Canada argues court misconstrued Charter in directing feds to bring men in Syria home
A general view of Karama camp for internally displaced Syrians, is shown Monday, Feb. 14, 2022, by the village of Atma, Idlib province, Syria. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Omar Albam
By Jim Bronskill in Ottawa
The Canadian government says a federal judge misinterpreted the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in directing officials to secure the release of four men from detention in northeastern Syria.
Government lawyers are set to stress that point in the Federal Court of Appeal today as they seek to overturn a January ruling by Federal Court Justice Henry Brown.
In his decision, Brown said Ottawa should request repatriation of the men in Syrian prisons run by Kurdish forces as soon as reasonably possible and provide them with passports or emergency travel documents.
Brown ruled the men are also entitled to have a representative of the federal government travel to Syria to help facilitate their release once their captors agree to hand them over.
The government says in written arguments filed in the Court of Appeal that Brown mistakenly conflated the recognized Charter right of citizens to enter Canada with a right to return — effectively creating a new right for citizens to be brought home by the Canadian government.
Federal lawyers argue Brown’s “novel and expansive” approach overshoots the text, purpose and protected interests of the Charter right to enter, and is inconsistent with established domestic and international law.
The government also contends the court usurped the role of the executive over matters of foreign policy and passports. “The mandatory actions fail to respect the proper role of the executive and prevent it from making necessary, timely and individualized assessments within its expertise about a range of complex considerations.”
The judge’s ruling has largely been put on hold while the appeal plays out. However, Ottawa must still get the process started by initiating contact with the Kurdish forces who are detaining the men in a region reclaimed from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
The four men include Jack Letts, whose parents John Letts and Sally Lane have waged a vigorous campaign to pressure Ottawa to come to his aid.
Lawyer Barbara Jackman, who represents Letts, points out in a submission to the Court of Appeal that the four Canadian men have not been charged with any crime.
“They have not had access to the necessities of life and have been subjected to degrading, cruel and unusual treatment during their nightmarish tenure in Syrian prisons,” the filing says. “Jack Letts told his family and the Canadian government that he was subjected to torture and contemplated ending his own life.”
The identities of the three other Canadian men are not publicly known.
Their lawyer, Lawrence Greenspon, says Brown’s ruling that Canada should take steps to facilitate repatriation of the men is a practical solution that recognizes the Charter-entrenched right of entry.
“Justice Brown’s decision is comprehensive and correct in law,” Greenspon’s written submission to the Court of Appeal says.
In these rare circumstances, where Canadians are being arbitrarily detained in a foreign country and the federal government has been invited to take steps to facilitate their entry into Canada, the court correctly declared that Ottawa should take those steps, the filing adds.
Family members of the men, as well as several women and children, argued in the Federal Court proceedings that Global Affairs Canada must arrange for their return, saying that refusing to do so violates the Charter.
The government insisted that the Charter does not obligate Ottawa to repatriate the Canadians held in Syria.
However, Greenspon reached an agreement with the federal government in January to bring home six Canadian women and 13 children who had been part of the court action.
In his ruling, Brown said the Canadian men are not able to return home “in part because their government seems never to have formally requested their repatriation.”
They are not able to enjoy “a truly meaningful exercise” of their Charter right to enter Canada unless and until the federal government makes a formal request to the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria on their behalf, he wrote.
“Canada must make a formal request for their repatriation because otherwise the Court is asked to construe the Charter in an ‘unreal world.”’
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 27, 2023.
Quebec firm to pay $10M to avoid charges over bribes promised to Philippine officials
Philippine Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno attends a news conference Thursday, Nov. 26, 2009, at Manila’s Quezon City in the Philippines. A Quebec forensics company promised millions of dollars in bribes to officials in the Philippines, including a cabinet minister and his brother, as it sought lucrative police contracts, according to a statement of facts attached to a deal the firm struck to avoid prosecution in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Bullit Marquez
By Darryl Greer
A Quebec forensics company promised millions of dollars in bribes to officials in the Philippines, including a cabinet minister and his brother, as it sought lucrative police contracts, according to a statement of facts attached to a deal the firm struck to avoid prosecution in Canada.
The deal between Ultra Electronics Forensic Technology Inc. and federal prosecutors has been approved by the Superior Court of Quebec and is Canada’s second remediation agreement — also known as deferred prosecution — since the mechanism was added to the Criminal Code in 2018 to address corporate wrongdoing.
