OTTAWA — Federal foot-dragging over secrecy is risking the right to timely justice for a man accused of trying to spy for China on Canadian shipbuilding plans, his lawyer charges.
In a letter filed with the Supreme Court of Canada, lawyer Frank Addario says Ottawa's failure to resolve questions around disclosure of sensitive information is imperilling naval engineer Qing Quentin Huang's charter guarantees.
Addario suggests the case could be dismissed because of the delays since the wrangling about documents is beyond the reach of the Ontario judge responsible for ensuring Huang, a Canadian citizen, has a trial within a reasonable time.
"The government has no sense of urgency to resolve the disclosure issue," Addario's letter says.
The Supreme Court will decide in coming weeks whether to hear the government's challenge of a Federal Court of Appeal ruling that could result in new details of the criminal case being released to the defence.
The case has provided the public with a rare glimpse into how Canada's spy service monitors telephone communications at the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa.
The concerns about Huang's legal rights come as relations between Ottawa and Beijing are seriously tested by the arrest in Vancouver of a Chinese executive of Huawei Technologies and China's subsequent detention of two Canadians for alleged security infractions.
Canada is also weighing the potential security risk of allowing Huawei to supply components of the country's planned 5G mobile telecommunications networks.
Huang worked for Lloyd's Register, a subcontractor to Irving Shipbuilding Inc. He was arrested five years ago in Burlington, Ont., following a brief RCMP-led investigation dubbed Project Seascape.
Huang was charged under the Security of Information Act with attempting to communicate secret information to a foreign power. 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 is free on bail, maintains his innocence. However, criminal proceedings have been largely sidetracked by a parallel process over national security playing out in Federal Court.
The court battle reveals the Canadian Security Intelligence Service obtained a warrant in March 2013 to intercept telecommunications at the Chinese Embassy. Huang was not a target of the warrant and had never been under CSIS investigation.
However, 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.
The federal prosecution service disclosed to Huang redacted copies of the CSIS warrant and a spy service affidavit sworn in support of the application to obtain the warrant. But Huang argued the documents were so heavily censored he could not test the validity of the warrant or make full answer and defence.
The prosecution service contended that virtually all of the redactions were covered by a section of the Canada Evidence Act that allows the government to shield information from disclosure due to national security concerns.
The dispute is still making its way through the courts, with the ultimate word on the possible release of additional information to come from the Supreme Court, given an appeal the government filed in August.
In his letter, Addario asks the high court to dismiss the appeal, saying the government filed it several weeks late. He opposes any time extension, objecting to the "protracted and obscure" proceedings that have twice led to adjournment of Huang's criminal trial.
The government is "frustrating" Huang's right to a timely trial, and the federal decision to wait over 80 days to request a hearing in the Supreme Court serves as "an example of the tempo of these proceedings," Addario writes.
Addario declined to comment on the case. Federal lawyers have not replied to his letter in court.
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Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press