The lawyer representing a defecting former Chinese communist official says his client will now appeal to the Canadian government to protect him from being returned to China where he could face torture for renouncing the communist regime and exposing abuses in its prisons and labour camps.
Toronto immigration lawyer Joel Etienne says his client, former Shenyang City judicial bureau head Han Guangsheng, will seek a pre-removal risk assessment (PRRA), under which persons in danger of torture or execution can be protected from returning to their home countries.
The move comes after a Canadian federal court judge ruled this week that Han's prior role in the repressive Chinese judicial system prevents him from being protected as a refugee.
Under Canadian law, persons involved in war crimes or crimes against humanity are ineligible for refugee protection.
Justice Carolyn Layden-Stevenson found that there was credible evidence that "widespread and systemic human rights abuses" took place in the labour camps and prisons under Han's supervision.
The judge relied on Falun Gong sources, which she said were consistent with reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, showing severe human rights abuses took place in Han's facilities while he was in command.
She acknowledged, though, that Han had made an effort to help the Falun Gong practitioners, including by releasing some practitioners from prison early, ordering guards not to abuse the practitioners, and reprimanding officers who tortured a 14-year-old Falun Gong girl with electric shocks.
She also found that Han had not necessarily been complicit in the crimes in his camps just by virtue of his position.
Han has likened himself to Oscar Schindler, who protected Jews during the Holocaust and was the subject of a popular film by the same name.
Layden-Stevenson found that it was "admirable" that Han had tried to help the Falun Gong adherents, at risk of punishment himself. But she found "these consequences were far less than the abuses committed by the regime."
She also found that Han had risen steadily in his rank in the regime, despite its abuses, since 1982 and that he had publicly supported its policies in the past.
In Canada, Han has become an outspoken critic of the communist regime, which he has now publicly renounced. Speaking at a conference at the University of Toronto this summer, Han said he was used by the communist party.
"Imagine waking up from a nightmare and discovering that what you once worshiped is in fact a demon that made you act against your conscience," he said.
"You feel a mixture of anger and regret at being taken advantage of and deceived. The pain is so great that you lose your desire to live."
Etienne says that his client needs to be protected so that other officials can have the courage to step forward and leave the regime, preventing further human rights abuses.
Etienne pointed to Layden-Stevenson's decision, which said this "novel" argument could be pursued under a risk assessment.
"The court is reminding the government that it still has the ability to protect Mr. Han," he said. "That is an important message for it to give."
"This ruling clears the way for the risk assessment office to dispel itself of any doubt that Mr. Han could receive protection by them."
In 2001, Han escaped to Canada saying he could no longer tolerate the communist regime's atrocities. He left behind his high rank and government perks in China for a basement room in Toronto, where he now resides.