OTTAWA — The federal government can keep a lid of secrecy on information a Chinese refugee claimant says could be vital to his case.
In a ruling made public Thursday, Federal Court Justice Simon Fothergill accepted the government's plea to shield portions of two Canada Border Services Agency documents from disclosure in the case of Shiyuan Shen, who is wanted for alleged fraud in China.
The government had argued that revealing the protected information would hurt international relations and shatter Canada's credibility in the eyes of foreign allies and sources.
Shen wanted to see full versions of the border agency documents, arguing they might help him show that evidence the government used to oppose his refugee claim was extracted through torture.
Shen also claimed the information under wraps was relevant to his allegations that the government breached its duty of candour and abused the process of the refugee board.
In his ruling, Fothergill said the shielded information "provides little, if any, additional evidence" of the matters Shen is pursuing. Even without the information, Shen's lawyers are "well-positioned" to advance their arguments, he added.
While Fothergill found that elements of the federal argument about the need to keep the records secret "might be considered speculative," he concluded release of the information would damage Canada's international relations.
Shen left China in February 2002 and lived in the United States before arriving in Canada 10 years ago.
He married a Canadian and applied for permanent residence. However, the border services agency arrested him for suspected involvement in illegal activities in China related to the steel trade, based on an outstanding warrant issued by the Public Security Bureau in Shanghai.
In March 2011, Shen applied for refugee protection in Canada. At his refugee hearing, he argued the Crown was required to disclose all documents obtained from China related to his case.
Shen's refugee application was rejected, and he challenged the decision.
Federal authorities concede that more information should have been disclosed to Shen. But they refused to release the full contents of the two border services agency documents.
Instead, a public, redacted version of the information was provided to Shen. In addition, a version with more — but still not all — of the information was given to Shen's lawyer, Lorne Waldman, and the refugee adjudicator, on condition that it be used solely in future refugee proceedings.
The portions that have been made public show Canada's border agency looked at whether China's Public Security Bureau had used torture to obtain information before it allowed a Shanghai police officer to testify at Shen's refugee hearing.
The border agency also scrutinized Wei Huang's history to see if he should even be allowed to enter Canada.
The agency concluded in October 2012 it was "possible" — but not likely — the evidence of the Shanghai Public Security Bureau officer was derived from torture.
"There are credible reports of mistreatment by the Shanghai police," the border agency assessment says. But it adds there was "no evidence" that Shen's unit, the economic crimes department, was known to rely on torture.
Ultimately, border agency officials decided Huang could testify in Shen's case.
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Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press