Accused in Sherwood Motel immigration case plead not guilty
Lawyer says CBSA has 'misinterpreted the behaviour of the Zhong family members'
- The Crown stayed the charges against the Zhongs on Dec. 14, 2018.
The trial of two people accused by Canada Border Services of immigration fraud related to P.E.I.'s provincial nominee program is set to begin Nov. 30 in P.E.I. provincial court.
Ping Zhong, 60, and her brother Yi Zhong, 58, have each been charged with multiple counts of aiding and abetting misrepresentation under the federal Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Penalties under the act include fines of up to $100,000 and up to five years in prison if they're convicted.
Wednesday in court their lawyer, Lee Cohen, entered not guilty pleas on their behalf. Neither of the accused appeared in court.
'Well-established fraud,' alleges CBSA
In court documents filed to obtain search warrants, investigators with Canada Border Services allege the Zhongs operated "a very well established, organized fraud" which allowed participants in P.E.I.'s provincial nominee program to skirt around residency rules meant to ensure they were living in P.E.I. while they were actually living elsewhere in Canada or abroad.
CBSA is alleging hundreds of immigrants may have obtained permanent resident status by using one of three "addresses of convenience" owned by the Zhongs, including the Sherwood Motel in Charlottetown, to make it look like they were living in P.E.I.
But Wednesday Cohen told reporters he believes Canada Border Services has "misinterpreted the behaviour of the Zhong family members. I also believe they have misinterpreted the law."
Siblings a 'cordial welcome committee,' says lawyer
Cohen said he thinks the case may come down to "an understanding of what the Prince Edward Island nominee program criteria and guidelines were at that time, and what the law is then and now with respect to what liberties or what entitlements a person has to assist fellow nationals who come to immigrate to Prince Edward Island."
Cohen said the Zhongs were simply acting as "a gracious and cordial welcome committee" for Chinese nationals coming to Prince Edward Island.
Cohen had asked Judge Nancy Orr for a trial date starting in April 2019, but Orr insisted the trial be held sooner. Cohen said it's a "document-heavy case" and it will be difficult for lawyers on both sides to be ready to start by the end of November.
Orr set aside eight trial days spread out over a period of three weeks, with the final day set for Dec. 21.