused of failing to pay duties on his real estate, cigarettes and cooking oil empire and bribing senior officials.
He remains in detention pending the court’s decision.
The Immigration and Refugee Board had ordered Lai’s release from custody. But the Canada Border Services Agency, believing that he was a flight risk, went to court and won a stay of his release.
— With files from Andy Ivens and Agence France-Presse