A notorious Canadian human smuggler allegedly charged up to $65,000 for illicit passage to Canada through the Caribbean, according to U.S. court documents that spotlight the hefty sums collected by those who transport migrants.
The FBI has accused former Toronto resident Srikajamukan Chelliah of levying fees of between C$28,000 and C$65,000 on a group of Sri Lankans caught aboard a cramped ship intercepted off the coast of Turks and Caicos last October.
U.S. authorities say the ship left Haiti carrying 158 passengers, including 28 Sri Lankans, who were destined for the U.S. From there, many of them were to continue by vehicle to Canada to make refugee claims according to the allegations. Some have families already in Canada.
Chelliah was also arrested aboard the ship and has been extradited to the U.S. to stand trial for human smuggling.
The interdiction of the ship has left many stranded in the Turks and Caicos, including 16 Sri Lankans who are seeking refugee status from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) so they can be resettled, possibly in Canada.
“Most of these people have borrowed or sold up to be able to fund this trip on the understanding that they would make a new life not just for themselves, but for their families,” their lawyer Tim Prudhoe told Global News from Turks and Caicos.
“It’s been a complete life disaster.”
Prudhoe said it’s been a nearly yearlong battle after he learned that dozens of people allegedly left stranded by Chelliah were being kept in a police processing facility from the middle of October until February, when he applied for their release. He said many made the desperate choice to pay the enormous sums of money to escape persecution and discrimination in Sri Lanka.
Communicating with his clients has also been extraordinarily challenging as they only speak Tamil, forcing Prudhoe to pay for a translator out of his own pocket. The ongoing restrictions around COVID-19 have also slowed the court process and meetings with clients, Prudhoe said.
“They get on a boat overnight so overcrowded that it almost sinks only to be arrested as they reach the shore of the Turks and then taken at night to a police detention centre, which is designed to hold people for a few days at most,” he said. “It’s a processing centre with holding cells. They then spend several months crammed together in only two cells.”
Three of the 16 Sri Lankans Prudhoe represents have been designated as refugees and he is hoping for the same outcome for the remaining 13.
And while Prudhoe says they are now being cared for by the Turks and Caicos government, they are being given limited food and water.
“They’re hungry because they’re not being fed enough. They’re not being provided with enough water and they’re 10,000 miles away from their homeland and still a lifetime away, in some senses, from where they wanted to end up,” he said.
“For them, the sorts of money that changed hands were really life-changing amounts.”
A spokesperson for UNHCR said it is supporting Turks and Caicos to implement its responsibilities under the 1951 Refugee Convention to ensure that potential asylum seekers are protected from being returned until a final decision has been made in their case.
“The TCI Government has requested support from UNHCR to determine refugee status for several individuals who have requested asylum on the island,” said a spokesperson for the UN Refugee Agency in an email.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, meanwhile, said it wasn’t able to comment on individual cases due to “privacy concerns.”
“This includes confirming or denying that an application has been submitted to us,” an IRCC spokesperson said in an email. “In general, we rely on the (UNHCR), other referral organizations and private sponsorship groups for referrals of refugees who need to be resettled.”
Coast guard rescues 120 migrants off Turkish coast
Chelliah, meanwhile, has been extradited to Florida where he is now facing charges including conspiracy to bring aliens to the U.S. and encouraging and inducing aliens to enter the U.S. for financial gain, according to U.S. court documents.
His public defender, Abigail Becker, declined to allow Global News to speak with her client.
“You cannot speak to my client about his pending case. Sorry, but that is not possible,” she said in an email.
According to a criminal complaint against Chelliah filed in July 2020, six confidential witnesses said they agreed to pay anywhere from UD$21,000 to UD$65,000 to be taken from Sri Lanka to Canada.
“Chelliah, together with others, had made arrangements with the Sri Lankan passengers to smuggle them to Canada in exchange for monetary payments,” the documents said. “The intended route to Canada for approximately half the Sri Lankan passengers was through the United States; and that the trip culminating in the sloop’s interdiction was part of that smuggling operation.”
One witness who spoke with Homeland Security told investigators they would have their payments reduced if they completed various tasks for Chelliah, which allegedly included “collecting the passports of other migrants who wanted to travel to Canada and booking hotels in the Caribbean.
“(The witness) heard Chelliah tell one group of travelers that they would fly to the Bahamas, take a boat to Miami, Florida, drive to Buffalo, New York, and enter Canada over land,” the documents said.
Chelliah spent 18 months in a U.S. prison after he was caught posing as a Canadian immigration officer and other offences. In 2004, he as deported back to Canada but soon went back to human smuggling and was arrested in 2011.
He served a second prison sentence and was deported back to Canada again in 2016 but despite telling a judge he had “completely transformed,” he allegedly resumed his human smuggling business until his arrest last year. The FBI has accused him of smuggling hundreds of people into the U.S.
Liberal MP Gary Anandasangaree said his office has been contacted “by individuals in the Turks and Caicos and their friends and family who live in Canada.
