B.C. people-smuggling investigation alleges Rwanda, Kentucky, Alberta connections
U.S. pastor claims he didn’t know Rwandan woman he flew to Spokane would seek refugee status in Canada
Court documents obtained by CBC News provide an intriguing glimpse into an alleged people smuggling case that started in the African nation of Rwanda and ended in Aldergrove, B.C., with stops in Kentucky and Washington state.
On May 13, a Rwandan woman dragged a suitcase across a ditch separating the U.S. and Canada just east of the Aldergrove border crossing. She immediately applied for refugee status.
How the 38-year-old woman got to B.C. is at the heart of the mystery.
The Canada Border Services Agency alleges two men — a Kentucky pastor and an Alberta man — "organized, aided and abetted" the illegal entry.
Reached by CBC News, the U.S. pastor said he had no idea the woman would seek refugee status in Canada.
"It shocked me, and I'm surprised," said Athanase Moucat, who is also originally from Rwanda.
"We paid [for the plane ticket] from here in Kentucky to Washington state. That's it."
But he wouldn't say why his congregation would raise money to fly the refugee applicant to Spokane, Washington.
"I don't have to explain [that] to you," he told CBC News.
The second man — from Edmonton — allegedly drove the woman from Spokane, Wash., to the illegal crossing point. He couldn't be reached for comment.
Charges have not been laid, and the allegations have not been tried or proven in court.
Border jumper 'appeared to be in distress': CBSA
The alleged people smuggling case is laid out in a search warrant application, filed by the CBSA in Surrey, B.C., provincial court.
Such applications seek to convince a judge that more information needs to be gathered.
The report said the Rwandan woman was spotted on the Canadian side of the border because she was zigzagging "back and forth across 0 Avenue" pulling a wheeled suitcase, and "she appeared to be in distress."
When approached by two border agents, the report states she presented a Rwandan passport and indicated she was applying for refugee protection.
'She was tortured in Rwanda': Kentucky pastor
It's not clear why she was seeking asylum — but Rwanda remains affected by ethnic tension after a government-sponsored genocide in the 1990s, according to Human Rights Watch.
Moucat said the woman feared for her life back in Africa.
"She told me … she was tortured in Rwanda," said the Kentucky pastor.
Staying in the U.S. doesn't appear to have been an option.
President Donald Trump has slashed U.S. refugee admissions to historic lows, making it extremely difficult for asylum-seekers in the United States. Canada's acceptance rate, by contrast, is the highest it's been in almost 30 years.
Last year, 341 people from Rwanda appealed for refugee status in Canada, according to the Immigration and Refugee Board. Fifty were accepted — a 15 percent success rate.
'Hotspot for illegal activities': search warrant application
CBSA investigators claim the woman's long journey began with help from her church in her homeland.
"[Her] pastor in Rwanda arranged for her to meet with a pastor they knew in Kentucky," states the application.
The documents identify the Kentucky pastor as Moucat, head "of the Revival Pentecostal Church For All Nations" in Louisville.
The CBSA doesn't say how the woman got from Africa to the U.S. It states Moucat paid to fly the Rwandan from Louisville to Spokane, where she rendezvoused with the Albertan who had driven down to meet her — "a Canadian citizen … born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo."
The application alleges he drove her just south of Aldergrove, where she was dropped off and crossed the border on foot in an area where the U.S. and Canada "are separated only by a shallow ditch that one can easily walk across … a hotspot for illegal activities."
Alberta man detained then released
According to the CBSA, the Edmonton man was detained as he drove back into Canada through the Aldergrove port of entry, around the same time the woman was making her illegal crossing.
Border agents were suspicious of his claim he was coming back from an overnight trip to "attend a church event" in Spokane.
Upon learning the woman had been picked-up nearby, the CBSA seized the man's two smartphones. The search warrant application seeks to unlock the devices and search for messages and GPS locations.
The application notes the man "denied he had driven anyone to the border" or had accepted payment from the woman, and he was eventually released.
Moucat said he doesn't know the Edmonton man, and received no payment for flying the Rwandan national to Spokane.
According to Canadian immigration officials, individuals rarely face people smuggling charges if they haven't been paid.
The status of the criminal investigation is unknown.
The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada refuses to comment on the woman's asylum bid, citing privacy — but it says refugee applications are taking up to two years to process because of a backlog.