By Adrien Humphreys
At the international airport in Conakry, capital of the West African nation of Guinea, four men arrived on an Air France flight from Paris: two were Canadian immigration enforcement officers; another man, the only African among them, was their prisoner, Canada’s so-called Man With No Name because his identity cannot be proven. Completing their unusual foursome was a Serbian businessman working as a “facilitator” for Canada Border Services Agency.
Their arrival — a daring and unorthodox deportation plan using a suspiciously pricey passport arranged by the facilitator with a country the deportee was not a citizen of — quickly turned into a debacle.
Met by suspicious Guinean police, there was a tense confrontation. Threatened with arrest and facing pointed questions about the legitimacy of their prisoner’s travel document, Canada’s immigration officers nervously deleted sensitive messages from their BlackBerrys in case they were seized.
The National Post can reveal that this failed deportation, which CBSA worked to conceal, exposed the involvement of a mysterious facilitator in some of Canada’s most difficult immigration cases, working outside normal channels and using unconventional methods in attempts to deport special cases of long-term illegal immigrants living in Canada to Iran, South Africa, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Guinea and Cameroon.
An internal review conducted by CBSA said the use of the facilitator violated the agency’s own payment policy, security policy and even Canada’s immigration act.
The government is so desperate to settle this case
But the twisting tale of a foreign businessman trying to solve the already bizarre case of the Man With No Name took even more unexpected turns, with Reg Williams, the CBSA director who called in the facilitator and lost his position, he said, because of the airport debacle, saying he was sacrificed by senior CBSA brass who had approved his plan and were ready to take credit if it had succeeded, but then punished him when it failed.
“They knew this was unusual,” Mr. Williams said in an interview when asked about the case. “They were briefed up and down.”
The circumstances of the aborted deportation and the involvement of the Serbian facilitator angers the immigration consultant working to free the Man With No Name.
“The government is so desperate to settle this case, it seems they are taking extraordinary measures, but to get to the point where they would try to use a fraudulent travel document is crazy. The whole thing is really sketchy,” said Macdonald Scott.
The Man With No Name arrived in Canada on an Amtrak train in 2005 using a bogus U.S. passport in the name of Andrea Jerome Walker. When he was convicted the following year for carrying $10 worth of crack cocaine, CBSA tried to deport him back the United States — but the name and his passport proved to be false.
For more than seven years, he has lived in jail in Ontario because his identity cannot be confirmed. Until Canada knows who he is and where he was born, officials cannot deport him. A global fingerprint search by Interpol, the international police organization, came back with eight different identities he used before coming to Canada.
After years of lying to police, CBSA and the Immigration and Refugee Board, claiming several different identities, he now insists he is Michael Mvogo from Cameroon. Unable to prove it, however, the Cameroonian government declined to issue a passport.
It was in the midst of this bizarre state of limbo that Mr. Mvogo, if that is his name, was introduced to Ivan Simic, the facilitator.
Mr. Simic is an international man of some mystery. He travels widely, has diplomatic connections with countries around the world, displays enviable charm and is involved in foreign media projects. Born in March of 1980 in Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, near the banks of the Danube River, he maintains a home there but is often travelling.
In late 2010, Mr. Simic visited Canada on a visa declaring him to be the director of the European office of Korea’s Seoul Times newspaper. In his visa application he said the purpose of his visit was to do post-election analysis, visit government institutions, meet South Korea’s embassy staff and promote Canadian tourism in the Korean media. He intended to be in Canada from November 2010 to January 2011.
It was near the end of his trip that Mr. Simic was contacted by Mr. Williams, the director of the Greater Toronto Enforcement Centre (GTEC), Canada’s largest and busiest immigration centre, handling more than half of all immigration enforcement activity in the country.
Mr. Simic was recommended to Mr. Williams by contacts in Europe who said the mystery man had good connections in many African countries.
CBSA certainly had problematic cases — illegal immigrants facing deportation who can’t be removed for one reason or another from Iran, South Africa, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Guinea and Cameroon.
But the No. 1 headache for CBSA was the man currently known as Mr. Mvogo. The high-profile case meant weekly pressure from CBSA headquarters in Ottawa and regular questions from the minister’s office, Mr. Williams said.
At their first meeting, on Jan. 6, 2011, Mr. Williams showed Mr. Simic a copy of thePost’s published investigation on Mr. Mvogo. Within days, Mr. Simic had taken the story and used portions of it for news stories that appeared in newspapers in the Caribbean and across Africa, in some cases publishing his email address as the person to contact with answers, not the special CBSA hotline.
Mr. Simic offered to help in more direct ways.
