Woman Charged With Human Smuggling As Police Investigate Possible Cross-Border Network

REUTERS/Christinne Muschi

David Krayden Ottawa Bureau Chief
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Royal Canadian Mounted Police have charged Michelle Omoruyi, 43, with human smuggling — a rare offense.

Omoruyi is charged with one count of human smuggling, in violation of federal immigration laws, and one count of conspiracy to commit human smuggling, in violation of the criminal code.

Further charges may be forthcoming as RCMP investigate what may be a cross-border smuggling network. Police intercepted nine foreign nations from West Africa who were never officially processed as immigrants or refugees.

At a news conference Wednesday in Regina, Saskatchewan, border control agents said the charges came after a four-month investigation that coincided with a spike in asylum seekers entering Canada from the U.S. illegally at various remote border crossings.

“Throughout the course of the investigation, the Canada Border Services Agency (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,” said Jason Evert, a CBSA assistant director.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has seized on the arrest to suggest that Canada is coping with the influx of illegal refugees and is not overwhelmed. In a statement Wednesday, Goodale’s office called the “spontaneous asylum seekers” a small portion of the overall number of people seeking refugee status in Canada.

The statement said that most of the illegals hold U.S. visas, meaning they have probably been screened by American security: “To be clear — trying to slip across the border in an irregular manner is not a ‘free’ ticket to Canada.”

Goodale’s optimism has repeatedly been rejected by the union president Jean-Pierre Fortin, who represents Canada’s border guards. He has described the porous U.S.-Canadian border as resembling “Swiss cheese” and suggested more vigorous and mobile border security. Fortin has reserved comment on the human smuggling charges.

Those charges are the result of an investigation that began last December after border guards at the North Portal, Saskatchewan crossing questioned a man who was coming back to Canada after a stay in the U.S. Last Friday evening, a suspect was stopped by U.S. border guards as tried to cross into North Dakota. They altered their Canadian counterparts at the CBSA.

Evert says the border agency then called the RCMP to say that a “smuggling attempt may be imminent,” Evert said.

At 9 p.m., the RCMP stopped a woman who was accompanied by nine passengers from West Africa who had entered Canada somewhere along the Saskatchewan-North Dakota border.

The nine suspects then filed refugee claims with the CBSA and were released from custody while their refugee status is assessed by authorities.

On Saturday, a police search of a Regina home discovered a stash of money in Canadian and other currencies.

“We have enlisted the services of our proceeds of crime experts to analyze the money, analyze the situation around which the money was found, and any supporting documents that were included with that, including potentially looking at bank records,” RCMP Inspector Donovan Fisher told reporters.

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