“We have connected them with the UNHCR in Washington for assistance,” he told Global News in an email. “Our office will continue to monitor the situation and work with them to explore options to ensure their safety.”
Prudhoe, meanwhile, said he believes the Canadian government will “inevitably” become involved in the ordeal as many of the Sri Lankans have family around the GTA.
“What will be interesting is to see whether or not (Canada’s) attitude towards these refugees is genuine and whether the (UNHCR’s) designation will be in some way tarnished by the Canadians knowing that these people were trying to be smuggled there in the first place,” he said.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Canada’s transport minister detects ‘shift’ in U.S. outlook after meetings in D.C.
WASHINGTON — The latest federal cabinet minister to press Canada’s case with President Joe Biden’s administration says he is detecting a positive “shift” in U.S. thinking when it comes to the question of tax incentives for electric vehicles.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra spent Tuesday in Washington, D.C., for meetings with officials including U.S. counterpart Pete Buttigieg and senior White House adviser Mitch Landrieu.
It was just the latest in a series of cabinet-level visits — Defence Minister Anita Anand, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino and Trade Minister Mary Ng have been in town in recent weeks — where the ministerial marching orders included voicing opposition to the tax-credit scheme.
Biden’s original vision was a sliding scale of tax incentives, with the richest ones reserved for electric vehicles assembled in the U.S. with union labour — a proposal Ottawa feared would be devastating for Canada’s auto sector.
It died back in December when West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a vital vote in the evenly divided Senate, refused to support Biden’s $2-trillion environmental and social spending package, known as Build Back Better.
Ever since, Canada has maintained a strict defensive footing against the tax credits coming back to life.
“I don’t know if the old incarnation is going to come back exactly as it was or not. But I can say that what I am sensing today is that there is now a shift in strategic outlook,” Alghabra said.
The war in Ukraine, and the way NATO members and allies have made common cause with each other in pushing back against Russia, is putting a “new frame” around how the U.S. deals with its allies, he noted.
The world, including the U.S., better understands that trustworthy trading partners and consistent, reliable supply chains that are impervious to unexpected geopolitical shocks have long been taken for granted.
“There is, I think, a new frame for the conversations that are taking place in the U.S. And while I don’t know what the future of the previous EV tax credit is, I am hopeful that I think now we’re entering into a new type of discussion.”
The White House has acknowledged that it’s working on a scaled-down version of Build Back Better, but has so far refused to say publicly whether the tax credits would return in their original form.
Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., said discussions are underway for legislation that would resurrect some of the environmental provisions of Build Back Better, including its “energy transition-related elements.”
Canada would welcome and support any effort on the part of the U.S. to fight climate change, she said.
“But we never miss an opportunity to re-emphasize with them that, in so doing, it’s imperative that as the staunchest of environmental allies, we do it together in a way that supports each other and doesn’t make this path that we’re on together harder for either of us,” Hillman said.
“That message is heard loud and clear by lawmakers on the Hill, by the White House, and they have expressed an understanding of our concerns, and more than that, a desire to make sure that it works for us in our partnership.”
Manchin, the mercurial moderate Democrat whose support has become essential for any White House measure on Capitol Hill, recently suggested he would not support any proposal that would harm Canada’s auto industry.
Manchin, who heads the Senate’s energy and natural resources committee, hosted Jason Kenney when the Alberta premier testified in person on Capitol Hill earlier this month.
The pair have become cross-border allies as the U.S. looks for ways to both combat inflation while reducing its dependence on fossil fuels from hostile regimes, while Kenney continues to prod the Biden administration to depend more on Canada for its short-term energy needs.
After the May 17 hearing, Manchin said he expects the White House is still working on some sort of a program to encourage American consumers to buy more electric vehicles and ease U.S. dependence on gasoline.
But he insisted that he wouldn’t support any measure that would hurt automakers north of the border.
“There’s no way in the world that we’re going to put that type of harm and allow that to happen,” Manchin said. “My vote would never support that at all.”
It was not abundantly clear whether Manchin was talking specifically about the tax credits or more broadly about Canada’s own efforts to develop its reserves of critical minerals, a key component in the production of electric vehicles.
That ambiguity is part of why Canada remains so guarded on the subject, Hillman said.
“Until we see what is actually on the table and how it’s going to be implemented, we cannot rest.”
Manchin and Kenney both voiced support for the idea of a more closely integrated Canada-U.S. energy “alliance.” It would focus on the need for traditional energy in the short term, as well as reliable bilateral supply chains for critical minerals.
Alghabra said the role Canada could play in buttressing U.S. supply chains for those minerals is also generating increased interest south of the border.
“We have more of those critical minerals, and some types of the critical minerals that the U.S. doesn’t have,” he said. “There’s a new sense of interest and intrigue about this new frame that I think maybe did not exist last year.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2022.
James McCarten, The Canadian Press
‘Extremely serious’: Calgary man involved in terrorism activity sentenced to 12 years
CALGARY — A man who admitted to terrorism-related acts with the militant group Islamic State has been sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Hussein Borhot, 36, appeared Thursday before Court of Queen’s Bench Justice David Labrenz for a sentencing hearing in Calgary.
