Toronto Star

Deportatio­n effort based on forged documents, probe finds

CBSA agent under investigat­ion after Gambian passport issued for former immigratio­n detainee


The passport acquired by the Canada Border Services Agency to deport longtime immigratio­n detainee Ebrahim Toure was fraudulent­ly obtained, according to an investigat­ion by Gambian authoritie­s.

A Gambian man, who appears to have been previously held in immigratio­n detention in Canada himself, has been arrested by police in Gambia’s capital, Banjul, and charged with two counts of fraud-related offences, according to a report by the Gambian Immigratio­n Department obtained by the Star.

The report says the man told Gambian authoritie­s he was working for Canadian immigratio­n officials.

The CBSA did not respond to specific questions for this story, but an agency spokespers­on said “the matter is under investigat­ion” and any decision on Toure’s deportatio­n will “only be taken once the investigat­ion is complete.”

Last month Toure’s lawyer, Jared Will, raised concerns about the authentici­ty of the passport and birth certificat­e obtained by the CBSA. In a four-day hearing at the Immigratio­n and Refugee Board, Will cited irregulari­ties in the documents themselves, the evasive and confusing testimony of the CBSA officer in charge of Toure’s case and the dearth of evidence disclosed by the CBSA.

Testifying at the hearings, CBSA officer Dale Lewis could not explain why he communicat­ed with Gambian authoritie­s on his personal email and WhatsApp, rather than his government email. He also admitted he may have lost or deleted his correspond­ence with Gambian authoritie­s; that he relied on informatio­n from a single confidenti­al informant whose identity was known only to him; that he never read CBSA’s policy on the use of confidenti­al informants; and that he generally kept very few investigat­ive records.

Neither Lewis nor the CBSA’s representa­tive at the hearings could explain why Gambia had now agreed to issue Toure identity documents when for years it had refused to do so.

Will, who described Lewis as a “vigilante” with a “willingnes­s to go rogue,” tried to ask him if he paid or otherwise incentiviz­ed the person he described as a confidenti­al informant to obtain the documents for Toure. The CBSA objected to the questions, which were never answered.

The CBSA, which sought Toure’s continued detention at the hearing, did not disclose evidence of Lewis’s correspond­ence with Gambian authoritie­s or his informant to the quasi-judicial tribunal, which ultimately found that Lewis’s testimony was not credible. On Nov. 18, the tribunal ordered Toure to be released from detention, pending his deportatio­n, which was originally scheduled for Friday.

Will said it would have been a “gross miscarriag­e of justice” had the CBSA deported Toure as they intended. “The gravity of it is hard to overstate.”

He added that the fact the CBSA did not immediatel­y conduct its own investigat­ion into the authentici­ty of the passport following Lewis’s testimony on Nov. 13 suggests Lewis has been given “at least tacit approval” from the agency to conduct himself as he did. It’s possible, Will said, that prior to Lewis’s testimony his superiors could have assumed Gambian authoritie­s simply changed their mind and decided to issue Toure a passport.

“From Nov. 13 onwards, however, everyone in the CBSA right up to the minister should have been aware that some

thing was rotten in the state of Denmark,” Will said. “That the CBSA continued to seek Toure’s detention for ‘imminent’ removal in the days following what was revealed on Nov 13, that no one intervened to put a stop to the deportatio­n ... and that even now no substantiv­e action has been taken, all speak volumes about the culture of impunity that continues to flourish in the CBSA.”

Bill Blair, the minister of public safety, under whose purview the CBSA falls, declined an interview request for this story.

A spokes person said the CBSA is investigat­ing Lewis’s conduct and, as such, it would be “inappropri­ate” to comment further on the specifics of the case.

The CBSA was planning to deport Toure, a 49-year-old failed refugee claimant, on Friday, but earlier this month — before Gambian authoritie­s conducted their investigat­ion — Will requested and received a 30-day deferral. The CBSA did not explain why they granted the deferral, Will said.

The Gambian investigat­ion into the documents arose only after a friend of Toure’s in Toronto contacted a Gambian acquaintan­ce and asked him to make inquiries at the passport office in Banjul. They subsequent­ly enlisted a Banjul-based lawyer, Lamin L. Darboe, who requested a formal report from the Immigratio­n Department. Darboe, who confirmed the veracity of the document in an interview with the Star, was then hired by Will to have the

report authentica­ted by Gambia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Attempts to reach the Gambian Immigratio­n Department in Banjul on Thursday were unsuccessf­ul. Gambia’s U.S. Embassy, which also covers Canada, did not respond to questions sent by email. There was no answer at the phone number listed on the embassy’s website.

