'I wish Canada had protected him': friends mourn man who died while being deported

Bolante Idowu Alo was mourned at a Sunday service held at the Calgary church he had attended.

Bolante Idowu Alo had applied repeatedly for refugee status in Canada, claiming his life was at risk

'The fact that he died right on the plane without a history of illness is quite concerning,' said Elias Munshya, the lawyer representing Bolante Idowu Alo's family. (Colin Hall/CBC)

Members of the Calgary church Bolante Idowu Alo attended clasped hands and bowed their heads at a Sunday service in remembrance of their friend, who died following a confrontation with border officers as they tried to remove him from Canada Tuesday.

Alo had fought to remain in the country through multiple claims for refugee status and humanitarian and compassionate grounds for 13 years, saying his life would be in danger if he returned to his home country of Nigeria. 

"Someone comes to Canada, it's one thing for somebody to have their dream of coming to Canada end, but their life? I'm really hurt by this. It does not reflect the heart of Canada to me. We should be handling these things in a humane way," said Pastor Bob Webster of Evangel Christian Assembly Church.

"I would say the system has failed in some way."

Bolante Idowu Alo worked as a taxi driver in Calgary. He had been applying for refugee status for 13 years before his death last August. (Facebook)

Alo was on board a KLM flight destined for Amsterdam when he was involved in an altercation with two Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers prior to takeoff. The plane was forced to return to the gate, where the Calgary police airport unit was called to the scene.

He left behind a wife and two sons, aged 18 and 20, in Lagos.

The Calgary police homicide unit continues to investigate Alo's death.

Elias Munshya, the lawyer for Alo's widow, attended Sunday's service. 

"My role would be first of all to help the family understand what happened in the days before he was detained, what happened in detention, what happened to him on that plane, what happened when he died," Munshya said.

"The fact that he died right on the plane without a history of illness is quite concerning."

He said Alo, who he described as a hard worker and a man of faith, was "the kind of person that would be beneficial to Canada."

"I wish Canada had protected him."

Bolante Idowu Alo, second from left, sings with his church choir. Pastor Bob Wbster, far right, said Alo was a warm person who always had a big smile. (Supplied by Evangel Calgary)

Munshya said he'd like to see the system change. 

"Maybe there can be some policy changes to say if somebody has been here for 12 years, they have committed no crime, they have worked very hard, why can't we consider making them acceptable members of society," he said.

Alo sang in the church choir and would often drive members of the congregation to service if they needed a ride. He worked as a taxi driver and had been trying to obtain his Class 1 licence.

In Alo's detention hearing, an immigration officer said the man had no family in Canada and few friends.

But his friend Oyinda Unuigbe said a number of Alo's close friends were frantically looking for him during the weeks leading up to his death while he was in detention. 

Oyinda Unuigbe said she was saddened to hear of her friend's death. (Colin Hall/CBC)

"He was such a great guy, his heart for the community is great," she said.

Unuigbe said one of the first things that drew her to Alo was his "zeal" for prayer. He was part of a group that met multiple times a week, waking up at 5 a.m. to pray for Canada. 

He was a devoted friend, she said, once flying all the way to New Brunswick out of his own pocket to help a fellow church member get settled there.

"He had tried everything to get legal status here and to bring his family over to make their lives better," she said.

With files from Carolyn Dunn