Conservatives call for audit of immigration system after gangster twice released in Canada

Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel is again calling for a complete review and audit of the immigration screening system in response to a CBC News investigation that revealed a Somali gang member with an extensive criminal record was twice released in Canada.

Immigration critic Michelle Rempel says Liberals’ inaction undermining public faith in system

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)

Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel is again calling for a complete review and audit of the immigration screening system in response to a CBC News investigation that revealed a Somali gang member with an extensive criminal record was twice released in Canada.

"The government has to acknowledge that there are serious flaws in the process and commit to fixing the system," the Calgary MP said in a telephone interview Thursday.

In an earlier scrum outside the House of Commons, Border Security Minister Bill Blair was asked about the case of Abdullahi Hashi Farah.

Blair conceded Farah would not have been released had the full extent of his gang ties and criminal record been known. But he said he took "some comfort in the fact that the system has worked and we've identified the individual, and he is subject to deportation."

Rempel said Blair's response will only serve to further undermine public faith in the system.

'This is pretty bad'

"People will read [the CBC News story] and they will look at the minister's response and go, 'This is somebody who is not taking this situation seriously, and it is a serious situation,' " Rempel said.

"And I worry that by doing this, the Liberals are actually eroding public confidence writ large. And that is not where we want to be in a pluralism like Canada. They need to restore order to the system. This [case] is pretty bad."

As CBC News first reported Thursday, Farah was fleeing an arrest warrant and deportation in the U.S. when he crossed illegally into Canada at Emerson, Man., in late October 2017.

Then 27, Farah told Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officials about his criminal record and gang ties. The agency wanted him held for a few more days until it could retrieve his full criminal record from the U.S.

But an Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) hearing officer, impressed with Farah's seeming honesty, ordered his release.

As a condition of release, Farah surrendered his cellphone to the CBSA so that it could be checked for evidence of criminal activity

Six days after Farah was set free in Winnipeg, he breached his release conditions and was arrested again.

That same day, the CBSA gained access to Farah's cellphone. They found recent photos and videos of Farah playing with loaded handguns, doing cocaine, concealing cocaine, and flashing wads of cash. There were also photos of what authorities believed was a stolen credit card.

Released despite evidence of criminal activity

The CBSA has declined to explain why the evidence from Farah's cellphone was not immediately provided to the IRB.

Without that evidence, another IRB hearing officer again released Farah in March 2018 and allowed him to move to Calgary.

In June, Edmonton police arrested Farah as a suspect in a string of armed convenience store robberies after a CBSA officer in Winnipeg picked him out of robbery photos taken from store security camera footage.

Edmonton police have declined to say why Farah is no longer a suspect in the robberies. He is now jailed in the Edmonton Remand Centre, awaiting deportation to Somalia.

The CBC News investigation revealed Farah had lied repeatedly about the extent and seriousness of his criminal record and the length of his involvement with the Somali Outlaws gang in Minneapolis and Nashville.

The investigation also revealed Farah had breached immigration and parole conditions more than 30 times in the U.S and in Canada. He had also been imprisoned for contempt after he reneged on a promise to testify against his former gang in relation to a major sex-trafficking case in Nashville involving girls as young as 12.

Rempel stressed her party is pro-immigration but said this case, and others like it, show the system can't handle the volume of immigrants while ensuring adequately rigorous screening.

"While certainly not every case is going to be like this, even one is unacceptable, and even one puts the integrity of the system — and the perception of the integrity of the system — at risk."

@charlesrusnell

About the Author

Charles Rusnell

Investigative reporter

Charles Rusnell is a reporter with CBC Investigates, the award-winning investigative unit of CBC Edmonton. His journalism in the public interest is widely credited with forcing accountability, transparency and democratic change in Alberta. Send tips in confidence to cbcinvestigates@cbc.ca. and follow him on Twitter@charlesrusnell