This CTV W5 documentary, broadcast in 2004, describes the story of how organized crime penetrated the Canadian immigration system in Hong Kong, allowing known criminals to immigrate to Canada. Brian McAdam and others provided evidence of what was going on, but the story was covered up by Ottawa and no corrective action taken. Both McAdam and later RCMP Corporal Robert Read had their investigations blocked and their careers ruined as they tried to bring the truth to light. (20 minutes)
Also featured are Sandy Boucher, head of the Narcotics Division in Hong Kong, and Garry Clement RCMP Liaison Officer in Hong Kong.
In the 1990s, before Hong Kong was reverted from British to Chinese control, millions of residents were looking to relocate on the chance that things went bad after the handover. Canada, with its huge expat communities in Vancouver and Toronto, quickly became a desirable destination.
Day after day, people lined up at the Canadian High Commission in Hong Kong, waiting to apply for visas. Many of those seeking landed immigrant status were people looking to come to Canada for the right reasons, but according to former Royal Hong Kong Police Chief Detective Inspector Sandy Boucher, Canada was also gaining a reputation in organized crime circles as a haven for those mixed up in shady dealings.
“We knew that many of our organized crime figures -- people with records, people without records but serious criminals – were looking to move to Canada,” says Boucher.
But while Canadian authorities are supposed to keep those kinds of people out, in Hong Kong, something appeared to be going very wrong. “Some applied (for visas) and were turned back, some applied and got in,” says Boucher. “It was no secret.”
One such immigrant was Lee Chau Ping, a notorious drug trafficker who is known as the Ice Queen. In 1992, after police raided her labs and one of her safe houses, the Ice Queen got on a plane headed for Canada. Not thinking that the Canadian government would let her stay, Boucher assumed the Ice Queen had headed oversees to wait for the heat on her gang to die down a little. So he was shocked when an RCMP officer told him she had been granted landed immigrant status.
“I said, ‘It can’t be – she’s got a criminal record. I know she’s known to Canadian authorities.’”
But apparently, Lee Chau Ping – who posed as a businesswoman ready to invest $170,000 in a Chicken Delight franchise in a tiny town in northern Saskatchewan – had slipped under the radar. And Brian McAdam, the immigration control officer at the High Commission in Hong Kong, soon learned that other criminals had too.
“I discovered that these Triad people (members of secret Chinese organized crime fraternities that have ties to members of the Hong Kong business community) were regulars at getting visas to visit their families or go on holidays as the case may be, and yet clearly on the file was intelligence information identifying who they were.”
McAdam was puzzled as to how known criminals were able to get into Canada, but a little bit of digging turned up connections between the Triad members and officials working inside the Canadian embassy. In fact, according to McAdam, High Commission staff was on the receiving end of expensive gifts, cocktail parties, yacht trips and visits to the casinos in Macau.
According to Garry Clement, who worked at the time as an RCMP officer stationed at the High Commission, the freebies even included cash for betting on the horses at Hong Kong’s Happy Valley racetrack. But he was suspicious that those perks would come with a price.
“At what point do you draw the line? And you’ve got to ask yourself who are the people that are giving, and what do you owe in return? It was a Chinese gentleman that I had met … (who) told me very early on nobody in Chinese culture does anything for nothing. And I never forgot that. And I think that’s where you have to look at – why was the Canadian mission being targeted? Why was the Canadian mission being invited out to all these events?”
McAdam and Clement set out for the answers. Immediately, they found obvious signs of corruption: complaints from a Chinese couple that someone at the embassy had offered to expedite their visa application in exchange for $10,000; fake immigration stamps and a fake visa receipt. In one incident, McAdam actually saw the criminal records of Triad members literally drop off their files after he pulled them up on the computer.
W-FIVE found a man who knows firsthand of the links between Hong Kong’s organized crime circles and the Canadian High Commission. He agreed to be interviewed, but, fearing for his life, only under the condition that his identity be protected.
The man told W-FIVE that the corruption at the High Commission was a “fairly open secret” among Hong Kong’s middle class. He said Triad members, including “famous businessmen, solicitors, legislators (and) accountants” used to invite embassy staff to the races and lavish parties.
