Calgary

'Heartbroken' family of Nigerian man who died at Calgary airport wants answers

The widow of a Nigerian man who died following a confrontation with border officers at the Calgary airport is "heartbroken" and hoping for details about her husband's death.

Bolante Idowu Alo died following altercation with border officers as they tried to deport him

A Canada Border Services agent stands watch at an airport gate in this file photo. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

The widow of a Nigerian man who died following a confrontation with border officers on a flight is "heartbroken" and hoping for details about the circumstances that led to her husband's death.

The man was on board a KLM flight destined for Amsterdam Wednesday when he was involved in an altercation with two Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers who were trying to remove him from Canada.

The altercation occurred prior to takeoff in Calgary. The plane was forced to return to the gate, where the Calgary police airport unit was called to the scene.

Officers found the 49-year-old in medical distress. He was rushed to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Documents from the refugee board and the lawyer for the man's family have identified him as Bolante Idowu Alo.

'Unclear' circumstances

Lawyer Elias Munshya, who represents Alo's family, said they are still processing the news. He spoke to Alo's widow, who lives in Lagos with the couple's two children, on Saturday, and one of his brothers, who lives in the United States on Friday.

"It is very sad," Munshya said. "A normal death itself is very heartbreaking and devastating for the family, but knowing that he died under these circumstances — that are unclear at the moment — is really much more devastating."

Alo first arrived in Canada in 2005, making a refugee claim in Fort Erie, Ont., according to a detention hearing transcript obtained from the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada Immigration Division.

His refugee claim was closed and reopened over the years, and he filed humanitarian and compassionate applications, followed by an appeal for a judicial review. All claims were denied.

Alo sang in church choir, worked as taxi driver

Munshya attended Evangel Christian Assembly Church in Calgary with Alo. He described him as a good guy, who sang in the choir and frequently attended prayers. He worked as a taxi driver and also worked for a fellow church member.

"I knew that he was a very hard worker.… He was a good guy, and so it was very sad to learn he had passed on," he said.

Pastor Bob Webster said Alo would often drive congregation members to church, and he was a member of the church's bible study group.

"He was the kind of guy that always greeted you with a big smile, a big hello. Just a big friendly guy, from my perspective. But obviously was struggling with other stuff," Webster said.

I wish I had been there for him.- Bob Webster, the pastor for Bolante Idowu Alo's church

Webster said in 2013 he wrote Alo a reference letter for his humanitarian and compassionate application to stay in Canada.

"I knew that he was applying for immigration and was trying to support him in that process, but I guess it was getting rejected along the way," he said. "I wish I had been there for him.…Like what could have led to an altercation of this sort? I don't know."

Alo was being detained in advance of his deportation as CBSA officers believed he likely wouldn't appear voluntarily for his flight, due to comments he made saying he wouldn't allow himself to be removed from Canada.

During the July 26 detention hearing, Alo told officials one of his brothers had been killed in Nigeria and that he still had bullets in his body from his time in the country.

Munshya didn't know the exact details of Alo's refugee claim as of Saturday, but said the man spoke often about his family and his desire to officially become a Canadian one day.

An interview between the man and the High Commission of Nigeria recounted in the transcript noted that "[his] removal would likely be violent and advised CBSA to take caution."

But Alo said he worked full-time in Canada and would continue to show up to CBSA hearings if they would reconsider his case.

"This is a life and death issue," Alo said during his hearing, according to the transcript. "I'm not asking for money, I'm not asking for housing, I'm not asking for medical help, all I'm asking for is please, your honour, save my life."

The family is very heartbroken and they want to know what happened.- Elias  Munshya, lawyer who represents Bolante Idowu Alo's family

An autopsy performed Wednesday did not confirm Alo's cause or manner of death, and police said further testing could take up to six months. 

"It will be prudent for us and for the family to hear what happened from the CBSA officers, in order for them to process the pain and what they are going through," said Munshya. "We will be making inquiries, sending queries in order for them to at least have closure regarding what happened."

Police are still interviewing witnesses and are looking to speak to "everybody and anybody" who was on the flight or who may have seen something. They are also working with authorities in the Netherlands to conduct interviews with the flight's passengers.

'I'll remember his smiling face'

Webster said there are a lot of new Canadians in his congregation, and hearing of an immigration story that ended this way is discouraging.

"I'm not sure all Canadians are aware of how challenging that is and how dedicated these people are to contribute to society and add something. They're not here to take something away, they're not here to take somebody's job. They're here to make a better life for themselves," he said.

"I imagine this struggle was taking its toll on him and dragging him down, but for my memory I'll remember his smiling face."

Munshya said the community plans to hold prayers in Alo's memory sometime in the next week or two.

"Of course the family is very heartbroken and they want to know what happened. They want to know the circumstances under which he died.

"And I think they deserve to know."

With files from Terri Trembath

About the Author

Sarah Rieger

Reporter

Sarah Rieger joined CBC Calgary as an online journalist in 2017. You can reach her by email at sarah.rieger@cbc.ca.