CBSA introduced Mr. Simic to Mr. Mvogo inside the immigration holding centre in Toronto where Mr. Mvogo was being held.
“Mvogo was talking to him on a consensual basis. I wasn’t forcing him to talk to him. Mvogo started calling him on his own and talking to him,” Mr. Williams said. “Ivan Simic had a much better rapport with him than CBSA did. It looked like he was making progress.”
Mr. Simic visited Mr. Mvogo several times in the detention centre and talked to him on the phone often. It was to Mr. Simic that Mr. Mvogo finally admitted he wasn’t Michael Gee from Haiti, another false identity he had claimed, and was really from Cameroon. But even that admission did not help as Cameroon’s embassy declined to issue Mr. Mvogo a travel document without proof.
That’s when Mr. Simic suggested Guinea.
CBSA quickly learned Mr. Simic really did have diplomatic connections. Immigration officers escorted Mr. Mvogo to the Guinea embassy in Ottawa, with Mr. Simic.
“When they walked in, Ivan Simic was welcomed with open arms, they were ushered right in to the ambassador’s office,” said Mr. Williams. “Iranian diplomats, Ivory Coast diplomats, they all knew him on a first name basis. He did have a lot of contacts.”
Mr. Williams concedes he did not subject Mr. Simic to careful scrutiny. “We didn’t do a background check, we didn’t do a security check, I didn’t think it was necessary because he didn’t have access to CBSA systems or facilities. He was talking to Mvogo on a consensual basis. And he was getting information from him,” he said.
In a matter of weeks, Mr. Simic secured a Guinean passport for use by Mr. Mvogo — although it was in the name of Michael Milimono, a name unrelated to him and with unmatched biographic data.
This was a problem for CBSA.
There was no way we can use a fabricated name on a passport
“I said there was no way we can use a fabricated name on a passport,” said Mr. Williams. “It would have been unthinkable to use the document in the bogus name and … misrepresent a deportee’s identification to another government in the course of a removal. I rejected that document completely. The document would have been deemed to be fraudulent. I don’t think Ivan understood that.”
Before Mr. Simic returned to Serbia, Mr. Williams authorized CBSA to pay him €1,500 for his time spent on the Mvogo case, according to an invoice dated Jan. 24, 2011. The equivalent amount of $2,391.10 was processed as a sole-source government contract and issued through normal channels for a government cheque. Mr. Williams also gave him a few hundred dollars out of his own pocket to pay for his cellphone bill, he said.
When Mr. Simic returned to Canada in the summer of 2011, CBSA was no further ahead on Mr. Mvogo. Mr. Simic offered another chance at taking him to Guinea.
CBSA struck a deal with Mr. Mvogo: Canada would pay for a Guinean travel document, pay his airfare and give him $3,000 cash to start a new life outside Canada if he was willing to go. He asked for $5,000 but CBSA didn’t budge, according to Mr. Williams. He agreed and signed affidavits swearing his name was Michael Mvogo.
After already getting one passport in a false name, Mr. Simic was able to soon secure a laissez passer, a single-journey travel document that can be used in lieu of a passport, in the name of Michael Mvogo. This time, the bio data also matched what Mr. Mvogo claimed, including being born in Cameroon. Issued on Nov. 25, 2011, the document was couriered to CBSA from Guinea’s foreign ministry in Conakry.
And, as unusual as that was, it carried an unusual price tag: $5,000. Foreign travel passes typically cost between $25 to $300.
Concern over the propriety of the Guinea documents is heightened by Guinea’s recent history of rampant corruption. The most recent Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Guinea as one of the 30 most corrupt countries in the world. The planned deportation took place just one year after the country’s first democratically elected president took office and before recent efforts to curtail corruption.
“There was no reason to doubt the authenticity of the document, it came directly from the Guinea ministry of foreign affairs with a receipt. I didn’t think it was anything shady,” said Mr. Williams.
Mr. Williams said CBSA brass were briefed on the plan – including being told the unusually high price and the “unconventional means” through which it was obtained – but was never cautioned against the plan.
Weeks before the trip to Guinea, an email from senior bosses in Ottawa to Mr. Williams said: “You’re good to go on this one.”
Mr. Simic was paid $5,000 for his effort and provided airfare for the trip — $3,000 upfront and another $2,000 in cash to be given in Conakry after the mission.
On Dec. 17, 2012, two CBSA officers escorted Mr. Mvogo on a flight from Toronto to Paris, where they met Mr. Simic who had flown in from Hungary, CBSA documents show. They flew together to Conakry.
