P.E.I. brother and sister 'were living in a nightmare,' but immigration fraud case now stayed
Crown exercised duty to assess the 'reasonable prospect of conviction'
There has been a stay in the proceedings of a P.E.I. immigration fraud case, leading to both joy and anger from the Charlottetown brother and sister who were accused.
Brother and sister, Yi Zhong and Ping Zhong, were charged in May. They were alleged to have counselled provincial nominee program immigrants to P.E.I. to provide a Charlottetown residential address, a motel owned by the siblings, to officials even though the immigrants did not live there.
In calling for the stay, federal Crown prosecutor Caroline Lirette said she has a duty to assess the "reasonable prospect of conviction and the public interest." The stay means the Crown has one year to recommence the proceedings.
'We want to stand up in court'
Family members wept openly as it appeared the Zhongs' ordeal was over. The investigation began three years ago.
In an emotionally charged statement outside the courtroom, Ping Zhong told the media they were happy with the stay, but angry they did not have a chance to speak in court.
All of the sudden these things, just like a bomb, dropped on us. We did not know what to do.— Ping Zhong
"It has been three years that we were living in a nightmare and we were under tremendous stress," said Zhong.
"We've been waiting all this time for the chance to stand up in court to prove to the judge and to prove to the world — because in China our friends, our relatives all know [about the case], it's big news in China too — so we want to stand up in court to prove to the judge to prove to the world that we are innocent. We didn't do anything wrong."
Lost business opportunities
Zhong said they lost friends, who were frightened by the Canada Border Services Agency investigation. She added they had also lost business and business expansion opportunities. She thanked the family and friends who had stayed by them, and also thanked their lawyers.
"We were good citizens in China. Now we are good citizens here in Canada," she said.
"All of the sudden these things, just like a bomb, dropped on us. We did not know what to do."
I know that she still loves Canada, but she's not sure that the government loves her.— Donald Murray
Immigration officials had alleged 566 PNP immigrants used the Zhongs' motel as an address from 2008 to 2015, and said nearly all were granted permanent residency.
Zhong told the media she and her brother had worked to help new immigrants stay on P.E.I.
A waste of resources, says defence
Zhong's lawyer, Donald Murray, expressed frustration at the Crown's decision to stay the proceedings.
Murray said he was preparing to apply for a direct verdict from the judge, but with the stay he can't do that.
"They chose to simply stop the proceedings, short of allowing the judge to make a decision about whether the Crown had even laid out a basic case against our clients," he said.
The risk remains that the Crown can revive the charges.
Murray said the process wasted the resources of both the court and of the Zhongs in responding to the allegations. It is the uncertainty about the outcome, he said, that has caused so much stress over the last three years.
"I know that she still loves Canada, but she's not sure that the government loves her," said Murray.
"After working very hard to encourage other people to come, and who have come and lived in P.E.I. and loved the country just as much as she does, she feels that the government has turned on her and treated her like a criminal and an enemy, and it's very disheartening for her."
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With files from Kerry Campbell