Nigerian priest charged with sex assault allowed through Canadian border
Ontario woman shocked that man accused of assaulting her allowed back into Canada from Nigeria
An Ontario woman says she had been assured that a countrywide arrest warrant would prevent a Nigerian priest charged with sexually assaulting her from ever returning to Canada.
Nearly a decade later, she found evidence that Rev. Anthony Onyenagada had been allowed back into the country.
"It bothers me to hear so much attention being spent on people not coming into Canada," she told CBC News in an interview, "[but] they didn't catch the priest who raped me. And there were charges for him."
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Onyenagada, a Roman Catholic priest from Nigeria, visited the woman's southwestern Ontario church in 2004.
The woman, whose identity CBC News has agreed to protect, was an administrative employee at the parish. She says he confined and sexually assaulted her there, shattering her relationship with a church she once loved.
The woman reported the allegations to the local diocese in London, Ont., and later went to authorities. Woodstock police laid eight criminal charges against the priest in connection with the alleged assault and issued a Canada-wide warrant for his arrest. But by that time Onyenagada had already left Canada.
The woman sued the diocese of London over the alleged assault. In 2013, while she was still in the midst of a lengthy legal battle that eventually ended in a settlement, the woman came across an ad for a charity fundraiser on a local parish website that featured Onyenagada as a guest.
The fundraiser had been held only months earlier, and had been promoted by a church under the same diocese she was suing.
"I remember just starting to shake and just saying to my husband, 'Is this possible'?" she said.
She wasn't the only one who was astounded. Staff Sgt. Marcia Shelton of the Woodstock police laid the original charges, and told CBC news, "Certainly, to our agencies it was a surprise." She confirmed that the priest is still a wanted man.
The woman called the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and later contacted her local member of Parliament to find out whether Onyenagada had, in fact, been admitted to the country.
Last December, she received an email response from her MP's assistant, saying that the MP "has been made aware by [Public Safety Minister Steven] Blaney that CBSA apologizes that Mr. Onyenagada was able to re-enter Canada and that [the woman's] comments have been noted by CBSA and they will take the appropriate action."
The email advised her to contact the agency's Border Watch Line should she gain any information "regarding future travel" by Onyenagada.
'Slap in the face'
The woman called the government response "a huge slap in the face." She said, "It took [the MP] almost seven months for us to get a response and the response was you know, something to the lines of, 'Sorry he got in.'"
In an email, a spokesman for the border agency said the agency won't comment on specific cases, but that the safety and protection of Canadians are its top priorities.
For the woman, Onyenagada's appearance was yet another institutional failure. "Who do you believe anymore?" she said. "I was told priests would be helpful. That didn't happen. Then, I was told the bishop would fix things and that didn't happen. And the police got involved and laid the charges, and then he still got back into Canada."
The London diocese confirmed that in 2013 Onyenagada "apparently visited the parish at the request of some parishioners for some type of fundraising event for a charity in Nigeria." He stayed at a parishioner's home.
"The pastor of that parish, unfortunately, failed to follow our protocols in this instance," said Mark Adkinson, a director of communications for the diocese. "If he had, a flag would have been raised during the process for granting permission and Fr. Onyenagada would not have been allowed at any of our churches."
Adkinson also told CBC News that the diocese found out about Onyenagada's presence in southwestern Ontario after the event. He said they followed up with the pastor, "who quickly realized the seriousness of his oversight and was understandably quite upset about the news."
The church called Onyenagada's return "an isolated incident of someone not following some basic protocols, and learning the hard way why we have them in place."
Williams said Onyenagada is still a member of the Nigerian chapter of Obioma, a charity that provides microcredit loans to women in Nigeria.
According to the charity's website, it was founded in 2004 when Onyenagada was filling in as a priest at a number of parishes in southwestern Ontario.
Charity unaware of charges
CBC News contacted Ken Williams, a member of the Obioma Relief Organization of Canada, the charity that invited Onyenagada back to Canada two years ago. Williams told CBC News over the phone that Onyenagada arrived in Canada by plane in 2013, and that he stayed in the country for a few days with members of the Obioma charity.
Williams wouldn't say more about who hosted the priest.
Williams said that he wasn't aware of the charges against Onyenagada until after his 2013 visit, when he was contacted by police. Williams said he was shocked to hear about the charges.
"Now that we are aware of the charges we will be looking at that," he said, referring to Onyenagada's status at the charity.
At the time of the priest's re-entry into Canada he would have needed a visa to visit. He also would have had to clear customs upon arrival.
Just last month, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney praised Canada's border safety when it comes to individuals who have already been convicted of sex crimes. He announced that to date, Canada's "effective border policies have ensured that over 150 [U.S.] sex offenders were prevented from entering Canada and kept off our streets."
- It was originally reported that there were 11 charges facing Rev. Anthony Onyenagada. There are in fact eight charges.May 20, 2015 10:21 AM ET