Woman’s ar­rest shocks neigh­bours

City res­i­dent ac­cused of smug­gling asy­lum seek­ers across U.S. border

Regina Leader-Post - - FRONT PAGE - ASH­LEY ROBIN­SON AND BRIAN FITZ­PATRICK

As lo­cals on Trues­dale Drive went about their busi­ness on Wed­nes­day, one res­i­dent de­scribed Michelle Omoruyi and her fam­ily as “reg­u­lar neigh­bours,” and ex­pressed shock that the Regina woman has been charged with smug­gling peo­ple across the U.S. border.

The 43-year-old faces one count of hu­man smug­gling and one count of con­spir­acy to com­mit hu­man smug­gling, af­ter a four-month RCMP in­ves­ti­ga­tion into asy­lum seek­ers cross­ing into Saskatchewan.

As part of the probe, nine for­eign na­tion­als were in­ter­cepted in a ve­hi­cle on Fri­day night af­ter cross­ing north from the U.S. in an area be­tween the North Por­tal and North­gate ports of en­try. Omoruyi is al­leged to have been driv­ing the ve­hi­cle.

On Wed­nes­day at Omoruyi’s home — which had been searched by au­thor­i­ties on Satur­day be­fore charges were laid — three ve­hi­cles sat in the drive­way, but no one an­swered the door and the blinds were drawn. Dogs could be heard bark­ing in­side.

One neigh­bour who did not wish to be named said she knew the fam­ily as “reg­u­lar neigh­bours” to whom she said hello on oc­ca­sion. She had seen the story in the news but did not re­al­ize Omoruyi was the per­son charged, she said.

An­other neigh­bour, again not wish­ing to be named, said he had no­ticed un­usual po­lice pres­ence in the area “about two weeks ago,” but had not no­ticed any­thing un­to­ward since.

“At one time I used to know all my neigh­bours, but not any­more,” he said of the area where “peo­ple mostly keep to them­selves.”

Con­tacted at her work­place in Regina, Omoruyi’s mother Linda Ma­cLeod said, “I know noth­ing,” be­fore adding that the first she had heard of the charges was when the news was an­nounced by RCMP. An aunt of Omoruyi’s said Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon that she, at that point, was not aware of the charges.

At a press con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day, the RCMP said the nine peo­ple — who are all seek­ing asy­lum in Canada — were not in­jured and were safely trans­ferred into Canada Border Ser­vices Agency (CBSA) cus­tody, be­fore be­ing pro­cessed and re­leased.

RCMP did not con­firm the age, sex or na­tion­al­i­ties of the in­di­vid­u­als, but re­vealed that the nine are from West Africa.

“The CBSA has been in­ves­ti­gat­ing or­ga­nized hu­man smug­gling in south­east­ern Saskatchewan since De­cem­ber of 2016,” said Ja­son Evert, as­sis­tant di­rec­tor with the CBSA.

“On Dec. 23, 2016, CBSA of­fi­cers at North Por­tal re­ferred a re­turn­ing male res­i­dent for fur­ther ex­am­i­na­tion. The CBSA launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion as a re­sult of the in­for­ma­tion un­cov­ered dur­ing this ex­am­i­na­tion, and be­gan co-or­di­nat­ing its ef­forts with the RCMP.”

“Through­out the course of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the CBSA un­cov­ered ev­i­dence to sug­gest sus­pected smug­glers were al­legedly bring­ing for­eign na­tion­als into Canada from the United States by fa­cil­i­tat­ing their il­le­gal cross­ing be­tween des­ig­nated ports of en­try.”

Evert said on Fri­day U.S. Cus­toms had iden­ti­fied a sus­pect as he en­tered the U.S. at Por­tal North Dakota. The Amer­i­can agency then no­ti­fied the CBSA, which let the RCMP know that a smug­gling at­tempt might be on the cards.

At 9 p.m. that day, RCMP said they pulled over a woman driv­ing on the Canada side of the border, with the nine peo­ple in her ve­hi­cle.

The next day, RCMP with the as­sis­tance of CBSA and Regina po­lice, ex­e­cuted a search war­rant at the 2900 block of Trues­dale Drive. RCMP said, “ev­i­dence and a sig­nif­i­cant amount of cash was seized from the res­i­dence.”

“A fair por­tion of this cur­rency was for­eign cur­rency,” said RCMP Insp. Donovan Fisher.

Omoruyi was sub­se­quently charged and will make her first ap­pear­ance at Este­van provin­cial court on May 15.

With fig­ures re­leased Wed­nes­day by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment show­ing a con­sid­er­able spike in asy­lum claim “in­ter­cep­tions” from Jan­uary into March, crit­ics have blamed the Safe Third Coun­try agree­ment be­tween Canada and the U.S. for the rise in border jump­ing.

The agree­ment states that peo­ple can’t make refugee claims at Canada-U.S. land border cross­ing points be­cause they should have lodged one in the coun­try they first en­tered.

“The im­pact of the Safe Third Coun­try agree­ment has been to give busi­ness to peo­ple smug­glers, to force peo­ple who are try­ing to save their lives as refugees to turn to peo­ple who are try­ing to make money off this sit­u­a­tion,” said Janet Dench, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cana­dian Coun­cil for Refugees.

Dench said smug­glers take ad­van­tage of peo­ple not know­ing that they don’t need to pay some­body to cross.

“To avoid the Safe Third Coun­try (agree­ment), you just need to present your­self at some point other than the port of en­try,” she said.

In the RM of En­niskillen, which cov­ers the North­gate cross­ing, lo­cals said that last Thurs­day night RCMP of­fi­cers at­tended the coun­cil meet­ing, ask­ing if any­one had heard any­thing about asy­lum seek­ers cross­ing the border in the area.

When coun­cil­lors said they hadn’t, the RCMP told the coun­cil to let them han­dle any­thing with re­gard to any il­le­gal border crossers, lo­cals said.

Richard Tessier, reeve of the nearby RM of Coal­fields (North­gate cross­ing) said the news didn’t shock him, but nei­ther had he no­ticed any height­ened se­cu­rity at the border in the past few months.

“Not re­ally sur­prised, with it hap­pen­ing in Man­i­toba as of­ten as it was and be­cause I’m born and raised in the RM, I know ex­actly what the border con­sists of and it’s not sur­pris­ing that they’re in be­tween Por­tal and North­gate, that they’d be jump­ing the border,” he said.

“The way the oil­field is, there’s a lot of new faces in town and it’s been that way for the last cou­ple of years. There’s some prob­lems with lan­guage bar­ri­ers and all that. They could blend in very eas­ily be­cause of that.

“You can’t find help, so we’ve had a lot of tran­sients show up in town look­ing for jobs.”

TROY FLEECE

RCMP Insp. Donovan Fisher of F Di­vi­sion fed­eral op­er­a­tions and na­tional se­cu­rity, and Ja­son Evert, as­sis­tant di­rec­tor with Canada Border Ser­vice Agency, speak at a news con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day in Regina.

Comments

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.