Engineer accused of trying to leak Canadian government secrets to China no longer prosecuted

Qing Quentin Huang leaves a Toronto courthouse on April 27, 2015.Chris Young/The Globe and Mail

Citing unreasonable delays in a national security case, a judge suspended an eight-year criminal case against a man accused by CSIS and the RCMP of trying to leak state secrets to China.

Ontario Superior Court Judge Michael Dambrot said he would release his reasoning in the coming days.

Pending an appeal, Wednesday’s ruling ends Canada’s marathon lawsuit against Qing Quentin Huang, a shipbuilding engineer from Ontario. In 2013, he was charged under the Security of Information Act (SOIA) after authorities alleged he was filmed attempting to “disclose to a foreign entity information that the Government of Canada was taking action to protect”.

Experts say this is the first time the principle of a timely trial has scuttled criminal charges involving allegations of leaking state secrets. Legal rights giving criminal suspects access to trials without unreasonable delay were first affirmed in the 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights. They were reinforced by a Supreme Court of Canada decision five years old.

“This is the first time that delay – section 11(b) of the Charter – has been the basis for a stay of a national security related prosecution,” said University professor Leah West. Carleton who worked in the national security law group of the federal Department of Justice. .

Professor West says prosecutors run the risk of similar rulings in the future unless Parliament updates its laws, given that current legislation leads to national security-related criminal cases bouncing between the different levels of justice. “Ultimately, a case like this is the push we need to put it back on the legislative agenda,” she said. “This will require legislative reform. This will not be settled by the policies.

Mr. Huang, who lives near Hamilton, Ont., and worked as a contractor for a ship design company for the Royal Canadian Navy, reportedly tried to discuss Canadian naval secrets with Chinese diplomats.

No secrets were divulged. Mr. Huang was later arrested in an undercover operation by the RCMP. His trial was delayed for years as the case shuttled between various courts, which heard legal arguments centered on what he was allowed to know about how he had come to the attention of authorities.

According to preliminary rulings in the case, Mr. Huang’s alleged phone calls in 2013 were intercepted because the Canadian Security Intelligence Service was bugging the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa as part of a highly classified investigation.

In the years that followed, Crown attorneys fought to prevent CSIS secrets and wiretap warrant applications from being exposed in open court. Meanwhile, Mr. Huang and his lawyer Frank Addario insisted on obtaining disclosures they said he was entitled to as a suspect seeking to challenge evidence.

While prosecutors appealed disclosure rulings favorable to Mr. Huang, parts of the case moved from the Ontario Superior Court to the Federal Court of Canada and the Federal Court of Appeal, then to the Ontario Superior Court.

In 2019, Justice Minister David Lametti for the first time used a legislative power that allowed him to overturn the judges’ decision and prevent the disclosure of passages of CSIS documents. In 2020, prosecutors dropped two of the four charges against Mr. Huang, removing material from their case based on embassy wiretaps.

Earlier this year, a senior official with the Department of Global Affairs testified that Canadian lives could be at risk if the disclosures had the effect of angering Beijing.

This fall, Judge Dambrot received a request from Mr. Addario arguing that all of these time-consuming debates over secrecy violated the imperatives for timely trial set out in a 2016 Supreme Court decision known as Jordan. This decision put an end to all prosecutions in Canada by ordering the Crown and defense lawyers to advance criminal charges in order to preserve the fundamental rights of the accused.

The Canada Evidence Act, enacted 20 years ago this week on December 18, 2001, established a two-track court system for sensitive cases. Provincial criminal courts are required to hear most evidence in public. But the legislation stipulates that these procedures can be suspended if Canadian government intelligence activities are at risk of exposure. At this point, the judges of the Federal Court of Canada must intervene and determine which evidence can be disclosed and which must be withheld.

The consequence of a bifurcated judicial system is that all of this takes time. The delay request filed by Mr Addario on behalf of Mr Huang says it was first brought to light more than a decade ago during the former court judge’s Air-India investigation. Supreme John Major.

“Parliament’s inaction flies in the face of many warnings from judges, lawyers, academics and the Commissioner’s 2010 report on the Air India Flight 182 bombing,” reads Mr. Huang’s delay request, filed this fall. He adds that “in 2010, Justice Major recommended that Parliament abolish the two-court system – an ineffective system that appears to exist nowhere else in the world – and give Superior Court judges the power to decide national security confidentiality issues. ”

Federal prosecutors will have 30 days to appeal Judge Dambrot’s decision once he issues his written decision.

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