Edmonton·CBC Investigates

Botched handling of gangster refugee claimant exposes Canada's screening weaknesses

Canada's handling of a refugee claimant's case exposes cracks in our immigration screening process, an expert says.

Rare but growing problem needs to be addressed, expert says

Abdullahi Hashi Farah had an extensive criminal record, ties to a violent gang, and a long history of breaching probation. But Canadian immigration officials still released him after he crossed illegally into Canada in October 2017. (Supplied)

Abdullahi Hashi Farah's candid confession about his gangster past clearly impressed the Immigration and Refugee Board officer who presided over his first detention hearing on Nov. 1, 2017.

Caught while crossing the border illegally near Emerson, Man., the 27-year-old Somali citizen readily told the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers he had an extensive criminal record, had been a Somali Outlaws gang member in Minneapolis and was fleeing an arrest warrant for parole violation.

Farah insisted, however, that he had only been a gang member for two years, and had quit the criminal life eight years earlier.

At the detention hearing, the CBSA strongly recommended Farah be detained a few more days until it received his full criminal record from the U.S. But Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) member Trent Cook clearly placed more weight on Farah's admission about his background than on the agency's suspicion about the degree of his criminality.

"One of the biggest factors that play in your particular situation is your character," Cook said.

"In my estimation, you are probably one of the most honest detainees that I have ever come across," he said, noting Farah had acted "contrary" to his own interests by offering up his criminal history and gang ties.

"What this indicates to me is that you are, based on your character and behaviour, very likely to pursue all of your immigration matters in Canada with the same diligence and honesty as you have demonstrated in your interview."

Had Cook heeded the CBSA recommendation and waited to obtain his entire U.S. criminal record, he would have learned that Farah used eight aliases, two different birth dates and had convictions in four states, including a felony gun conviction.

But Cook didn't heed the CBSA, and after a Federal Court judge denied the agency's challenge of Cook's decision the next day, Farah was released in Winnipeg.

Arrested in Edmonton

Seven months later, on June 11, 2018, Edmonton police arrested Farah in a Walmart parking lot in northeast Edmonton. Overdosing and beaten badly from two previous fights, he struggled with police and paramedics before becoming unresponsive.

Nearby, police found a dumped getaway car that had been used in a string of armed convenience store robberies. Farah became a suspect when a CBSA officer in Winnipeg picked him out of robbery photos taken from security camera footage.

Police won't say why Farah is no longer a suspect in the armed robberies. But he remains in the Edmonton Remand Centre awaiting deportation to Somalia, after exhausting all legal avenues to stay in the country.

Calgary criminologist Kelly Sundberg says almost all immigrants are law-abiding, but the Canada Border Services Agency can't properly identify and monitor the outliers. (Sam Martin/CBC News)
Mount Royal University criminologist and associate professor Kelly Sundberg said Farah clearly slipped through the cracks of the immigration screening process, something he said is becoming more common.

"This case is indicative of what we could see in similar cases in Vancouver or Calgary, Toronto — across our country," said Sundberg, a former CBSA officer whose research focuses on immigration enforcement and border security.

Sundberg said the IRB must adhere to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and err on the side of releasing immigrants rather than detaining them for months. But he said there is a disconnect.

CBSA enforcement is seriously under-resourced, he said, which results in insufficient initial investigations and subsequent monitoring of people like Farah.

"I don't think this case is an indication that we have to curtail our immigration numbers," Sundberg stressed. "I think this is a very small percentage of the overall population of non-citizens seeking entry and coming into our country each year.

"It still requires important attention. But this isn't a cause for public fear or angst."

The IRB declined an interview request. In an emailed statement, it said "the IRB is a tribunal and, like the courts, our practice is to let members' decisions speak for themselves."

Evidence of criminal activity on cellphone

During a two-month investigation of Farah's case, CBC reviewed hundreds of pages of police, court, parole, and immigration records, and conducted interviews with U.S. police and immigration officials. The investigation revealed that:

  • Just six days after Farah was first released, he breached his conditions and was subsequently rearrested.

That same day, Nov. 8, 2017, the CBSA gained access to Farah's cellphone. It contained recent photos and videos of Farah playing with a loaded handgun, doing cocaine, concealing cocaine and flashing wads of cash. There were also front-and-back photos of a credit card that wasn't his.

Farah was on parole when the photos were taken, and was prohibited from possessing a firearm.

The phone also contained Tinder chats, photos of Farah having sex with women, and photos of women in various stages of nudity.

There was no evidence of homosexual activity. Farah's asylum claim was based on his contention that as a gay Muslim, he would be killed if he was deported to Somalia.