Immediately there were problems
“Immediately there were problems,” says an internal CBSA report filed afterwards by the two officers, David Fyfe and Gary Campbell, who escorted Mr. Mvogo.
Mr. Simic had told them Guinean government officials would greet them and escort them through security, but such contacts were nowhere to be found, the report says.
It was 7 p.m., local time. Mr. Simic “was visibly distraught” and making numerous calls on his phone. The commissioner in charge of airport security started interrogating Mr. Mvogo in French.
“When he asked Mr. Mvogo where he was born, Mr. Mvogo replied Cameroon. This seemed to upset the Commissioner greatly … he was confused as to why we were even attempting to enter Guinea,” says the report. “Mr. Simic was present in the Commissioner’s office during this exchange and did not say a word. He did not offer any explanation or provide any input whatsoever when we were questioned about the travel document he provided.”
The Canadian officers sent worried text messages to CBSA: they were not being let in, authorities were questioning the legitimacy of Mr. Mvogo’s travel document, and they were being threatened with arrest. The nervous officers started deleting sensitive messages from their BlackBerrys in case they were seized.
After hours of tense negotiations, the CBSA officers were allowed to leave the airport to sleep at a hotel; police detained Mr. Mvogo overnight; and Mr. Simic seemed to disappear, the report says. The next day, the Canadians went to the airport and regained custody of Mr. Mvogo but Mr. Simic still could not be reached.
Mr. Williams and Susan Kramer, a CBSA official at the agency’s headquarters in Ottawa, had a lengthy conference call with the commissioner in Conakry pleading for him to let Mr. Mvogo in, Mr. Williams said. It was in vain. Police did not accept the document for Mr. Mvogo was valid.
The escorts and Mr. Mvogo returned to Toronto and the prisoner sent back to jail.
Mr. Simic later said he was detained by police and abandoned by CBSA in Conakry.
“I was immediately detained by the Conakry airport police and my deportation back to Paris failed because the Air France plane was full. I was later escorted to Central Police Station, where I was held until Monday morning,” Mr. Simic later complained to CBSA in a letter.
Mr. Simic wrote that the Guinea transfer failed for several reasons, suggesting a bribe at the airport might have been in order.
But “most importantly,” he wrote, it failed because Mr. Mvogo did not lie to the police: “When asked where he is from, [Mvogo] said he is Cameroonian not Guinean, and that he doesn’t know why we brought him to Guinea.”
The next time Mr. Williams heard about Mr. Simic was three months later after a lengthy letter from Mr. Simic was sent to Luc Portelance, the CBSA president, dated March 26, 2012.
Mr. Simic loves the language of diplomacy.
In his letter of complaint to the CBSA president he begins it like a diplomatic dispatch: “I present my compliments to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officials and wish to use this opportunity to inform you as follows…”
When asked where he is from, he said he is Cameroonian not Guinean, and that he doesn’t know why we brought him to Guinea
The letter, obtained by the Post, outlines his version of events.
“I worked exclusively on problematic cases and long-term cases, and on obtaining documents for clients,” he says of his relationship with CBSA’s GTEC and Mr. Williams.
He says he was working with CBSA to establish an “environment for the CBSA to start deportation of long-term cases, investigate and interview problematic cases/clients, establish relations with the governments that CBSA has no relations with.
“I am very disappointed how GTEC and CBSA treated me, in financial and human terms,” he wrote. He then put an ultimatum to CBSA: “We are now faced with only two options: 1. To continue to work together on a real basis and with mutual respect, or 2. For CBSA to pay what is due to me for my services, and stop working relations.”
In the letter, he claims to have been negotiating with foreign governments on a number of long-term detainee cases, including:
- Two cases of Iranian nationals held in Canada on alleged terrorism and immigration violation charges, Mr. Simic says;
- Four other deportation cases, three men and a woman, with his diplomatic contacts in Guinea;
- Negotiated with the Liberian embassy in Washington, D.C., and applied for travel documents to deport five Liberian men from Canada;
- Hammered out a tentative deal with diplomats from South Africa about a South African gangster facing deportation from Vancouver;
- Worked on a deportation case to Ivory Coast that failed because CBSA declined to pay for his travel expenses to discuss it in person, he said;
- And helped CBSA close a file on a man listed on Canada’s Most Wanted list of illegal immigrants when he spotted Dimitrije Karic in Belgrade and helped CBSA prove he had actually left Canada.
Most of his work on these cases has been put on hold, either because CBSA refused to pay his travel expenses to travel to the countries for face-to-face negotiations or CBSA was unwilling to pay him adequately for his efforts, he wrote.
