Nine years ago, Qing Quentin Huang called Canada "the ideal place to live," saying he was indebted to the country's education system for his son's academic success.
But this past weekend, police arrested Mr. Huang on allegations he betrayed the country he once praised by attempting to pass along naval secrets to China.
Acting on a tip, police arrested the Waterdown, Ont., engineer on Saturday, charging him with two counts of violating the Security of Information Act in an RCMP-led probe known as Project Seascape. Police say that Mr. Huang was acting alone in planning to pass along "plans, sketches and technical information relating to the naval fleet" to China.
Under Canadian law, it is a crime to "communicate to a foreign entity" sensitive government documents – and such communication is considered criminal whether or not one has any such documents to hand over.
Authorities will not confirm or deny a National Post report that Canadian Security Intelligence Service first learned that Mr. Huang had contacted the Chinese embassy in Ottawa to offer up documents. A spokesperson for the Chinese embassy denied that Mr. Huang had passed on any classified information to China through the embassy, calling the reports "totally groundless" in a statement Monday.
An RCMP spokesperson declined to comment on Monday on whether Mr. Huang had communicated with someone at the embassy.
Mr. Huang, 53, 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.
"He's a quiet individual and that's all I can say," said Bud Streeter, president of Lloyd's Register Canada.
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.
"Obviously, I'm quite shocked as I'm sure everyone else will be and I'm trying to understand really what happened and why it happened," Mr. Streeter said.
Property records show Mr. Huang bought a 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.
RCMP officers went door to door on Mr. Huang's quiet street on Monday, asking his neighbours what kind of car he drove and whether anyone lived with him.
Mr. Huang kept to himself and was "very, very private," a neighbour said.
Mr. Huang is listed as a director of Smooth Sailing Naval Architecture Consulting Limited, which was federally incorporated in 2011. The firm, which is up to date in its filings, has another individual listed as a director.
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. Mr. Huang told reporters that the pair chose SFU out of three B.C. universities offering him scholarships because it was the only one willing to allow their unique living arrangement.
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 – saying that "sometimes, parents make sacrifices." Canada, he added, "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.
After he was laid off, he said, the pair moved closer to Vancouver so that he could increase his chances of getting a job.
Mr. Huang has been a licensed engineer practising marine engineering in Ontario since August, 2004, according to his profile with Professional Engineers Ontario. His profile says that he graduated with a masters of engineering from Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China in 1985. He also received his bachelors of engineering at the same school, which is located in Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei province in central China.
With reports from Rick Cash, Colin Freeze and Karen Howlett in Toronto