Prosecutors will have to prove that Michelle Omoruyi, the Regina woman recently charged with human smuggling, was not providing humanitarian-type aid to asylum seekers or trying to help members of her family, says a Vancouver lawyer.
Omoruyi was charged last week with one count of human smuggling under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and one count of conspiracy to commit human smuggling.
The charges came on the heels of RCMP stopping nine West African nationals on the Canadian border between the North Portal, N.D., and Northgate, Sask., ports of entry.
Mark Nohra, a criminal defence lawyer in Vancouver who represented a man who was accused (but ultimately acquitted) of bringing hundreds of Tamil migrants into Canada illegally in 2010, says the legal definition of human smuggling has been narrowed in recent years, and that the identity of the nine asylum seekers could prove key in Omoruyi’s case.
“It’s arguable that if the actions fit into a number of categories that could be 1) humanitarian care or 2) providing some type of assistance to a family member, they might not be guilty of the offence of human smuggling,” said Nohra.
‘Taking advantage of someone’s desperation’
Prosecutors will also need to prove that Omoruyi knew the asylum seekers were undocumented, said Nohra.
“The basic thing is this person had to know these African people did not have the proper documentation to come into Canada, so that they were coming into Canada in contravention of the Immigration Act,” he said.
If a smuggler isn’t providing humanitarian aid, “the main concern is that the alleged human smugglers are taking advantage of someone’s desperation,” Nohra added.
At a news conference in Saskatoon on Friday, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said it’s important to send a strong message about human smuggling.
“We want to be very alert to anything smacking of human trafficking and human smuggling. That’s heinous behaviour and we want to be sure people in desperate circumstances are not being exploited,” he said.
But human trafficking and human smuggling are two distinct offences, says Nohra.
“For trafficking, one of the definitions is the person bringing the person into Canada does it by deceit or fraud… You tell them you’re helping them come to Canada for one reason, but when they get here in fact there’s another reason why you brought them.”
Smuggling can include helping asylum seekers and becomes a legal concern, according to Nohra, when “someone is desperate to leave their country because they fear for their life and then some unscrupulous person charges them, you know, $100,000 to help them get to another country. That’s the main concern — that you’re taking advantage of desperate people.”