Calgary·FIFTH ESTATE

Body of Nigerian man who died in CBSA custody remains in limbo 3 weeks later

The widow of a Nigerian man who died in Canadian custody three weeks ago wants to bring him home to Lagos, but his body remains at a funeral home while authorities investigate.

Investigation into circumstances of Bolante Idowu Alo's death could take months, police say

Bolante Idowu Alo worked as a taxi driver in Calgary. He had been applying for refugee status for 13 years before his death in the custody of CBSA officers trying to deport him. (Facebook)

The body of a Nigerian man who died in Canadian custody three weeks ago remains in limbo at the funeral home holding his remains.

Bolante Idowu Alo, 49, died at some point after what the Calgary Police Service called an "altercation" with the two Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) guards accompanying him on the plane that was to take him back to Nigeria on Aug. 7.

Alo's widow, Oluwaseun Alo, spoke with CBC's The Fifth Estate Friday, through a translator, on the phone from Lagos, Nigeria.

I do not want to bury him in Canada because my children and I want to see him.- Oluwaseun   Alo , widow of  Bolante   Idowu  Al

She said her husband did not have a heart condition or any other illness, and that she learned of his death through her brother-in-law.

"I don't know how my husband died. God alone knows."

Having been completely dependent on her husband financially, she is now putting all of her hope on the Calgary church her husband attended — Evangel Christian Assembly Church — to raise the money for his repatriation.

"I want to bring him home," she said. "I do not want to bury him in Canada because my children and I want to see him."

As of Friday afternoon, the GoFundMe page launched by the church's pastor, Bob Webster, had raised less than $2,000 of the $10,000 target.

Plea for witnesses

Alo's older brother, who lives in the U.S. and works as a mechanic, told The Fifth Estate he feels helpless.  

"I feel bad. I don't know what to do," said Dare Alo, 58. "I feel like I'm not living up to my obligation to my younger brother. Something like that happens, I should be able to take him home so the family can see him for the last time."

Both Alo's brother and widow believe the condition of his body is deteriorating while they wait for further information from the police and the CBSA.

McInnis & Holloway Funeral Home declined to comment about Alo, citing privacy concerns.

But manager Jeff Hagel said the remains of people brought there are treated appropriately.

"When a deceased person is brought in to the care of our funeral home, they're immediately placed in our cooling facility to prevent decomposition. We do this to take care of the body to provide the family the opportunity to view the body once they've made a decision about embalming."

The Alo family's lawyer in Calgary, Elias Munshya, said the family still doesn't have answers about how Bolante Idowu Alo died.

Munshya made a public plea to the passengers who were on board KLM Flight 678 that day.

Elias Munshya, the lawyer representing Bolante Idowu Alo's family, has asked for anyone who was on the plane with Alo or knows anything about the case to come forward. (Colin Hall/CBC)

"The family is asking anyone who was on that plane to come forward — anyone who saw something, anyone who heard something, we are looking forward to hearing from them," said Munshya.

Police said they continue to investigate Alo's death and are also looking to speak to "everybody and anybody" who was on the flight or who may have seen something. They are working with authorities in the Netherlands to conduct interviews with the flight's passengers.

Widow seeks government's help

Alo had been in Canada since 2005 and had made numerous applications to stay. At Alo's July 26 detention review hearing, transcripts show that he told Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) member Jerry Sikes of his desire for a peaceful funeral.

"All I'm asking for is the peaceful death… and a decent burial, which I know is not available for back home," said Alo.

Sikes ordered Alo into custody until his deportation two weeks later, when he was to board the plane back to Nigeria, accompanied by two CBSA officers for the flight.

The CBSA said there was an altercation on the plane before it took off and that Alo went into "medical distress." The two officers received minor injuries. No other details of the incident have been provided.

The plane turned around and returned to the gate at 3 p.m. local time, and Alo was removed from the plane by the Calgary police airport unit.

Alo was declared dead at the hospital. It is not clear when or how his death occurred. Results of an autopsy the next day were inconclusive, and police say it could be months before the investigation is complete.

In the meantime, Alo's widow says she has asked the Canadian government to pay for the cost of transporting her husband but has not yet received a response.

The Fifth Estate reached out to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale's office and was advised that the CBSA would respond. The CBSA declined to say whether it would help with the transportation costs in Alo's case, nor what its policy is with respect to the costs of repatriating the bodies of foreign nationals who die in Canadian custody.

"This issue is quite exceptional and will be dealt with through discussions between the CBSA and the family or Nigerian High Commission," spokesperson Jayden Robertson said in an emailed statement. "The CBSA will not comment any further on this matter."


The Fifth Estate is investigating this story. If you were a passenger on KLM 678 on Aug. 7, 2018, bound for Amsterdam from Calgary, or have any other information about this story, please email us at fifthtips@cbc.ca or call 416-205-6679.  

About the Author

Ronna Syed

Reporter

Ronna Syed is an investigative reporter with CBC's The Fifth Estate. On Twitter: