A prominent voice in Calgary's Somali community is wanted in the United States on sexual assault charges, CBC News has learned..
Imam Abdi Hersy denies the allegations that he sexually assaulted two women while working as a respiratory therapist in the United States in 2006, but says he has not been able to clear his name because of immigration issues.
"In Canada, and in U.S.A., I am to be treated as being innocent until proven guilty," Hersy said in a statement.
"Since being in Canada, he has become a pillar of his community, working with the [Calgary Police Service] and [Chief] Rick Hanson, to deal with criminalization and radicalization within his community," said lawyer Raj Sharma, who represents Hersy.
The 46-year-old Somali national, who runs the Abu Bakr Mussallah place of worship in southeast Calgary, was charged with criminal sexual conduct after he spent time working at a hospital in the Twin Cities suburb of Woodbury, Minn.
He has refugee protection status in Canada, but the federal government has tried to strip him of it after learning of the active warrant for his arrest south of the border.
The Department of Citizenship and Immigration declined comment on the case, citing privacy laws, but in a written statement it said all refugee claimants go through security screening, including fingerprint and criminal background checks.
'They were very devastated'
Two female patients allege Hersy fondled them while they were recovering from medical procedures.
"I remember that they were very devastated," said Det. Jeffrey Zerwas, who investigated the case for the Woodbury police.
He said the first woman came forward in July 2006.
"She struggled with it for a while, and the more she thought about it, she felt she had to say something 'cause she didn't want this to happen to anybody else."
The second woman who came forward said Hersy fondled her under her gown, telling her it was part of a medical procedure, and said he "wanted to have sex with her," according to documents obtained from the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice.
After doing its own investigation, the board pulled Hersy's licence.
"To permanently revoke a licence is a very significant action. It does not happen often and it speaks to the nature of these allegations," said Ruth Martinez, the medical board's executive director.
Hersy lost his job at the Woodbury hospital where he was working. Not long after, he crossed the border into Canada. Det. Zerwas said he tried to track Hersy down.
"He knew I was looking for him after the second incident. I did receive a voicemail from Mr. Hersy saying that he now lives in Canada and that if I had anything I wanted to talk to him about, I would need to contact his lawyer."
The Woodbury police laid criminal sexual conduct charges against Hersy in absentia and issued a warrant for his arrest. Around the same time, Hersy was in Canada applying for refugee status.
Hersy told the refugee board he was a victim of persecution in Somalia because he belongs to a minority ethnic group. He wrote in his application that he fled Somalia after his wife and son were killed in a rebel attack at their home in Mogadishu in 1991.
"I am sure that I will be killed if I am forced to return to Somalia," he said.
The Refugee Board of Canada decided to grant Hersy refugee protection status in 2008.
It came to a different decision five years later, after learning of the outstanding criminal charges against him. The board concluded he had misrepresented himself and withheld information about the charges.
He was stripped of his refugee protection on May 24, 2013. Hersy successfully challenged the decision in Federal Court and kept his status.
The Canada Border Services Agency may try again to nullify his refugee status at another hearing, but there is no word on when that decision will be made.
Imam denies allegations
"Mr. Hersy is happy to have this matter determined in a court of law," said Sharma. "The U.S. has never sought to extradite Mr. Hersy, and I can tell you that if any U.S. authorities were to ask Mr. Hersy to attend to have his day in court, Mr. Hersy would attend with bells on."
Hersy's lawyer also argues his client didn't know about the warrant for his arrest at the time of his Refugee Board hearing because he had been charged in absentia. Hersy also said he has tried multiple times to answer the charges.
"I am faced with unproven accusations, of which I cannot exonerate myself because the U.S.A. immigration will not let me enter or stay in the U.S.A. to do this," Hersy said in the statement. "It is a catch-22."
In September 2010, he crossed the border back into Minnesota and surrendered to the sheriff's office, but when he was released on bail, U.S. immigration officials deported him back to Canada.
"The difficulty posed here is were we to go through the lengthy and expensive process of extraditing him from Canada to bring him back, he still has a right to bail under Minnesota law. Were he to again post bail, the exact same thing could happen again. Our immigration services could well deport him again," said Frank Fink, the criminal division chief of the Washington County Attorney's office in Minnesota.
"Regrettable as it is to say that's what it comes down to. The victims in this case can only be terribly frustrated."
New respiratory therapist job
"My only concern is that he does not practise medicine anywhere else," Det. Zerwas said.
Hersy worked for Respiratory Home Care Solutions in Edmonton for six weeks in 2007, according to the College and Association of Respiratory Therapists of Alberta.
The regulatory body said it immediately suspended Hersy's licence when it became aware of the outstanding criminal charges against him.
"It is also my understanding that Mr. Hersy had no contact with any patients," the registrar of the college, Brian Buell, said in a written statement.
Buell said Hersy had not yet completed his probationary period with the company.
Muslim community shocked
"He doesn't belong to our group any more," said Abdul Jalil Elkadri, the chairman of the Muslim Council of Calgary, or MCC.
The organization hired Hersy as an imam about four years ago. He was fired last summer, after members of the council learned about the warrant for his arrest.
"I was shocked," said Ghazanfar Zafar, secretary of the council. "He portrayed himself as a Somali representative of the Muslim community, and he would bring them all together under one roof and have a mosque for them. I think MCC at that point kind of bought into it without really doing the real background homework to it, because as a committee as a whole we're very trusting to each other."
The Muslim Council of Calgary is now doing things differently, Elkadri said.
"We're not going to hire anybody until we have references and police clearance. So we don't have this mistake again."