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How Canada’s legal system helped an alleged Chinese gangster avoid deportation for decades

Kwok Chung Tam's federal court file contained the image of a Chinese ID Card that law enforcement alleges shows a photo of Tam with the name of an alias.
Kwok Chung Tam's federal court file contained the image of a Chinese ID Card that law enforcement alleges shows a photo of Tam with the name of an alias. Federal court records

For almost as long as he’s lived in Canada, immigration officials have been trying to deport him.

Kwok Chung Tam is a 61-year-old convicted drug trafficker and an alleged kingpin of the notorious Chinese crime cartel, the Big Circle Boys.

READ MORE: Alleged ‘heavyweight’ gangster could be poster child for B.C.’s public inquiry into money laundering

But how has Tam — a man who between 1991 and 2014, was accused by Canadian law enforcement officials of being a heroin importer, a chemical drug lab operator and a “known loan shark” with a history of violence — been able to beat the system and defy a government that has long wanted him gone?

Global News has obtained thousands of documents that detail how Tam came to Canada, and how Canada’s criminal justice and immigration systems aided him in avoiding deportation.

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As Global News has reported, Tam’s powerful connections and alleged ties to organized crime could also make him the poster child for B.C.’s long-awaited public inquiry into money laundering.

Despite all this — and despite more than two decades of efforts to deport him — Tam has remained in Canada for the past 30 years, and according to recent legal filings, is believed to be living in his $900,000 Richmond, B.C., condo.

The records

Global News has reviewed thousands of pages of records prepared by Tam’s lawyer — Vancouver-based immigration lawyer Peter Larlee — and the government that were submitted to the federal court as part of an effort to keep Tam in Canada.

The records, which include volumes of immigration and law enforcement files stretching back to 1988, outline nearly three decades of alleged criminal activity and Tam’s alleged connections to organized crime.

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Many of the records — including those about Tam’s alleged connection to the Big Circle Boys — have never been tested in court.

“Mr. Tam has instructed us to caution you regarding allegations of participation in organized crime and, in particular, gang membership,” a statement from Tam’s lawyer to Global News said.

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“Mr. Tam denies such participation or membership. These allegations have never been proven in court or at any immigration proceeding.”

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But a review of Tam’s reported links to southern China, allegations of casino loan sharking and his alleged participation in Vancouver’s “private” mortgage-lending market — where Tam, according to his own legal filings, used B.C. property to secure loans in China — suggest Tam could be at the centre of the so-called “Vancouver Model” of transnational crime.

Tam ‘smuggled’ out of China

Tam arrived at Vancouver International Airport on Dec. 5, 1988.

Records show that at the time of his arrival, Tam had $1,200 in cash and reported transferring another $570,000 “in various stages” from Hong Kong to a B.C. bank account held in the name of his then-wife Chui Lin Yip — also a convicted criminal — who arrived in Vancouver five months earlier to make a refugee claim.

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When questioned by Canadian immigration officials, Tam reportedly said he did not have a passport and claimed it was kept by the man who “smuggled” him from Hong Kong to Thailand and then to Korea where he boarded Singapore Airlines flight 018 to Vancouver, records show.

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Following an initial screening, in which he said he did not plan to return to China, Tam made a refugee claim, saying he feared persecution because of his wealth and because of his past political activities.

“I claim a well-founded fear of persecution based on my classification by the Chinese Government as ‘bourgeois class’ and my political opinion in support of democracy and freedom,” Tam wrote in 1993 as part of his ongoing refugee claim.

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Tam also claimed he would face “severe punishment” from the Chinese government because of his support of pro-democracy student protests, records show.

In his “Personal Information Form,” Tam claimed he used a factory he owned in China to print 1,000 T-shirts for Chinese students to sell during political rallies in 1986-87.

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He also claimed officers from China’s Public Security Bureau interrogated him about his involvement with the student protests and that they continued to search for him after he fled.

Tam also said his membership in an anti-communist organization and his continued support of the country’s student movement after arriving in Canada would have led to persecution if he was forced to go back to China.

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But in the five years between the time he arrived in Canada and when he submitted details of his refugee claim, Tam was convicted of theft under $1,000 and was also alleged to have participated in a string of home invasions that terrorized residents of Vancouver’s Chinese community.

