Prime Time Crime

Grits thwarted Asian crime probe: Alliance

Stewart Bell and Tom Blackwell

National Post

Friday, September 19, 2003

Credit: Dave Chan,

National Post

Opposition MPs accused the federal government yesterday of pressuring the RCMP to shut down an investigation into allegations of corruption and organized crime infiltration at the Canadian High Commission in Hong Kong.

Reading from a scathing report by the RCMP's External Review Committee detailing how investigators were repeatedly called off the case, the Canadian Alliance put the blame on the Liberals.

"This is a very serious allegation of Liberal political interference," said Kevin Sorenson, senior critic for the Department of the Solicitor-General. "Why is a federal department interfering and influencing an RCMP investigation?"

Wayne Easter, the Solicitor-General, denied the RCMP was pressured and declined to comment further, saying he did not want to interfere in disciplinary procedures involving a Mountie fired for blowing the whistle on the embassy scandal.

As revealed in yesterday's National Post, a government committee that reports to Mr. Easter has concluded the RCMP failed to properly investigate allegations that staff at the Hong Kong embassy were taking bribes to help Asian triad members emigrate to Canada.

The committee was ruling in the case of RCMP Corporal Robert Read, a 26-year-veteran of the police force who broke rank and went public with the allegations in 1999 after his investigations were repeatedly stymied by his superiors.

The RCMP found him guilty of discreditable conduct and ordered him to resign but the review committee ruled Cpl. Read was justified in speaking out and recommended he be reinstated.

The corporal's conduct was in the public interest "because it exposed the fact that the force had for seven years failed to take appropriate action to determine if employees of the mission had engaged in immigration fraud," the committee ruled.

The report has gone to Giuliano Zaccardelli, the RCMP Commissioner, who must either accept or reject the findings. Cpl. Read said he would not make any public comments until the commissioner has made his decision.

But Brian McAdam, who was the immigration control officer at the Hong Kong embassy and had also raised concerns about internal corruption and organized crime, said he was pleased with the report.

"I'm extremely happy and I'm actually surprised," he said. "I applaud the job of the external review committee. They did a marvelous job of going through an enormous amount of material. There are literally thousands of pages to go through ... but they found the salient points."

After the strong ruling against Cpl. Read from the tribunal, he said he did not expect the review committee to rule in the officer's favour. He said he recalls being left almost in tears as he watched Cpl. Read, his wife and two children listening to the tribunal's harshly worded judgment.

Mr. McAdam said he would now like to see a royal commission into the alleged wrongdoing identified by Cpl. Read and what he said is a far more extensive web of corruption, involving organized crime figures in Hong Kong and Canadian business people and politicians.

Scott Newark, who got involved in the case when he was executive director of the Canadian Police Association, also said a public review of the ordeal was warranted, particularly given the suggestions that the police probe was thwarted by political pressures.

"The real question we need to be asking ourselves is what's the extent of the politicization on this issue? Are these isolated incidents or are they part of a larger pattern. What's the source of the politicization and how high up does it go?" said Mr. Newark, now security advisor to Bob Runciman, Ontario's Minister of Public Safety and Security.

But despite the committee's condemnation of the RCMP investigation, and its finding that the botched probe may have allowed organized crime figures to enter Canada, the government gave no indication it was willing to reopen the matter.

Sergeant Paul Marsh, the RCMP spokesman, said the external review committee's mandate was limited to labour relations. He said Cpl. Read's allegations were examined in 1999 and dismissed. The committee report, however, said the 1999 review was insufficient.

Allegations first surfaced in 1991 that local embassy staff were soliciting bribes from Hong Kong residents trying to emigrate to Canada in advance of China's 1997 takeover of the former British colony.

Mr. McAdam believed Asian triads had infiltrated the embassy's immigration computer system. Employees were also accused of taking gifts and envelopes full of cash from a wealthy Hong Kong industrialist.

The concerns about political interference arise from a letter by the RCMP Liaison Officer in Hong Kong, who wrote that the Canadian ambassador "will be screaming at the highest political levels" if a probe of the embassy went ahead.

In 1995, David Kilgour, MP for Edmonton-Strathcona, wrote to Jean Chrétien, the Prime Minister, and the Minister of Immigration, asking for a public inquiry. "Does our immigration department see itself as accountable to the rule of law or to anyone?" he wrote.

"In the case of the Hong Kong mission, which appears to highlight this general problem, this 'culture of irresponsibility' includes three practices listed by McAdam: violations of departmental policies; permitting staff to associate with known criminals; and allowing staff to accept money from one wealthy Hong Kong family to bet at the horse races."

The government declined to open a public inquiry and promised another RCMP investigation, but no charges were ever laid. The staff-sergeant who oversaw the probe testified before the committee that he was left with the impression the Department of Foreign Affairs "had pressured the force into curtailing the investigation because it did not want the force to know what had truly happened."

Stockwell Day, the Canadian Alliance foreign affairs critic, said officials should be more aggressive in investigating allegations related to Canadian security, borders and immigration.

"It appears that Foreign Affairs has interfered with the actual investigation. It's time for them to become transparent, get aggressive, see if there's been any wrongdoing and to plug the holes if they're there."

Reynald Doiron, a Foreign Affairs spokesman, disputed the claim. "The department here has co-operated fully with the RCMP ever since the allegations arose in the early 1990s."

A Citizenship and Immigration Canada official also said the allegations of wrongdoing were unfounded.

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