Canada’s attorney general blocks disclosure of evidence in case of Ontario man accused of spying

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti rises during a Committee of the Whole in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 14, 2019. .
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti rises during a Committee of the Whole in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 14, 2019. . THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Federal Attorney General David Lametti has issued a secrecy certificate overruling a judge’s decision to release documents in the case of an Ontario man accused of attempting to spy for China.

Lametti signed the document — a first in Canada’s history — to prevent the disclosure of information related to a Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) surveillance operation on the Chinese embassy in Ottawa.

“This certificate, issued personally by me, prohibits the disclosure of some of the information disclosed by a designated judge of the Federal Court,” reads the document signed by Lametti. The certificate was first reported on by the Globe and Mail.

READ MORE: Court won’t release warrant allowing CSIS to spy on Chinese embassy

The certificate was issued in the ongoing criminal case of Qing “Quentin” Huang, who was arrested in 2013 in Burlington, Ont., following an RCMP-led investigation called Project Seascape.

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“The certificate is issued in connection with a criminal proceeding [R v. Qing] for the purpose of protecting information obtained in confidence from, or in relation to, a foreign entity or for the purpose of protecting national security or national defence,” the document reads. The information is sealed for 10 years and could be renewed after that time.

Huang was an employee with a subcontracting company to Irving Shipbuilding Inc. and was charged under the Security of Information Act with attempting to leak secrets to a foreign power.

Police have said the information is related to Canada’s shipbuilding strategy to renew its fleet of combat and non-combat vessels, which includes patrol ships, frigates, naval auxiliary vessels and science research vessels.

Huang has maintained his innocence and is currently free on bail.

“Following extensive review and careful consideration of all the facts, I determined other options had been exhausted and that there was a need to issue a certificate under Section 38 of the Canada Evidence Act,” Lametti said in a statement. ”This certificate prohibits the disclosure of very limited information, which if disclosed, would harm Canada’s national security. This is a necessary step.”

Qing Quentin Huang
53-year-old Qing “Quentin” Huang of Burlington was charged with two counts under Canada’s Security of Information Act. File/Global News

CSIS had tapped Huang’s conversations with the Chinese embassy in Ottawa as part of an unrelated investigation and passed along the recordings to RCMP.

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His trial has faced repeated delays over the last six years as federal prosecutors and Huang’s lawyers have argued over the disclosure of information in the case and Huang has argued he needs to review the CSIS documents to mount a proper defence.

READ MORE: Chinese embassy says ties with Canada suffering ‘gross difficulties’

Frank Addario, the lawyer representing Huang, told Global News that he was unable to comment as the case is ongoing.

Former federal government national security lawyer Leah West said although an accused has the right to review all the materials the Crown has against them, Section 38 of the Canada Evidence Act allows the government to withhold some information under national security grounds.

A security certificate is the federal government’s final “trump card,” said West, and gives an indication of just how sensitive the information is.

“It could have real implications for the ability to prosecute Mr. Huang,” West said. “It means that the [attorney general] believes that protecting this information is more important than what the fallout might be in the Huang case.

“The fallout could very well be that Mr. Huang cannot get a fair trial and the charges could be stayed.”

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The power to issue secrecy certificates was given to the attorney general in the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act. West said the sensitive information could protect the identities of human sources or CSIS employees.

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“This could very well be about human beings,” she said. “The fact that this has never been done shows just how important it is to protect this information.”

A Federal Court judge ruled on Aug. 30 that parts of the CSIS warrant could be turned over to Huang and his lawyer. The information being kept applies to six paragraphs of the CSIS affidavit, which contains 166 paragraphs.

“Recognizing the right of Mr. Huang to a fair trial … I have agreed to disclose most of the information at issue to Mr. Huang, but for the purpose of safeguarding national security, some of that information should be prohibited from disclosure,” the certificate reads.

Lametti’s office said they could not comment further as the case is before the courts.