“The robbers, who force themselves into homes where they terrorize families before relieving them of cash, jewelry and other valuables, are becoming increasingly violent, police say,” a report in Tam’s immigration file alleged.

In 1991, an immigration enforcement manager referred to Tam’s alleged role in the home invasions, claiming “there is no doubt that all five arrested are involved in organized crime in Vancouver.”

A later report noted that Tam was not charged in the case, even though authorities allege he was found in possession of 10 stolen Rolex watches.

Photo of Kwok Chung Tam’s allegedly fraudulent People’s Republic of China passport seized by Canadian law enforcement on Jan. 31, 2006.
Photo of Kwok Chung Tam’s allegedly fraudulent People’s Republic of China passport seized by Canadian law enforcement on Jan. 31, 2006. Federal court files

Yip was also convicted of credit card fraud and possession of stolen property in the 1990s, records show.

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Court files also show the Vancouver police and the RCMP were investigating Tam for alleged links to organized crime and heroin trafficking as early as 1990.

Then, in October 1993, after Tam and Yip were deemed “inadmissible” to Canada because of their past criminal convictions, Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) issued the couple their first deportation order. The pair was, however, allowed to remain in Canada while their refugee claim was processed.

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It wasn’t until June 1996 that this claim was rejected. This decision was based largely upon testimony from Tam and Yip that a decision-maker at the IRB deemed “untrustworthy.”

“I have found the claimants to be less than candid and forthright in the presentation of their evidence which, when considered in totality, has caused me to find that their evidence on a whole is untrustworthy,” wrote IRB member Layne Daggett in a 1996 decision.

1998 charges helped Tam stay

Following his failed refugee claim, Tam submitted a pre-removal risk assessment to the government claiming he should not be sent back to China because he would be persecuted.

Like his refugee claim, this application was rejected.

Then, on Sep. 3, 1998, according to Canadian immigration officials, the Chinese government approved a travel document for Tam to be sent back to China.

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However, in the meantime, Vancouver police, acting on a loan-sharking complaint, executed a search warrant at Tam and Yip’s Burnaby home.

During the raid, police claimed they found more than $200,000 in uncashed cheques written out to Tam from alleged extortion victims, Walther PPK and Ruger semi-automatic pistols, a silencer, a Taser, ammunition and raw heroin.

Tam and Yip were charged with a variety of drugs and weapons-related offences, court records show.

During the prosecution — which in Tam’s case took nearly four years and resulted in all charges being stayed after a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled there were too many delays in the case — Tam was prevented from being deported.

Yip, meanwhile, pleaded guilty to possession of property obtained through extortion, records show.

Recent photos of Kwok Chung Tam filed as part of a federal court review application
Recent photos of Kwok Chung Tam filed as part of a federal court review application Federal court files

“After a certain amount of time has gone by, it is impossible for a trial to be fair,” wrote Justice G. Peter Fraser in his April 2002 decision dropping all the charges against Tam.

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“Society does not benefit when the opportunity to conduct a fair trial in a criminal case is lost because of the passage of time,” he said.

Despite recognizing that the charges Tam faced were “serious, toward the upper end of the scale,” Fraser ruled the prosecution could not go forward.

More criminal charges, more delays

In addition to the 1998 charges, Tam was also charged with conspiracy to import and traffic heroin in 1999.

Tam was acquitted of these charges in 2002 — due in part to the fact that a B.C. trial judge ruled as inadmissible the wiretap evidence that reportedly linked Tam to Chinese organized crime.

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With these charges behind him, Tam was informed by immigration officials in 2003 that he was once again eligible to submit a pre-removal risk assessment to prevent his deportation.

Canadian immigration officials then contacted Chinese consular officials in Vancouver to get the necessary documents to send Tam back to China.

“(Tam) is now ready to be removed from Canada,” wrote Marie Davie, an enforcement officer with Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s Criminal Removals Unit in a June 2004 letter to the Chinese consulate.

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“Please advise as soon as possible when the travel document may be issued,” she wrote. “We will provide a flight itinerary and forward it to you.”

Despite this letter, Tam was not deported.

The federal court records do not specifically indicate why he wasn’t removed at the time, but in December 2004 — six months after CIC said it was ready to deport him — Tam received “stage one” approval to remain in Canada on “humanitarian and compassionate” grounds, records show.