The IRB again released Farah on March 14, 2018. The hearing transcript doesn't mention the damning phone report.

The CBSA declined an interview request, so it is not known why the phone report was not immediately entered into the IRB hearing process. In an emailed statement, the CBSA said only that all relevant documentation and evidence had been entered into Farah's admissibility hearing.

  • American court, police, and FBI records show Farah's criminal record, and his gang membership, was far more extensive and serious than he had disclosed.
  • Farah had wilfully refused to abide by release conditions for years. CBC found at least 30 instances in which Farah breached immigration release and parole conditions in the U.S. He failed to abide by his release conditions in Canada several more times.

  • Farah was to have been a key witness against his own gang in a major sex-trafficking case in Nashville, Tenn., that involved girls as young as 12. But he reneged and was imprisoned for contempt of court and obstruction of justice.

  • Farah told CBSA and IRB officials he refused to testify because he had been assaulted and his family had been threatened. The judge in his contempt case found no evidence to support those claims and court records show Farah lied repeatedly.

'Co-operating witness' in sex-trafficking case

Retired Homeland Security agent Tony Langeland burst out laughing when he was read the statement about Farah being one of the most honest detainees the IRB officer had ever encountered.

"I had a lot of interaction with him," Langeland said. "He is definitely not the most honest person I have ever met.

"But he is a criminal and he is involved in a whole lot of shit."

Retired Homeland Security agent Tony Langeland, Farah’s handler for two years in the U.S., says Farah should never have been released. (CBC News)

Langeland was Farah's handler for more than two years in Nashville after he became a "co-operating witness" in the sex-trafficking case.

He describes Farah as a self-serving liar and recalcitrant criminal.

"He is manipulative," Langeland said, who he also knew Farah by his gang name, Grey Goose. "He is never, never going to go beyond what is best for him in any circumstance."

During 28 years in immigration enforcement, Langeland has had extensive dealings with gangs, including Somali gangs.

The photos on Farah's cellphone, he said, are clear evidence he never gave up the gang life.

"Those are the kinds of pictures we see all the time on gang members' phones," he said, adding it is normal for gangsters to take photos of sex, guns, drugs and cash because that is their everyday life, and that is how they document their "street cred."

Gang life: guns, bulletproof vests

Farah's family moved from civil-war-torn Somalia to a Kenyan refugee camp in 1990, the year Farah was born. In 2000, the family emigrated to the U.S., eventually settling in Minneapolis, although Farah shuttled back and forth to Nashville after his parents split up.

Farah testified in one American court case that he joined the Somali Outlaws in south Minneapolis when he was 13 or 14.

He told CBSA officers a different story. He said he was a member for two years when he was 18 and 19, and the gang was just a bunch of guys from his neighbourhood hanging out.

Court records show Farah was definitely more than a wayward teen.

At a Nov. 1, 2017, detention hearing, an immigration official praised Farah’s honesty about his criminal past and ordered him released. (Sam Martin/CBC News)

While still a juvenile, Farah and three other gang members were stopped by police in Minneapolis. Officers found a gun in the car and all four were wearing bulletproof vests.

"When they're doing that, they're looking to either get into it with another gang or do an armed robbery," Langeland said.

Farah's rap sheet reflects his chosen criminal trade.

"He was a safe cracker by his own admission; he liked to work alone," Langeland said.

Farah broke into houses or businesses, stole safes and then figured out how to open them.

From age 16 on, Farah racked up charges and convictions for possession of burglary tools, lurking with intent, theft and receiving stolen property.

At age 18, he was convicted and jailed for burglary, his first felony. At 19, he was charged in south Minneapolis with possession of a prohibited handgun.

Police records show three shots were fired from a .40-calibre Smith & Wesson semi-automatic outside the home of a rival MurdrBoys gang member.

"[Farah] fired the shots as a show of disrespect in trying to scare them," the police file states.

'Deportable alien'

Farah's criminality finally caught up to him. He was arrested by immigration authorities as a "deportable alien." He lost his permanent residency and was to be deported to Somalia as soon as the country stabilized.

Then the U.S. district attorney's office made him an offer. By February 2010, in return for restricted freedom, Farah was working for prosecutors and police in Nashville with Langeland as his handler.

Farah was a valuable asset to the prosecution of gangsters because, as he once testified, "I was in some good ranks in the gang to know almost everything."

Langeland said Farah had agreed to testify against gang members who were moving girls from state to state for prostitution, and where they were moving them to, with "specific dates and times of places that the girls had been as far as hotels and things like that were concerned."

