It could happen to anyone. A missed train. A decision to walk home. But on this night, those simple events would change someone's life. In March, 2005, Erika Martyn missed the Skytrain in Surrey, B.C. Within minutes of starting to walk home, she noticed a stranger approach her from across the street. Then things got very scary, very quickly. The man held a knife to her throat and told her not to yell or he would slit her throat.
For 15 minutes the man marched Erika down the street until they reached his apartment, where for the next two-and-a-half hours he beat and repeatedly raped Erika.
"I thought for sure he was going to kill me. He tried. He choked me," Erika recalls. "Every time he raped me, he was choking me as he was beating on me."
When the man left the room for a moment, Erika bolted from the house. Half-naked, she ran down the street, knocking on doors pleading for help. Eventually one man opened his door. He called the police and ambulance and Erika was taken to Surrey Hospital. She had numerous injuries, including a fractured jaw.
Within 24 hours police picked up Mohamed Hagi Mohamud. He was soon charged and pleaded guilty to sexual assault causing bodily harm and unlawful confinement, and was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison.
But Erika's story doesn't end there. There's an ugly twist to the tale: Mohamed should not have been in Canada to kidnap and sexually assault Erika.
Mohamed was a refugee and he'd been convicted twice before – including an earlier sexual assault. By law, Mohamed should have been ordered deported, but it seems that Canada Immigration just overlooked him.
"This wouldn't have happened to me if he was deported," Erika says. "Immigration has got to get off their butt and do their job. Then I wouldn't be going through this right now."
Flawed Immigration system
As shocking as it is, this kind of story is not an exception in Canada. In fact, it happens with alarming frequency. A W-FIVE investigation has found serious and troubling flaws with the immigration enforcement system. And it all comes down to who we allow to stay and who decide to throw out.
One of those Immigration has not thrown out is Luis Gomez-Lopez. Originally from Guatemala, he arrived in Canada in 1994 and within two years committed his first crime. One night in July, 1996, he grabbed a young woman walking home from work, holding a box-cutter to her throat. She was robbed and sexually assaulted. Gomez-Lopez was caught by police, tried and convicted of sexual assault with a weapon and sentenced to nine months in prison. He was also ordered deported, but Gomez-Lopez appealed the deportation order and Immigration said he could stay.
But within a few years, Gomez-Lopez would strike again. And this time his weapon of choice was the date rape drug, GHB. Gomez-Lopez and a friend lured a young woman, and after a couple of drinks, she was rendered unconscious and Gomez-Lopez had sexual intercourse with her. And it was photographed. Once again, Gomez-Lopez was convicted of sexual assault. This time he was sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison.
After serving part of that sentence, Gomez-Lopez appealed his conviction, and pending the appeal, a judge let him out on bail. And, while Gomez-Lopez was once again under a deportation order, Immigration decided he didn't need to be locked up. W-FIVE watched Gomez-Lopez for several days as he was completely free to wander the streets of Toronto with virtually no supervision. And according to police, he was even attending bartending school.
Sandra Gordon is another example of a criminal that Immigration has allowed to stay. Since arriving in Canada in 1972 she has racked up a staggering 57 criminal convictions. And according to the undercover officers who have busted Gordon numerous times, she has made a fortune scamming Canadians. They say she moved over a million dollars out of an account in Canada to an account in Jamaica.
After a lifetime of crime, Gordon was ordered deported in 2001. She appealed that order, and five years later Immigration still hasn't decided what to do with her. In the meantime, Gordon was arrested again a few months ago and charged with more than 120 counts of credit card fraud.
Who is being deported
W-FIVE wanted to find out just who is getting deported. In St. John's Newfoundland, there has been a flurry of deportations and we went to see what kind of person is unfit to live in this country. Alexi Kolosov is one of those cases. He's a Russian fisherman who was stranded in St. John's nine years ago. A skilled net maker, he found work teaching young fisherman this lost art. He applied to stay in Canada and brought his son over. But just months ago, Immigration rejected his application.
Rather than leave, Alexi took sanctuary in the West End Baptist Church. It's a spartan existence, but Alexi now has four Canadian grandchildren. His son, already deported, started a family in Newfoundland. And the children depend on their grandfather for emotional and financial support.
Pastor Gordon Sutherland is the man who has given Alexi sanctuary. He recognizes he's breaking the law, but he says "there are times when we have to answer to a higher authority. And the policy or practice of sanctuary is one that goes back to the Old Testament."
Another person Immigration has ordered deported is Vladimir Ronenson. A carpenter by trade, his skills were in high demand in St. John's. The shop where he worked actually hired extra people to complete contracts brought in by Ronenson. He says his family moved to Canada to avoid religious persecution.
With a home and a mortgage and his son in his last year of high school, Immigration has rejected the Ronenson's refugee application and ordered them deported.
The cases in St. John's, a city that is trying to attract skilled immigrants, has some people up in arms. Weekly protests have been held and the local media have been running stories about how unfair these deportations are.
The situation in St. John's is not an isolated one. It's happening right across Canada. Nail the easy cases and virtually ignore the rotten apples. In fact, the whole Immigration system seems designed to allow criminals to play it like a fiddle. There are appeals, and there are appeals to the appeals. And if you know how the system works, you can stretch the process out for years.
When ordered out, many criminals just don't show up at the airport. Immigration has a task force to find them, but they're overworked and they may not know where you are. In the case of Gomez-Lopez, Immigration had an address for him that didn't even exist. And in the case of Sandra Gordon, W-FIVE found that the address Immigration had for her was a locked office near Toronto.
Richard Kurland is a well-known immigration lawyer in Vancouver. He says the system is set up to go after people who are easy to deport. "What's easier for you to do? Catch grandmothers or criminals?" says Kurland. "It's as simple as that. Do you want to finish your day at 5:30 or 1:00 in the afternoon? If you go after the grandmothers and the sisters, you're home early. If you want to go after the hardened criminals, you got to burn that midnight oil."
Kurland's theory is backed up by an internal Immigration report obtained by W-FIVE that states: "…removal officers also reported that they are required to meet quotas … the number of removals … comes first, not the quality of the work they do."
W-FIVE tried to find out how many criminals are at large in Canada waiting to be deported. Immigration wouldn't tell us. And we asked for an interview with Alain Jolicoeur, president of the Canada Border Services Agency and the man in charge of deporting criminals. But he refused.
But an Immigration Department report obtained by W-FIVE offers some insight: In 2003, in Toronto alone, 1,704 criminals, ordered out of the country had yet to be deported.
And nearly 1,600 of them, many serious offenders, were free to walk the streets.