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According to the officer who made this decision, Tam’s 15-year stay in Canada, his relationship with his children — including two Canadian-born children — plus the fact that he had received a pardon for his 1992 criminal conviction “outweighed” the negative issues in his file.

The officer also noted that Tam had no outstanding criminal or civil matters before the courts at the time of this decision and that Tam had the support of a large extended family in Vancouver.

“Letters and photographs supplied by (Tam) do show that (he) has a role to play in the lives of his children,” the officer wrote in 2004. “I am very reluctant to sever that role despite any concerns over the applicant’s history and his future prospects in Canada.”

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Although not a guarantee, this decision allowed Tam to remain in Canada while he applied for permanent residence, the officer said.

More criminal charges

After the 2004 “positive” immigration decision, investigations into Tam’s alleged criminal activities continued, including investigations led by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and by Richmond RCMP, which in September 2006 targeted a home owned by Tam as part of a probe into a marijuana grow operation.

The RCMP report said police “quickly” entered Tam’s home and arrested a 20-year-old male relative. Two officers then rushed up the stairs and arrested a woman, plus two other individuals “at gunpoint,” the report said.

“Const. Quee had the male and the female lay on the floor at gunpoint while Const. Fung took custody of both by handcuffing them,” the RCMP report said.

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Officers then identified what they claimed was a chemical drug lab. Fearing the home could be dangerous to neighbours and a nearby elementary school, police called in a haz-mat team before reportedly seizing narcotics worth about $500,000 on the street, according to the report, and over $100,000 in cash, ammunition and a money counter found in a kitchen cabinet.

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Police also claimed to have seized a “large industrial motorized mixer” covered in chemical residue and a “multi-staged rotary pill press … consistent in clandestine labs used to produce ecstasy,” the report said.

As a result of the raid, Tam was charged with various drug trafficking and possession charges and in August 2010, was convicted of possession of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking and possession of narcotics.

He was given a 15-month conditional sentence, which included house arrest and a weapons ban. Throughout this process — including the four years it took to prosecute him —Tam was again prevented from being deported.

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Then, in November 2015, with his criminal conviction and sentence out of the way, an immigration officer rejected Tam’s permanent residency application.

Records show the officer who made this decision referenced two separate CBSA reports that declared Tam “inadmissible” to Canada.

The first, written in May 2014, discussed Tam’s 2010 criminal convictions. The second, written roughly one month later, discussed his alleged connections to organized crime, specifically referencing police testimony that claimed Tam was a “high-level” member of the Big Circle Boys, a loan shark and a heroin trafficker.

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The officer also referenced a June 2014 deportation order that said Tam was to be removed from Canada due to his criminal past.

Tam has denied all claims linking him to gangs and organized crime and maintains the allegations have never been proven in court.

Meanwhile, the CBSA, Public Safety Canada, the RCMP and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, all declined to comment on Tam’s case, citing either privacy concerns or ongoing and potential investigations.

The office of border security and organized crime minister, Bill Blair, did not respond to requests for comment about Tam’s immigration case.

Tam appeals decisions

In December 2015, following the negative immigration decision from a month earlier, Tam’s lawyer submitted an appeal to the federal court.

His lawyer argued the government unfairly raised alleged connections to organized crime without giving Tam an opportunity to respond to these claims.

But before a hearing could be held, the office of then-Liberal immigration minister John McCallum — who later became Canada’s ambassador to China — settled the case, giving Tam another shot at staying in Canada.

When the application was denied for a second time a year later, Tam’s lawyers again appealed the decision.

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This time, they argued the officer who rejected the file erred by mistakenly saying Tam was sentenced to “15 months in jail” because of his 2010 conviction when he was actually given a 15-month conditional sentence with no jail time.

This, according to Tam’s lawyers, tainted the immigration officer’s perception of the seriousness of Tam’s role in the marijuana grow operation, which Tam described as “minor and inactive.”

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But like the first appeal, lawyers for the Department of Justice acting on behalf of the office of Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen settled the case before a hearing could be held.

The terms of this settlement are unknown and Hussen’s office has not responded to questions about Tam’s current status in Canada. The government also declined to say why it did not continue fighting the case in court.

According to records filed in a 2018 civil case in B.C. courts and land title records, Tam is believed to be residing in Richmond, B.C.

Larlee, Tam’s lawyer, also told Global News he met with his client to discuss a request for an interview. He did not specify where this meeting took place.

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