Man accused of smuggling people across Peace Arch Park into Canada faces trial
The man accused of being at the heart of an elaborate human smuggling network that moved migrants across the open border at Peace Arch Park appeared in Richmond Provincial Court on Tuesday.
Michael Kong, 62, wore a red jumpsuit and glasses as he sat in the dock, listening patiently to a federal prosecutor and his defence lawyer discuss the case, which may head to trial at the end of the month.
Kong faces seven charges of violating the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act covering 34 migrants, including several children, from China in 2015 after a Canadian Border Services Agency investigation called "Project Interpretation."
"All had travelled to the U.S.A. on visas issued in China by the U.S. consulate," wrote B.C. Supreme Court Justice Kent in a judgment related to the case.
"Mr. Kong is alleged to have assisted them at various times in 'jumping the border' from the U.S. into British Columbia, and thereafter travelling to the Toronto area where they filed refugee protection claims at the Etobicoke office of Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada," the judge wrote.
Kong's adult son is also charged with two counts for allegedly assisting one or more people to enter Canada without a visa and failing to appear for examination upon entry.
Both have pleaded not guilty.
Michael Kong's lawyer, Shelly Sugarman, didn't comment when approached after the Tuesday hearing. Kong's trial is scheduled for July 29.
The Peace Arch Park is linked with a park in the U.S., and the Peace Arch itself was built a century ago as a symbol of friendship, which is why there is no border fence.
Lorraine LaCavera and her four-year-old Labrador, Sidney, come to the park as often as they can. But with no fence, she said it can be difficult to know where you are as a park user and a border guard.
"I got accosted by a U.S. border guard down here about two months ago. He was interrogating me and this other guy. We even had to produce ID," she said.
The Peace Arch was also an attraction for a study group from China on Tuesday afternoon.
"Canada and America are family, that's what I learned," said Margo, a 16 year old in the group.
"This is a feeling of freedom with no barriers. We want to learn about it. It's a fantastic feeling," said the group's leader, Bruce Shao.