VANCOUVER - Seventeen years after an alleged Asian organized crime boss was granted permanent resident status in Canada, despite being red-flagged for suspected criminal activities, authorities are trying to send him packing.
The case of Lai Tong Sang scandalized the federal immigration system when it was revealed that the man described by Macau police as the leader of the notorious Wo On Lok gang had been allowed into Canada.
Now Lai, his wife and their three children are scheduled for an admissability hearing later this month, where lawyers for the Canada Border Services Agency will argue that Lai lied about his membership in a criminal organization in order to gain entry into the country. Authorities allege his wife and children also misrepresented their immigration status.
Melissa Anderson, a spokeswomen for the Immigration and Refugee Board, confirmed hearings are scheduled over three days beginning Feb. 26 in Vancouver, but she could not comment on why it has taken so long for the case to make its way to a hearing.
According to reports at the time, Lai originally applied for immigration status to Canada in Hong Kong in 1994 but his application was not approved because of his suspected links to organized crime.
In March 1996, Lai reapplied in Hong Kong and then quickly withdrew his application. A couple of months later, he applied at the consulate in Los Angeles, where his application was approved without a background check or so much as a phone call to Hong Kong.
Lai and his family arrived in Vancouver on Oct. 20, 1996.
Various RCMP and U.S. law enforcement reports on Asian organized crime cite the Wo On Lok (or Shui Fong, Water Room gang) as a branch of the Hong Kong-based Wo group, a syndicate with worldwide reach in criminal activity ranging from money laundering to prostitution, the drug trade and human smuggling.
Lai, then 42, left Macau for Canada at a time when then Wo On Lok was embroiled in a war with the rival 14K gang, said reports in Macau media.
In July 1997, after news of his arrival made headlines in Canada, his luxury Vancouver area home was the target of a drive-by shooting.
No one was hurt but later that month, according to reports, immigration officials urged then-immigration minister Lucienne Robillard to declare Lai a danger to the Canadian public, revoke his resident status and deport him.
In September 1997, Robillard was called onto the carpet in Parliament over the Lai case.
"Can the minister tell the House how Lai Tong Sang, the Macao triad leader who received landed status in Canada, slipped through the stranglehold the minister has on organized crime?" asked Opposition MP John Reynolds, referring to an organized crime unit the minister had said was operating within the department.
Robillard cited the Privacy Act in refusing to discuss the specifics of the case, saying he had "not yet" been formally charged.
"Mr. Speaker, it is very clear that anyone who misrepresents his identity or his reasons for coming to Canada can be prosecuted by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration," Robillard responded.
Lai was not charged, or declared a danger to the public.
An administrative review of the breach at the Los Angeles consulate blamed an isolated mistake by honest, overworked employees and absolved consulate employees of corruption or fraud.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney was not immediately available for comment, but last fall Kenney introduced the Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act.
Among the changes, it limits the review options for people who are inadmissible because of concerns over security or organized crime.
"Canadians are generous and welcoming people, but they have no tolerance for criminals and fraudsters abusing our generosity," Kenney said at the time.
Lai's was the first of several high-profile immigration cases to cast a pall over the country's immigration system and strain relations with foreign governments.
Lai Changxing arrived in Canada in 1999, a fugitive from charges he was the kingpin of a $10-billion smuggling ring. Although his refugee claim failed, it would be 12 years before the Canadian government would receive assurances he would not be put to death and the former Chinese businessman was deported. Last year, Lai Changxing was sentenced to life in prison.
Chinese fugitive Deng Xinzhi was deported in 2008 after seven years in Canada to face criminal charges for his alleged role in a $3-million fraud scheme.
Rakesh Saxena, accused of embezzling $88 million from the Bangkok Bank of Commerce and triggering an Asian economic meltdown, was arrested in Whistler in 1996. Saxena battled deportation until 2009.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version identified Melissa Anderson as a spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration. An earlier version also said Citizenship and Immigration would be arguing against Lai.