Suspended sentence for trucker who smuggled people into Canada
A Windsor judge took kindly to a human smuggler on Wednesday, handing a commercial trucker convicted of ferrying 11 Nigerian nationals across the border in the cab of his tractor trailer a suspended sentence and 12 months of probation.
Superior Court Justice Thomas Carey said it was mere “speculation” by the Crown that Paul Ngoue-ngameleu's attempt to smuggle three women and eight children into Canada on Sept. 17, 2017, was a “criminal enterprise” motivated by greed and designed for profit. He also rejected the prosecution's submission that the foreign nationals, who shared the same ethnicity as the trucker from Montreal, had been “subjected to horrific conditions” in the crowded front of the truck.
But the judge also rejected Ngoue-ngameleu's contention at trial that he had no idea all those people were hidden behind the curtain in the truck's cab, which was also shared by his co-driver, who was also charged.
“There's no evidence that these passengers were victims,” said Carey, who added the facts presented were “not inconsistent” with the defence's contention that the incident was a foiled “humanitarian enterprise attempt” and not a for-profit criminal undertaking.
Rather than being criminally charged at the time, Ngouengameleu, 46, faced multiple counts under Canada's Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Following a trial, he was convicted on a single count under the IRPA, while the co-driver was acquitted earlier.
Federal prosecutor Alexa Posliff had initially suggested a three-year prison term, but later recommended a two-year jail sentence. Defence lawyer Kenneth Golish sought a conditional or suspended sentence.
Carey cited previous court cases in which judges stated that a message of general deterrence to others should be the overarching factor in determining a fit sentence in cases of human smuggling, which challenges the integrity of a nation's borders and poses a risk to society with the potential flow of terrorists and other criminals.
Carey concluded there was no proof of preplanning, although there was limited evidence presented at trial. The Montreal-based trucker — a father of two young children with no criminal record and letters of support from family and the community — said he was approached by someone at a Michigan rest stop about an hour from the border and asked to assist a refugee group of mothers and children get into Canada.
At the time, after the election of then-president Donald Trump,
Canada's unguarded border crossings had become a big draw for foreign nationals fleeing the United States. Carey said it was “worth noting ” that crossing the border in this area requires crossing bridges or the water. Unlike those who had entered Canada elsewhere at illegal land crossings, the court heard that the 11 Nigerian nationals (in the U.S. on visitor's visas) arrested that day were not given the opportunity of a hearing and were quickly returned to the Michigan side.
Regardless of any humanitarian motivations in smuggling the fellow west Africans, Carey said that couldn't justify his actions: “He broke the law.”
The judge said he was satisfied Ngoue-ngameleu felt sufficient remorse for the episode and that he has already been punished in that he can no longer drive commercially across the border.