“Quite clearly, you intended to assist or facilitate the activities of a terrorist group. You carried that plan into action,” Labrenz told Borhot as the judge accepted a joint sentencing recommendation from the Crown and the defence.
“This was an extremely serious and grave crime.”
Borhot pleaded guilty last month to one count of participating in terrorism group activity between May 9, 2013, and June 7, 2014, as well as to kidnapping for a terrorist group while in Syria.
The joint submission recommended eight years on the first count and another four years for the kidnapping.
Labrenz also imposed a lifetime firearms ban and ordered Borhot’s DNA be submitted to a national database.
RCMP arrested Borhot in July 2020 after a seven-year investigation.
An agreed statement of facts read in court in April said he travelled to Syria through Turkey to join the Islamic State.
The statement said he signed up as a fighter, received substantial training and excelled as a sniper, but did not tell his wife or father before the trip.
Court heard that Borhot revealed much of the information to an undercover officer after he returned to Canada.
Before the judge’s decision, Crown prosecutor Kent Brown said it was important to keep in mind that Borhot participated in acts of terrorism.
“Once he decided to join up with ISIS, virtually all his activities were terrorist activities,” he told Labrenz.
Borhot’s lawyer, Rame Katrib, said he and his client agreed to the sentence after lengthy discussions with the Crown.
“Mr. Borhot has tendered a plea of guilty, when there were a lot of issues that could have been litigated, but he has taken responsibility,” Katrib said.
Twelve years in prison isn’t a lenient sentence, the defence lawyer said.
“He’s been back in Canada since these offences occurred,” he said. “He’s been here many years and in that time period he has built a family, he’s worked, he’s led a quiet life.”
Borhot, he noted, was free on bail with strict conditions that included wearing an ankle-tracking device, complying with all laws and checking in regularly with authorities.
“When he goes to jail, he is leaving behind a family. He has four children.”
Katrib said the prison term not only takes into account a fit sentence but rehabilitation as a possibility.
“Mr. Borhot left the organization of his own volition and returned to Canada,” he said.
“The entirety of the family was never supportive of this type of thing and even now are very ashamed of what’s happened, as is Mr. Borhot.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 26, 2022.
Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press
The Gender War amongst Us
The United Nations define gender-based violence as any act of gender-based violence that results in or is likely to result in physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women and other persons, including threats of acts of violence, coercion and arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.
Gender-Based Violence is a global public health problem that challenges and affects the morbidity and mortality of women and the LGBTQ Community. It is estimated that 30% of women and 85% of The LGBTQ have experienced at least one form of GBV in their lifetime since the age of 15. The United Nations study among Women of reproductive age revealed that Intimate Partner Violence(IVP) ranged from 15% in Urban Regions(ie Japan) to 71% in Rural Regions (ie Ethiopia)Evidence reveals that this problem is most prominent in developing nations where socioeconomic status is low and education limited, especially in sub-Saharan Africa countries.
Gender Prejudice and Violence directed towards Women and The LGBTQ Community is globally widespread, even within the well-educated populations of the developed world.
Gender-Based Violence is a common practice in Africa, Asia and developing nations in Latin America. Most African Cultural beliefs and traditions promote men’s hierarchical roles in sexual relationships and especially in marriage. Almost two-thirds (63%) of the African population live in rural settings which increases the difficulty to access basic amenities and communities are isolated from the influence of central governments or the laws that prohibit GBV. Despite legislative advances, GBV remains pervasive and a daily reality for Women, Girls and THE LGBTQ Communities. Within Rwanda, many Women and Girls experience multiple and intersecting forms of violence and oppression including intimate partner violence, sexual violence, early and forced marriages, genital mutilation and human trafficking.
Gender Biased Violence directed towards The LGBTQ Community is high within African society, where their lifestyle may appear as a challenge to other males’ masculinity or gender understanding. Within the Latin Community, such violence exists but is far less felt than in areas within Africa. The Latin Worlds’ understanding of masculinity seems to vary, appearing to be more accepting of “the different”. Many Latin Males have multiple gender partners even within marriage. African attitudes are far more conservative and unyielding.
Gender Politics have shaped our world, moving from ancient acceptance of the power and influence of Womanhood to a place where religion became the excuse to oppress Women and other elements of society like the LGBTQ Community. Humanities’ move toward freedom and self-expression has been squashed by the manipulative, powerful masculinity of Mankind. Impressions of a controlling, protective society show us what we are to believe and how we are to live our lives.
Equality, self-determination and self-expression for Women and the LGBTQ Community still remain important aspects of the developed world’s policymaking and implementation. Within the continents of Africa, Central and Latin America, and some Asian nations government policymakers attempt to legally establish the necessary laws to protect their populations, but cultural, political and societal traditions and prejudices have entangled themselves within these nations’ evolutionary movement towards equal rights and gender democracy. A Gender War remains among us, within us, allowing prejudice, fear and hate to shape our society. Like all wars, there are many casualties, but with education, determination and the hand of justice applied, this war can be won.
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