“Some money change hands, some handshake and problem solved,” he said. “They give you a Rolex, fancy car, then when you get hooked, they ask you to do a favour.”
The source told W-FIVE he was never aware of the exact price for a Canadian visa, but he estimated the entry cost for a Triad member’s family would be in the neighbourhood of $500,000 HK. And he said the corruption was far and wide within the embassy. “Without help from insiders it won’t work. … It takes more than one person in the High Commission to get the job done, not just one single person – there must be big, big scandal behind it all.”
In 1992, the Department of Foreign Affairs sent over a computer expert from Ottawa to probe the lapses. The top-secret report prepared by that expert, David Balser, confirmed the existence of some alarming security breaches at the mission, including the fact that unauthorized staff had access to the computer system where visas could be approved with a check mark and criminal records could be scrubbed clean.
But though the report revealed some major problems, it went virtually unnoticed. In 1995, Liberal MP David Kilgour wrote a letter to then-prime minister Jean Chretien warning of the “highly irresponsible and/or illegal practices” at the High Commission and asking for a full public inquiry. It was never acknowledged.
Then, in 1996, RCMP Corporal Robert Read was assigned to review the Hong Kong file. And while he too thought there were clear problems that needed to be investigated, he says he was urged by his superiors to turn a blind eye.
“This is water under the bridge, why go over this again,” Read says he was told. After he encountered more and more roadblocks thrown up by his bosses and government bureaucrats, he says he “arrived at the opinion that the progress I was making was not that pleasing to my superiors.”
And Read wasn’t the only member of the RCMP to be shut down by the force. In 1993, Staff Sergeant Jim Puchniak requested permission to go to Hong Kong to conduct a full investigation, but he was told by the RCMP liason officer at the mission, Inspector Gary Lagamodiere, that doing so would upset the High Commissioner.
“Why would anybody who is the head of a mission fear the RCMP coming in to conduct an investigation if everything is above board?” he recalls wondering. “My instinct then, and still is, if there was nothing to hide, you would welcome a police investigation, so obviously there was something going on.”
But unlike Puchniak, Read wasn’t willing to accept the roadblocks he encountered. In 1999, he made an unthinkable move for a police officer, breaking his oath of secrecy and going public about the scandal. The RCMP reacted quickly, firing the 24-year veteran after finding him guilty of professional misconduct.
But Read appealed his dismissal, and in 2003, the RCMP’s External Review Committee issued a scathing indictment over the handling of the Hong Kong affair. In its decision the committee wrote the “the RCMP was walking on eggshells whenever it conducted an investigation into activities at a Canadian mission abroad and basically restricted to what the Department of Foreign Affairs was willing to allow it to investigate.
“What is at issue was a deliberate choice made by the RCMP not to pursue an investigation into possible wrongdoing even though the numerous examples had been drawn to its attention of incidents that suggested an immigration fraud ring was operating within the very premises of the mission and possibly involved employees of the Government of Canada.”
Scott Newark, the former head of the Canadian Police Association, said the decision makes clear the proper relationship between police and government agencies.
“For me, the larger issue here, the thing that is most problematic is not even all of the clear wrong-doing going on in Hong Kong and the after-effects of that. It’s the fact that the institution and the people involved who we give guns and badges to and swear public oaths and that have the obligation to investigate and enforce the law decided that their duty was not to do that.”
While the report clearly vindicated Read, the RCMP has refused to reinstate him – a decision he is fighting in Federal Court. But because he never got the investigation he wanted into the Canadian High Commission in Hong Kong, questions about the depth of the corruption and political interference there will probably never be answered. Both John Higgenbotham, the Canadian High Commissioner in Hong Kong from 1989 to 1994, and RCMP Superintendent Giuliano Zaccardelli – people who may be able to lend some perspective to the unanswered questions -- refused to be interviewed by W-FIVE.
But regardless of who was responsible, for retired RCMP superintendent Garry Clement, it all comes down to one thing.
“Did we drop the ball? I have to take as much credit – I was a senior officer in the RCMP. … I don’t think we should try to defend it. The bottom line is, we dropped the ball in this investigation.”