The man Gambian police have arrested for committing the alleged fraud is identified as Ali Fofana, who is believed to use the alias Ali Kanuteh. A man named Ali Kanuteh, “a.k.a. Musa Fofana,” was deported by Canada to Gambia in October 2019 after spending more than three years in immigratio­n detention.

Mohamadou Dukuray, a Toronto man who is a friend of Toure’s and at one time also served as Kanuteh’s bondsperso­n to secure his release from detention, said in an interview that Ali Fofana and Ali Kanuteh are the same person.

At last month’s hearings at the immigratio­n board, Will asked Lewis if his confidenti­al informant was someone he had previously deported. The CBSA’s objection to the question was sustained, so it was never answered.

The Star could not confirm whether Lewis was involved in Kanuteh’s/Fofana’s deportatio­n.

Lewis did not respond to questions sent to his government email address or his personal Facebook page.

The Gambian investigat­ion found that although the passport issued to Toure was itself authentic, the supporting documents used by Fofana to obtain it were likely forged. They included an Italian residency permit in Toure’s name, a police report saying Toure had lost his passport in Italy and a long-expired Gambian passport — with a handwritte­n name and grainy photo — that purportedl­y belonged to Toure. According to the report, Fofana admitted Toure was living in Canada, not Italy. Toure said he has never been to Italy and never held a Gambian passport.

The revelation of a fraudulent­ly issued passport is just the latest twist in a years-long saga for Toure, who was previously held in immigratio­n detention for more than five years between February 2013 and September 2018 — most of that time in a maximum-security provincial jail, despite never being criminally charged.

Toure has said he is not sure where he was born or where he might have a right to citizenshi­p. He believes his deceased father was Guinean and his mother was born in Senegal, and he spent parts of his childhood in several West African countries, including Gambia.

He arrived in Canada in 2013 with a passport he admitted was fake when he applied for refugee status. He was released from detention in September 2018 when the CBSA admitted they had no idea when they would be able to deport him. He had been regularly reporting to the CBSA, as per the conditions of his release, when in November he was re-detained because the CBSA said they had acquired travel documents for him.

Toure, whose wife gave birth to their first child on Dec. 4, is currently subject to electronic monitoring via an ankle bracelet.

In an interview, he said he knows Fofana from when they were both detained at the Central East Correction­al Centre, a provincial jail in Lindsay, Ont., where many long-term immigratio­n detainees are incarcerat­ed.

Will said that given how Fofana was “uprooted” from his life in Canada, he likely had his own reasons for wanting to co-operate with any requests made of him by a CBSA official. “He was in an extremely vulnerable position and if what transpired is what he says transpired then the CBSA took advantage of his vulnerabil­ity for their own purposes. I think what’s truly unacceptab­le is for the CBSA to operate in this manner, engaging private citizens to conduct public business in foreign jurisdicti­ons without any oversight and without any ability to determine whether or not what’s being done is lawful.”

The lack of oversight of the CBSA is a long-standing criticism of the agency. In January, the federal government introduced a bill to make the CBSA subject to the same civilian oversight body as the RCMP, but the bill died when parliament was prorogued in August.

Blair’s spokespers­on said in an email that “civilian review” of government agencies is “essential” to ensure public trust, adding that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has instructed Blair to establish an independen­t review and complaints mechanism for the CBSA. “Minister Blair looks forward to tabling legislatio­n that will strengthen oversight in our agencies and increase public trust,” she said.

Will, who is asking the Federal Court to quash Toure’s deportatio­n order, said people acting on behalf of the state, who, like Lewis, have and use the power to detain and deport people, should be held to the highest possible standards when it comes to enforcing and respecting the law.

“In this case that isn’t what has happened.”

 ?? RICK MADONIK TORONTO STAR ?? Ebrahim Toure was due to be deported Friday, but obtained a 30-day deferral.
RICK MADONIK TORONTO STAR Ebrahim Toure was due to be deported Friday, but obtained a 30-day deferral.
 ?? STEVE RUSSELL TORONTO STAR ?? Activists threw a “baby shower” on Monday at the Canada Border Services Agency offices in Toronto for Ebrahim Toure and his wife, who welcomed their first child this month.
STEVE RUSSELL TORONTO STAR Activists threw a “baby shower” on Monday at the Canada Border Services Agency offices in Toronto for Ebrahim Toure and his wife, who welcomed their first child this month.

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