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Lawyer for Chinese fugitive accuses authorities of rushing deportation

Lai Changxing is escorted by a security guard from an Immigration and Refugee Board detention hearing in Vancouver, B.C., on Monday July 11, 2011.

Darryl Dyck/ The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck/ The Canadian Press

The lawyer for Chinese fugitive Lai Changxing has accused Canadian authorities of breaching a court undertaking in their haste to whisk Mr. Lai back to China.

In a submission to the Federal Court of Canada, David Matas said he was given only one working day to respond to Ottawa's sudden decision to remove Mr. Lai this past Tuesday, a decision the court subsequently stayed until at least July 21.

"This rushed manner is disrespectful of this court and the rights of the applicant," Mr. Matas charged.

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Elaborating on the matter Tuesday, Mr. Matas said contact between Canada and China should lead to increased respect for human rights. But in this case, the hurry to deport Mr. Lai has lessened human rights and degraded access to the courts in Canada, he said. "To me, that's reprehensible. It's unconscionable."

Mr. Matas was referring to an undertaking given by government lawyers to the Federal Court in 2005 that Mr. Lai would be given "at least one week" to respond after receiving a determination that he faced no risk in China and could be safely deported.

"The undertaking has not been respected," Mr. Matas declared. "It is a serious matter for the respondent Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to give an undertaking on which the Court relies to make an order and then not respect the undertaking."

Mr. Lai learned late Thursday that a pre-removal risk assessment had cleared the way for his deportation by concluding, in a lengthy document, that he faced no risk of torture at the hands of Chinese police.

He was then taken into custody and his deportation was set for Tuesday.

Mr. Matas said the rush gave him hardly any time to prepare an argument to head off Mr. Lai's return.

"If the government had had its way, Mr. Lai would have been gone today [Tuesday] without any chance to question a document that is over 100 pages long," Mr. Matas said. "Logistically, it was very daunting."

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As it was, Mr. Matas managed on Monday to persuade a federal court judge to give Mr. Lai more time to challenge the finding that he does not face a risk of being tortured in China.

A day-long Federal Court hearing on the issue will now be held July 21, and the government has set July 25 as the new date for Mr. Lai's return to China, should he lose out in court.

A representative of the Canada Border Services Agency, which is responsible for Mr. Lai's case, said late Tuesday the issue of Mr. Matas's allegations was complex, and officials would not be able to respond before the end of the day.

The high-profile Mr. Lai, considered one of China's most wanted fugitives, is accused of heading a vast scheme to smuggle cheap consumer goods into the bustling port city of Xiamen, without paying custom duties. He is further charged with bribing public officials to facilitate his activities.

The former peasant who rose to wealth and fame in Xiamen has been fighting for more than 10 years to stay in Canada, arguing his guilt has been pre-determined by Chinese authorities and he is liable to be tortured.

A previous Federal Court judge determined in 2007 that his torture fears were well-founded, but a new risk assessment by Immigration Canada has concluded otherwise.

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Meanwhile, Mr. Lai received a bit of good news Tuesday, as he was ordered released from custody, pending his July 21 court hearing.

Immigration and Refugee Board member Leann King said she was satisfied Mr. Lai would appear for his removal from Canada, should that be his fate.

Ms. King said Mr. Lai has never hidden his presence in Canada, nor tried to evade Canadian border services agents who have kept close tabs on him ever since his first arrest in 2000. "And he has been diligent about pursuing legal avenues to remain."

She noted that on a previous occasion when he appeared to be on the verge of deportation, Mr. Lai had co-operated with the CBSA.

"He did not flee. He did not breach any of his terms and conditions," Ms. King told a crowded detention hearing review.

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