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Pot Workers Claim 'Wilful Blindness'

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Three Chinese immigrants on trial for working on a rural Manitoba pot farm believed they were harvesting fruits, vegetables or even "medicinal herbs", a Winnipeg court heard Tuesday.

The men all testified in their own defence and claimed to have no knowledge they were part of what police say was a multimillion-dollar grow operation. They have pleaded not guilty, along with two female co-accused, for their alleged crimes.

Crown attorney Anne Turner questioned their stories during cross-examination, saying they must have suspected that offers to make up to $300 a day were "too good to be true."

Quan Yang Liang, 42, told court through a translator he was recruited by a mystery man in Toronto's Chinatown in the fall of 2005 and didn't ask many questions.

"I did ask what kind of a job it was on the farm and he told me even he didn't know what it was," said Liang, who had come to Canada a decade earlier.

"But once you got to the farm you must have realized it was something illegal," Turner suggested.

"No," replied Liang. He was told to drive a van filled with fellow immigrants to Sundown, Man., which is about 140 kilometres east of Winnipeg.

Hui Jin Li, 47, was also in the van and told court Tuesday he figured they were being asked to work on "Chinese medicine plants" because the smell was similar to some herbs from back home.

Li said he didn't question the offer to be paid good money under the table, believing it was fair compensation for the difficult farm labour.

"Working on the farm was very difficult," said Li, who came to Canada 15 years ago and has worked a variety of minimum-wage jobs in restaurants.

Song Dick Chin was the third to testify and admitted he was quite "confused" by what he saw at the farm.

Chin said he suffered a bad cut on his finger and was unable to work.

"I was very confused. I cut my finger and blood was coming out like a fountain. I wanted to leave but I couldn't," said Chin.

Defence lawyer Mike Cook opened his case Monday by putting two female accused -- both single mothers -- on the witness stand in their own defence.

The women told court they also had no idea what they were getting into. One woman said she wanted some extra money so her son could afford to buy a computer. She was working in a coffee shop, earning minimum wage. The other woman was on social assistance.

The five suspects were among 28 people arrested in October 2005 following an extensive undercover RCMP investigation that yielded $19 million worth of pot. They are the first to go on trial.

Police found 25 men and three women sleeping side-by-side, head-to-toe in every room of a tiny, 700-square-foot house during an early morning raid last October.

More than 10,000 mature pot plants were thriving in four sprawling greenhouses sitting on the same rural farm property, which was hidden from the public by a thick curtain of trees.

Cook said there's no denying the accused were working at a major criminal enterprise, but that still doesn't mean an automatic conviction. The Crown has to prove they had both "knowledge and control" of the marijuana.

Cook said his clients are claiming "wilful blindness" -- which essentially means they didn't know any better.

Khyong Wong, the alleged mastermind behind the grow operation, has avoided prosecution by somehow slipping out of Canada while the subject of an undercover police investigation.

He is being sought on a Canada-wide warrant. His most recent address was in Burnaby, B.C., but justice sources say he has likely returned to his native Hong Kong.

Wong, 43, has lived in various provinces including B.C., Manitoba and Ontario, but would probably not face extradition even if caught because he is a Chinese national and therefore exempt.

Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2007 Winnipeg Free Press
Contact: letters@freepress.mb.ca
Website: Winnipeg Free Press
 
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