The other deal was struck between Quebec provincial prosecutors and SNC-Lavalin over corruption in its contract to refurbish the Jacques Cartier Bridge in Montreal.
The latest agreement requires the Montreal firm to pay about $10.5 million, co-operate with investigations, report to prosecutors about implementing the agreement and abide by an anti-bribery and corruption program overseen by an external auditor hired at the firm’s expense.
The court approved the deal with Ultra back in February but it wasn’t until May 16 that it released the ruling, a copy of which was obtained by The Canadian Press.
The firm sells ballistic identification technology to police forces all over the world to help solve gun crimes.
“We welcome the approval of the remediation agreement related to a historical contract in the Philippines,” Ultra CEO Alvaro Venegas said in an email.
“No one implicated is involved with the company today. The conduct in question occurred more than five years ago, and we have since put in place significantly enhanced management, culture, systems and controls.”
In September 2022, the RCMP announced fraud and bribery charges under the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act against the company and four of its executives, Robert Walsh, Philip Timothy Heaney, René Bélanger and Michael McLean. The cases against the individual executives continue, while the charges against the company are stayed and will be withdrawn if it complies with the remediation agreement.
The agreed statement of facts attached to the court’s ruling says two senior officers at the company were involved in a scheme from 2006 to 2018 to bribe Philippine officials to secure $17 million in contracts with the Philippines National Police.
Commission payments used to mask the bribery totalled just under $4.4 million, although the “exact amounts of bribes paid, and to whom they were paid, is not available in the evidence,” the statement of facts says.
But it says the bribes were “earmarked and promised to” public officials and others with “sufficient gravitas to exert some influence” on those involved in the procurement process.
The statement of facts says the public officials included Ronaldo Puno, who was secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government from 2006 to 2010. It says Puno “was a key figure in securing the budget and ensuring the procurement of” the company’s flagship ballistics identification product.
The statement says that beginning in September 2006 through January 2018, two senior company officers enlisted the help of “commercial agent” Rizalino Espino in Manila to help lock down the police contracts.
Espino’s company, Concept Dynamics Enterprises, was to receive commissions on a percentage of any contracts, of which “a substantial portion” was intended as bribes.
The statement says Espino enlisted a pair of local businessmen to help with the bribery scheme because of their “close relationship” to Puno and his brother Rodolpho Puno, who was chairman of the Philippines Road Board at the time.
Espino, the statement says, agreed to “work his contacts to get the Puno brothers on board,” while another associate who was a retired police general worked contacts within the police force, including the chief and its logistic director.
The statement says that over 12 years, Espino and an associate were given “ample latitude” by Ultra Electronics’ employees “to work on the payment of bribes to public officials and their entourage.”
But the scheme unravelled after Ultra’s president received a letter in April 2018 from a former sales agent alleging corrupt practices.
By then, Ultra had been acquired by a new parent firm in the United Kingdom, and the company co-operated extensively with the RCMP and British authorities during the bribery investigation and also fired the employees involved in 2019.
The Public Prosecution Service of Canada issued a statement about the remediation agreement on May 17, saying Ultra would have to pay a penalty of $6,593,178, a surcharge of $659,318 and forfeit $3,296,589 “for the advantage obtained from the wrongful conduct.”
It says the Superior Court of Quebec “anticipates that approving this agreement will encourage corporations to voluntarily disclose wrongdoing.”
Prosecution service guidelines say that remediation agreements “are used in appropriate cases as an alternative to prosecution and serve as a means to hold organizations accountable while putting in place measures to mitigate the risk of future offences and harm to third parties, such as employees, victims and investors.”
Remediation agreements can only be struck with organizations and are not available to individual criminal defendants.
Their use was at the heart of a political storm in 2019 when former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould said she was improperly pressured by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to allow a remediation agreement to be negotiated with SNC-Lavalin related to corrupt dealings in Libya. She refused to do so and attributed her subsequent demotion to this, which Trudeau denied.
A separate deal between Quebec prosecutors and SNC-Lavalin in 2022 saw the firm agree to pay $29.6 million over three years to settle criminal bribery charges stemming from bridge work in Montreal.
In the case of Ultra Electronics, the federal prosecution service struck the deal with the company shortly after the fraud and bribery charges were announced and the court approved the agreement in February.
The release of the ruling and statement of facts was held up as several details required redactions because of the ongoing cases against Walsh, Heaney, Bélanger and McLean.
