One vehicle full of West African asylum seekers and one alleged human smuggler were apprehended south of Weyburn along the U.S. border on the weekend and now multiple Canadian residents are in police custody on both sides of the border.
Michelle Omoruyi, 43, of Regina will be in Estevan Provincial Court to face human smuggling charges on May 15 at 9:30 a.m. She is charged with one count of Human Smuggling under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and one count of Conspiracy to Commit Human Smuggling under the Criminal Code of Canada. RCMP Inspector Donovan Fisher confirmed human smuggling charges are rare in Canada and require the attorney general to sign off on them. They are often waived if there are humanitarian causes at play.
US Customs and Border Patrol confirms they apprehended three individuals. Two of them were Canadian citizens and the third was Nigerian. They released no further details at this time.
The Project Fadduce investigation which lead to these arrests began in December of 2016 and was a joint effort between border enforcement agencies and policing agencies in the U.S. and Canada. On the Canadian side of the border, RCMP, Canadian Border Services Agencies and local police forces in both Regina and Estevan were part of the investigation and apprehensions.
"Throughout the course of the investigation, the 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, assistant director of the CBSA.
Leading up to the arrests
The CBSA noticed some suspicious border crossing activities of one as-of-yet-unidentified Canadian resident and alerted the RCMP on December 23, 2016. The agencies, in conjunction with other policing and border agencies, launched an investigation named Project Fadduce. It came to a head south of Weyburn Friday night.
"On December 23, 2016 CBSA officers at North Portal referred a returning male resident for further examination. The CBSA launched an investigation as a result of the information uncovered during this investigation and began coordinating its efforts with the RCMP," said Evert.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection identified one of the suspects in the investigation as he was crossing the border at Portal, North Dakota. U.S. agents then alerted the CBSA. CBSA agents contacted the RCMP at 8 p.m. on Friday night and alerted to them to suspected human smuggling about to take place.
By 9 p.m. the RCMP apprehended 43-year-old Michelle Omoruyi.
"Estevan RCMP and RCMP Traffic Service assisted investigators during the incident. Simultaneously on April the 14, United States Border Control, Grand Forks Sector, arrested several subjects in relation to this investigation," said RCMP Inspector Donovan Fisher. He was unable to release details regarding the American arrests at the time but the U.S. CBP has since confirmed it was two Canadians and one Nigerian who were arrested. They are currently subject to American law and American charges according to Fisher.
Omoruyi was taken into custody that night and the nine West Africans in her vehicle were taken to the CBSA for processing. Evert said the asylum seekers were unharmed, processed according to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement and released into the community.
On Saturday, with the assistance of the Regina Police, the RCMP conducted a search at a residence in Regina where they found large amounts of cash, not Canadian currency, and other evidence. As a result of that search, Omoruyi was charged with one count of Human Smuggling under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and one count of Conspiracy to Commit Human Smuggling under the Criminal Code of Canada.
Despite intense questioning, the RCMP are not releasing any further details regarding the asylum seekers including their age, sex or nationality. They were identified simply as West African in origin.