VANCOUVER - An investigation into stolen vehicles being shipped overseas was the first tip British Columbia police had that an alleged leader of an Asian triad had landed on their shores, fleeing a bloody gang war in Macau, an Immigration and Refugee Board hearing heard Tuesday.
Seventeen years later, Canada Border Services Agency is asking the board to find Lai Tong Sang inadmissible to Canada, on the grounds that he has ties to organized crime.
A former police superintendent told the hearing the stolen vehicle investigation involved a wire tap.
On one end of that wire tap in 1996 was a Hong Kong crime boss; on the other end Wilson Wong, a man considered by police to be the second-in-command of the notorious 14K gang in Canada.
Someone wanted Lai, the purported leader of Macau's notorious Shui Fong, or Water Room gang, dead.
"The person in Hong Kong was asking if (they) would take the contract. It would put him in good favour if he would take the contract," testified Patrick Fogarty, the former superintendent of the Co-ordinated Law Enforcement Unit in Vancouver.
At that time, the streets of Macau were a literal shooting gallery as the two groups battled.
The caller was urging Wong's boss, Simon Chow, to take the HK$1 million contract on Lai. Then began a flurry of activity to find freshly minted Vancouverite.
“It was clearly established that from the perspective of these particular individuals operating in Vancouver that Tong Sang Lai was the head of the Shui Fong,” Fogarty said. “Nobody knows the underworld like the underworld.”
At that point, the joint organized crime unit began Project Fallout to stop Lai’s murder and gather evidence against the conspirators.
They contacted Lai's family and Lai himself to warn of the threat. Neither co-operated but Lai did move his family to a different home.
Because of the threat, Fogarty said police were able to obtain a warrant for a wiretaps on Lai, Simon Chow and Wilson Wong. What he heard further convinced him that Lai was the head of the Shui Fong, 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 was being briefed regularly on the war in Macau between Shui Fong and the 14K gang there.
"Based on the evidence ... I believe that Mr. Lai is the head of the Shui Fong triad out of Macau and left Macau to come to Canada, was being sought by 14K triad's connections here ... and that they were conspiring to find him and kill him," testified Fogarty.
In July 1997, Lai's Vancouver area home was the target of a drive-by shooting.
Lai's lawyer, Peter Chapman, questioned the source of the allegations against Lai. All the information seems to come from the same sources, he suggested.
"The concern is that something starts, say, in Macau, with a corrupt police force, and it can spread almost like a computer virus and take on a life of its own," Chapman said during his cross examination.
"With all due respect, I think that's a bit of an exaggeration," Fogarty replied. "When you have 35 or 40 bodies shootings every day on the street, it's hard to make that up."
Lai didn't attend his admissibility hearing in person. Instead Canadian officials used an international calling card to dial him into the hearing from Macau.
His wife, two daughters and son walked a gauntlet of Chinese-language and English media to attend, though his youngest daughter was granted permission to be absent in order to write university exams.
CBSA is seeking to have all of them deemed inadmissible on the grounds that they misrepresented material facts in their applications for permanent residency.
When news broke in 1997 that Lai had someone gained status in Canada, the immigration minister promised action.
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 1996, Lai 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.
He and his family arrived in Vancouver on Oct. 20, 1996.
Board adjudicator Geoff Rempel noted Lai has already filed notice of a charter challenge of the agency’s attempt to remove him. In December, a Federal Court judge dismissed his application for judicial review.