Lawyers for Heaney, Bélanger and McLean did not respond to requests for comment.
Eric Sutton, who represents company founder Walsh, said in an email that “given that charges are pending, my client has nothing to say at this time.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2023.
O’Toole says CSIS told him he was focus of Chinese misinformation, suppression effort
Conservative member of Parliament Erin O’Toole speaks in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 30, 2023. O’Toole was speaking on an opposition motion regarding the public inquiry into allegations of foreign interference and being informed by CSIS that he is a target of China. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservative MP Erin O’Toole says Canada’s spy agency has told him he was the target of Chinese interference intended to discredit him and promote false narratives about his policies while party leader.
Rising in the House of Commons on a question of privilege Tuesday, O’Toole said the Canadian Security Intelligence Service briefing revealed a range of actions against him.
They included Chinese Communist Party funding to create misinformation, the use of groups and the WeChat social media platform to amplify the mistruths and a campaign of voter suppression against him during the 2021 general election, he said.
The former Conservative leader said the threats against him and members of his caucus were not flagged to him by the government or security agencies at the time.
They were also not communicated to the Conservatives through the federal task force intended to help safeguard the integrity of the 2021 election, he added.
O’Toole said the Liberal government’s inaction amounted to a violation of his privileges as an MP and leader of the Opposition.
“The briefing from CSIS confirmed to me what I suspected for quite some time, that my parliamentary caucus and myself were the target of a sophisticated misinformation and voter suppression campaign orchestrated by the People’s Republic of China before and during the 2021 general election.”
On Monday, New Democrat MP Jenny Kwan said CSIS informed her last week she has been targeted by China since before the 2019 federal election over her advocacy for human rights in Hong Kong and for the Uyghur Muslim minority in China. She said she was not at liberty to discuss specifics of the targeting.
In addition, David Johnston, the federal government’s special rapporteur on foreign interference, said in his recent interim report there was intelligence indicating Beijing was seeking information about Conservative MP Michael Chong and his relatives.
But Johnston’s interim report found little evidence supporting O’Toole’s claim specific candidates lost in the 2021 election because of foreign interference.
He said it was unclear whether information campaigns against Conservatives were tied to a state-sponsored source, and there was a legitimate possibility that Chinese-Canadians did not agree with the Conservative’s hardline position on China.
In that case, it would not be foreign interference — it would be the “democratic process,” the report said.
Under a federal protocol, there would be a public announcement if a panel of senior bureaucrats determined that an incident – or an accumulation of incidents – threatened Canada’s ability to have a free and fair election.
There was no such announcement in 2021 or concerning the 2019 election. In both ballots, the Liberals were returned to government with minority mandates while the Conservatives formed the official Opposition.
Government House leader Mark Holland said Tuesday the federal Liberals still have faith in the man they appointed to investigate the issue of foreign interference in Canadian elections.
But Holland would not confirm whether the government could fire Johnston if an NDP motion calling for his ouster passes in the House of Commons this week.
The House debated a motion from NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh on Tuesday that calls for the government to remove Johnston as special rapporteur and to call a public inquiry.
Singh says he doesn’t want to attack Johnston personally, but is concerned there is a clear apprehension of bias undermining the work he can do because of his ties to the prime minister.
Opposition party motions are not binding and the government already ignored an earlier NDP motion calling for a public inquiry that passed in March.
That motion came just a week after the Liberals appointed Johnston to look into allegations the Chinese government attempted to interfere in the last two federal elections.
Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre repeated calls for a public inquiry Tuesday and discounted Johnston’s role as a “fake job.”
“We need to take back control of our democracy from foreign forces, we need to put Canadians back in control of their lives,” he said.
Poilievre, who succeeded O’Toole as permanent party leader after the last election, said he would call a public inquiry if he becomes prime minister, reiterating his reluctance to view the classified section of Johnston’s report offered to party leaders.
“The prime minister’s plan is he wants to mark secret things that would otherwise be publicly debatable, but put things that would be in a grey area under the secrecy of the state, and then put them before me to prevent me from speaking publicly,” he said.
Singh said he will continue to push for a public inquiry but won’t end his confidence-and-supply agreement with the Liberal minority government and trigger an election.
“I don’t see how it’s logical if the goal is to protect our democracy to then trigger an election when we’re worried about foreign interference.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 30, 2023.
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