“It was becoming increasingly clear that Mr. Simic was using the Mvogo case to attempt to get involved in other cases to ‘sell’ his services,” Mr. Williams wrote in his internal response to Mr. Simic’s letter of complaint.
It was an insult to me, it was an insult to my organization and it was an insult to our partners who we were working with
The ramifications for Mr. Williams were significant. He was told he was being removed as director of GTEC, effective the next business day, and transferred to an administrative job, Mr. Williams said.
“It was an insult to me, it was an insult to my organization and it was an insult to our partners who we were working with. I said, ‘No, I’ll just retire.’” His request for early retirement was approved within two hours, he said. On May 22, 2012, after 14 years as GTEC director, Mr. Williams left, disappearing from the office and leaving rumours and questions among staff, lawyers, other agencies and journalists.
An internal review by CBSA’s Security and Professional Standards Directorate then accused him of violating CBSA contracting policies regarding Mr. Simic; breaching its security policy by not first subjecting him to a background check; and breaking the immigration act by hiring a foreign national without a work permit.
Mr. Williams is grieving his treatment to the Public Service Labour Relations Board and is awaiting a hearing date, claiming the review was flawed and conducted in bad faith by CBSA senior managers.
“They just didn’t want any political fallout from this. It was a hot potato for them,” he said of CBSA brass.
“I wasn’t acting alone — everyone up the line knew about it. Key directors in CBSA headquarters knew and supported the approach taken,” he said.
“I’m enjoying my retirement, but I don’t think what happened was right. There was constant and intense pressure from Ottawa to find a way to remove this individual. He was costing tax payers half a million dollars – these are the real-life problems I faced. The CBSA approach is to encourage executives to take different approaches to solve problems. If the removal had worked, they’d take credit for it; when it fails they don’t support you.”
CBSA documents suggest he is right.
A CBSA “Issue Fact Sheet” was prepared the day Mr. Simic’s letter arrived, noting it was “alleging incidents that may reflect poorly on the agency.” The sheet ended with a similar concern: “The allegations asserted by Mr. Simic are significant and can impact the agency should he take his quarrel to the media.”
CBSA also shut the media out of the previously public monthly detention review hearings for Mr. Mvogo after the failed deportation. Up until then, the Post had attended many of his reviews until CBSA requested they be closed. The hearings remained private for a year until media requests to have them reopened were accepted by the IRB.
At his IRB hearings, Mr. Mvogo did speak about the Guinea trips, saying: “I have been, you know, cooperated to deport me,” Mr. Mvogo said in faltering English. “Two times to deport me to Guinea which is not my country… and they send two immigration officer.”
They were clearly afraid of this hitting the media
Mr. Scott, who is Mr. Mvogo’s representative before the IRB, said the CBSA has worked to keep the trip secret.
“They were clearly afraid of this hitting the media, in terms of how quickly they [closed the IRB hearings],” Mr. Scott said. More worrisome for him, however, was that Mr. Mvogo was placed in solitary confinement for months afterwards. He suspects it was to keep his client from revealing the escapade.
“I think it was to keep him from talking to you,” Mr. Scott said.
Although his client agreed to go to Guinea, he did not expect it to go so poorly. Mr. Mvogo was detained in Guinea overnight and again in Paris during the return journey, said Mr. Scott.
“He was pretty freaked out. The experience was shocking to him.”
There is also evidence CBSA was planning to boast about the removal to Guinea had it been successful. CBSA prepared a “proactive” communications strategy, meaning it was a story the CBSA wanted to tell. The CBSA planned to leak the news to the Post in a “low-key proactive email,” the communications strategy document says.
Further, it defended the approach as a necessity.
“The CBSA is [sic] carried out this removal in accordance with its mandate,” it said.
Mr. Williams also defends his actions.
“On removals, it is not a black and white issue. These are murky areas — you just have to be careful not to overstep boundaries. This was not a run-of-the-mill case. It was in that light that Simic was brought in. With him, we got further on this case than we had before.
“Detention costs were escalating, he was continuing in detention, the publicity was continuing, there was no end in sight,” he said.
Removals to third countries, although rare, are legal. He said traditional methods of removing Mr. Mvogo had repeatedly failed.
“You had to try to do things differently – not illegally, but differently. I didn’t do everything perfectly here, but I think we did the best anyone could have done at that point.”
The Post has been in email contact with Mr. Simic, who acknowledged his interest and efforts on the case of Mr. Mvogo.
“I have been advised by the CBSA not to get involved in any media inquires and to direct any questions that concerns CBSA back to CBSA,” he said.
A series of requests over two days to CBSA seeking answers to questions and comment on the case has gone unanswered.