Montreal

Asylum seeker sentenced for sexually assaulting patient in Montreal psych ward

Quebec court Judge Dennis Galiatsatos called Owolabi Adejojo's behaviour 'despicable'

Posted: May 14, 2019

Owolabi Adejojo was sentenced to 52 months in prison in March for sexually assaulting a psychiatric patient in Montreal. He was admitted to Canada as an asylum seeker one month earlier. (Baltimore police)

A man from Nigeria who was claiming asylum in Canada has been sentenced to 52 months in prison for sexually assaulting a woman in a psychiatric ward at a Montreal hospital. 

Quebec court Judge Dennis Galiatsatos sentenced 40 year-old Owolabi Adejojo in March, calling his behaviour "despicable."

The assaults took place in February 2018, one month after Adejojo entered Canada from the U.S. and filed a refugee claim.

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A few months before that, Adejojo was accused of attacking two men with a beer bottle in Baltimore.

It's not clear how Adejojo was able to get into Canada, why authorities didn't seem to be aware of his assault charges in the U.S., or how he ended up in the psychiatric ward.

"I must confess that the lack of detail and information given to the court by the defence about the accused's personal situation was highly unusual and somewhat unsettling," Galiatsatos noted in his decision.

"The court is left completely in the dark about who he is and what his personal circumstances are."

'The stuff of nightmares'

The victim is a 57-year-old woman who was admitted to the psychiatric ward after her family noticed an alarming shift in her behaviour, and was worried she may harm herself.

She was committed to the psychiatric ward against her will, by court order.

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The assaults took place in the cafeteria of the psychiatric ward of Notre-Dame hospital in downtown Montreal. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

"Imagine the irony of going to a hospital for help — desperately needed help — only to be harmed instead," Galiatsatos said.

"Now compound that irony exponentially. Imagine being forced to remain at the hospital against your will, by court order no less, on the basis that it is in your best interest. Only to get violated in the most opportunistic fashion, falling prey to a man who capitalized on your weakness and vulnerability," he continued.

"It is, to borrow an expression, 'the stuff of nightmares.'"

Victim unable to consent

Adejojo was a patient in the psychiatric ward at the same time as the victim, in February 2018. He assaulted her three times over two days in the cafeteria, the decision says.

The victim didn't initially report these assaults, and was largely passive while they occurred, although she did ask Adejojo to stop several times during the first assault.

The morning of the third assault, Adejojo was discharged from the ward, but staff allowed him to stay for lunch because it was extremely cold outside, which is standard practice.

He brought the victim to a corner of the cafeteria, kissed her and then penetrated her underneath their hospital gowns.

It was only when a doctor happened upon them that the assault stopped.

"Due to her mental illness and her significantly distorted cognitive abilities, [the victim] was unable to realize that she could decline to participate. Her state of vulnerability was manifest," Galiatsatos said.

"The accused's crime ranks sky-high on the repugnance scale. His predatory behaviour was as despicable as possible."

Hospital calls assaults 'isolated incidents'

Justin Meloche, a spokesperson for the regional health authority that oversees Notre-Dame hospital, told CBC the assaults were isolated incidents.

He said there was both a security guard and an orderly in the cafeteria at the time of the assaults.

He said they didn't notice the incidents because they were "subtle," occurring under hospital gowns and cafeteria tables without overt resistance from the victim.

And he noted the victim didn't complain about the assaults until a few days after they occurred.

Meloche said once the assaults were reported, the hospital reconfigured a common area to separate male and female patients, and urged guards and orderlies in the cafeteria to be more vigilant.

Canadian authorities unaware of assault charge in the U.S.

Galiatsatos's decision said all that is known about Adejojo is that he was born in Nigeria and living with his wife and three children in the U.S. with no status for three years before he left them to come to Canada.

He has no family or job here, and no ties to Montreal.

Adejojo has no criminal record in the U.S., but Radio-Canada found an incident report from police in Baltimore involving him.

In October 2017, he was arrested and charged with assault.

The incident report said Adejojo attacked two men he'd been staying with at an apartment with a broken beer bottle.

The charges were suspended, which, in the state of Maryland, means they're set aside for a year but prosecutors have the option to reopen them at any time.

Radio-Canada also found another court document ordering Adejojo to keep the peace and be on good behavior from December 2017, although it's not clear from the court document what the order is related to.

Asylum seekers are supposed to be subject to thorough background checks. Reporters asked federal Border Security Minister Bill Blair about the case Tuesday morning in Ottawa.

Border Security Minister Bill Blair told reporters in Ottawa Tuesday that everyone who enters Canada as an asylum seeker is subject to rigorous background checks based on "available data." (Radio-Canada)

"Every individual who comes into this country, regardless of how they crossed the border, they're subject to a very rigorous background check, and that means police, the RCMP and CBSA check all available data," Blair said.

"We'll have to ask them what was checked in these circumstances and whether or not that data was available. If it was, it should've been known to them."

More charges while awaiting trial

Adejojo's conduct while in custody in Canada awaiting trial on the sexual assault charges was also less than exemplary.

Galiatsatos's decision noted that Adejojo was charged and convicted of assaulting a correctional officer at a detention centre. He spat in the guard's mouth.

He's also facing charges of assault with a weapon and uttering death threats against another prison guard.

It's alleged he threw a milk carton in an officer's face during a search of his cell, after which he threatened to find her address and kill her and her family.

With credit for time served, Adejojo will be released from prison in just over two and a half years. The decision noted that Adejojo will "almost certainly" be deported once he is released.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Steve Rukavina

Steve Rukavina is a journalist with CBC Montreal.

With files from Radio-Canada's Éric Plouffe