In October 2017, Farah entered Canada illegally by walking across the border near Emerson, Man. (CBC News archive)

But when it came time to testify, Farah reneged, was convicted of contempt of court and obstruction of justice, and was imprisoned for 15 months.

After he got out on parole, he repeatedly breached his release conditions. He failed drug tests, got busted for drunk driving and refused to report to his probation officer.

Farah was given repeated chances. Finally, a nationwide warrant was issued for his arrest and deportation on Oct. 23, 2017. Four days later, he crossed illegally into Manitoba.

Released again in Canada, breaches conditions

Canadian immigration and court records show Farah continued to flout release conditions.

As a condition of his Nov. 2, 2017 release, his lawyer had arranged for him to live in Winnipeg with a fellow Somali immigrant. But six days later, he failed to report to the CBSA office and wasn't living where he was supposed to be when they checked.

Rearrested, he was sent back to jail in Winnipeg. A  few weeks later, the CBSA issued a deportation order for Farah based on "serious criminality."

Under the immigration act, a detention hearing must be held every month.

At the March 14, 2018, hearing, a family friend from Somalia, now a Canadian citizen, offered to fly Farah to Calgary, post a $2,000 cash bond, give him a place to live and provide close supervision.

After he was released in November 2017, Farah breached conditions and was re-arrested. But the Immigration and Refugee Board again released him. (CBC News archive)
"I don't think that the alternative [to continued incarceration] that has been proposed is a perfect one but alternatives to detention don't have to be perfect," hearing officer Marc Tessler said. "They need to be ones that reduce the likelihood of not appearing for removal to an acceptable level of risk, and I think that in this situation it is precisely that.

"I believe that he doesn't want to be back in custody and he understands that he needs to comply with conditions to the letter."

Farah flew to Calgary on March 22, 2018.

Reached by phone in Calgary, the family friend spoke on condition that he not be identified. He said he fears Farah's friends.

The friend confirmed he forfeited the $2,000 bond, a hardship because he has a large family to support.

Farah, he said, used to visit him at his business every time he reported to the CBSA office. But after a couple months, he disappeared. The friend reported him missing to Calgary police.

"After that we find him on Facebook, and he said, 'No, I am not missing, I just went with my girlfriend.' But I don't know the girlfriend's number or anything."

Farah failed to report to the CBSA office on June 11, the same day he was arrested near the dumped getaway car in northeast Edmonton.

IRB officer acknowledges credulity

The CBSA didn't learn where Farah was until June 14. An Edmonton police detective told the agency Farah was in a downtown hospital. He had a broken jaw and was awaiting surgery.

The CBSA officer who attended the hospital said Farah had been sedated and tied to his gurney using "soft restraints" because he was acting aggressively toward hospital staff.

Farah’s extensive criminal record included two felony convictions for burglary, and possessing a handgun when prohibited. (Ramsey County Sheriff's Office)

Farah claimed he had been kidnapped for ransom and brought against his will to Edmonton, a story he insisted was true at a later IRB hearing.

After CBC recently began making inquiries, the IRB invited a reporter to teleconference in to Farah's next detention hearing. The hearing officer was Trent Cook, the same officer who had first released Farah after praising his honesty and character.

Cook acknowledged his previous credulity.

"You present very well, you're articulate, you're somewhat educated, people are inclined to believe you when you make your representations," Cook told Farah.

"But the actions that you have demonstrated while on release hold a lot more weight, in my view, than your words and your promises. Because you haven't been capable of following conditions in the past, I simply don't have faith that you're going to be able to do so in the future."

More than a year after he illegally entered the country, Farah's last hope of staying in Canada ended on Nov. 16, 2018. A Federal Court judge agreed with a previous IRB ruling that Farah hadn't provided sufficient evidence of his sexual orientation, or that he would be persecuted or harmed in his native Somalia.

Farah did not respond to a CBC interview request made through his lawyer.

He is not expected to be deported to Somalia until at least February.

But Canada's immigration system may not be done with him yet.

Farah told an IRB hearing he has hired a U.S. lawyer to try to get his felony convictions expunged.

"I won't be inadmissible anymore," he said. "So I can come back."

If you have any information about this story, or information for another story, please contact us in confidence at cbcinvestigates@cbc.ca



Charles Rusnell

Former investigative reporter

Charles Rusnell was a reporter with CBC Investigates, the investigative unit of CBC Edmonton, from 2008 until 2021. His journalism in the public interest is widely credited with forcing accountability, transparency and democratic change in Alberta.