The Ontario man charged with attempting to pass naval secrets to China had already raised eyebrows on his sleepy street with police visits related to domestic disputes, a stream of tenants and an unkempt lawn.
Qing Quentin Huang, a 53-year-old marine engineer at Lloyd's Register Canada, has been charged with two counts of violating the Security of Information Act. The RCMP says Mr. Huang was acting alone in planning to pass along "plans, sketches and technical information relating to the naval fleet" to China.
Several years ago, Mr. Huang's neighbours in Waterdown, near Hamilton, say police were called to his home for domestic disputes relating to a former girlfriend as often as every other week.
Once, Mr. Huang "was held up in a room all night" by the woman who brandished a knife, said K. Dixon, who lives next door and asked to be identified by her first initial. Afterward, Mr. Huang asked Ms. Dixon to lock the door of his large brick house when the woman went for a walk while he was at work.
"I said, 'You're absolutely nuts. I had a little girl a few years old at home – I'm not putting myself at risk so that your girlfriend doesn't come home,' " she said.
Hamilton Police would not confirm they had responded to calls to Mr. Huang's home, citing the ongoing RCMP investigation.
Another neighbour said Mr. Huang's former girlfriend, who hasn't lived there for years, "always appeared to be intoxicated" and could often be seen running up and down the street, screaming.
"She'd run around with her pyjamas on. She had a suitcase at times, as if she was running away, and then he would go and get her back," said Leslie McCowell. "He was always very soft-spoken. We never heard him yelling."
Didn't fit in
On quiet Brookhurst Crescent, which is dominated by young families, Mr. Huang struck Ms. McCowell as "strange." He would rarely speak to neighbours and always kept his blinds closed.
"We're a very close neighbourhood, we have street parties every year and everybody knows everybody. But he never participated in anything."
Mr. also didn't mow his lawn, which bothered other homeowners. Ms. Dixon said she and her husband would cut his grass.
Who lived there
For a few years until about last year, Ms. McCowell said Mr. Huang appeared to be renting out his large two-storey brick home. At some points, she said, there would be so many vehicles that they wouldn't all fit in the driveway, and would spill out onto the street.
"There were cars coming and going. We thought it was a drug house or something for the longest time, until we realized he was just renting it out to a bunch of people," she said.
Property records show Mr. Huang bought his house in Waterdown for $365,000 in 2006, taking out a mortgage of $295,000. In May of this year, he obtained another mortgage for $470,000. Public records also indicate he leased a 2012 Volvo one month ago with another person, who gave the same address in Waterdown.
Over the past two-and-a-half years he bought six properties on the same street in northwest Toronto, paying between $68,800 and $136,800 for each home.
Many of Mr. Huang's two- and-three-storey townhomes on John Garland Boulevard are split up, with bedrooms and levels rented off separately to students at nearby Humber College, said Yu Lu, a mechanical engineering student from China. Mr. Yu rents his bedroom from Mr. Huang for $450 a month. Four other students also live in the three-storey townhome, sharing the kitchen and bathroom.
"I think it's unbelievable," he said of news of Mr. Huang' s arrest. "I can't think of the kind of person who might do this kind of thing."
Mr. Yu said he found the room through a Chinese-language website ad, and that Mr. Huang once told him he preferred to rent to Chinese students, because they were easier for him to communicate with in Mandarin.
He called Mr. Huang "okay" as a landlord, and said he spent little time at the townhome, only dropping by once a month to pick up rent, or communicating over the phone if something needed to be fixed.
Another tenant, who asked not to be named, said she was planning on moving out of the townhome she has rented from Mr. Huang for the past six months even before his arrest, because he seemed "disorganized" and appeared to have trouble juggling his duties as a landlord.
She said Mr. Huang was unpredictable about when he would come by to pick up his rent cheques or utility payments, often dropping by with little or no notice. "He came when he felt like it," she said.
Mr. Huang has worked as a structural design appraisal engineer in Lloyd's Register Canada Ltd.'s technical support office in Burlington, Ont., since 2006. He has been suspended from his job pending the police investigation.
The firm is a subcontractor to Irving Shipbuilding on a federal program to build specialized Canadian Forces ships. However, company officials say Mr. Huang did not have direct access to any sensitive files.
Mr. Huang made headlines in 2004 after moving into a campus apartment with his math whiz son at Simon Fraser University. Since his son was only 16 at the time, Mr. Huang persuaded school officials to allow them to move in together. In an article on SFU's website, Mr. Huang said he had left behind a career lecturing at a university in China, so that his son could go to a better school. Canada, he said, "is the best and most ideal place to live and for children to grow up."
In a separate article in the South China Morning Post, Mr. Huang told a reporter that, after his lecturing job in China, he worked briefly in Singapore as a naval architect and engineer. In 2001, Mr. Huang said, he and his wife divorced, and the father and son moved to Port Alberni, B.C., where he got a job working at a shipyard.
With a report from Stephanie Chambers