Feds step up court fight to protect spy-related info in official-secrets case

OTTAWA — The federal government is ramping up its court fight to keep a lid on documents detailing clandestine Canadian surveillance efforts.

Government lawyers are appealing a Federal Court decision ordering disclosure of sensitive information intended to help Qing Quentin Huang defend himself against charges of breaching Canada’s secrets law.

It has been almost six years since Huang was arrested in Burlington, Ont., following an RCMP-led investigation called Project Seascape.

Huang, an employee of Lloyd’s Register, a subcontractor to Irving Shipbuilding Inc., was charged under the Security of Information Act with attempting to communicate secrets to China.

Police said the information related to elements of the federal shipbuilding strategy, which includes patrol ships, frigates, naval auxiliary vessels, science research vessels and ice breakers.

Huang, who claims innocence, is free on bail.

The engineer’s criminal trial in Ontario court has been delayed while legal fights over disclosure of information in the case unfold in Federal Court, the venue for deciding how much sensitive material can be kept under wraps.

In a recent decision, Federal Court Justice Richard Mosley said the government’s argument, that releasing certain information to the defence would harm Canada, was “speculative, although the risk cannot be ruled out entirely.”

“There is also a compelling public interest in protecting Mr. Huang’s fair trial rights,” Mosley wrote.

“On all of the evidence, in the circumstances of this case I am not satisfied that the public interest in non-disclosure outweighs that of assuring Mr. Huang a fair trial.”

The government is now asking the Federal Court of Appeal to find that Mosley was mistaken in concluding that making the information available to the defence “would not be injurious to national security and international relations.”

Given the delicate subject matter, the public version of Mosley’s top-secret court ruling is heavily edited, making it difficult to tell exactly what information is at stake.

However, Huang has been pushing for release of additional portions of a redacted affidavit and warrant that authorized the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to intercept telecommunications at the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa.

Huang was not a target of the warrant and had never been under CSIS investigation.

Still, the spy service advised the RCMP of phone calls Huang allegedly made to the embassy and claimed he “offered to provide Canadian military secrets” to the Chinese government. That prompted the police investigation resulting in Huang’s arrest.

Huang contends the warrant opened the door to a breach of his charter guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 29, 2019.

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press

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