By Omar Bah
The Gambia Immigration Department (GID) has opened an investigation into a man accused of fraudulently obtaining a passport for the Canada Border Services Agency to deport long-time immigration detainee, Ebrahim Toure.
The man identified as Ali Fofana of Garawol, who also goes by two other names (Ali Kanuteh & Musa Fofana) is investigated for false declaration for passport
The suspect was deported by Canada to The Gambia in October 2019 after spending more than three years in immigration detention.
The passports in question were applied in June 2020.
The Immigration Department spokesperson, Superintendent Mamanding S. Dibba, confirmed to The Standard that the investigation into the documents was launched after a lawyer, Lamin L. Darboe, of Bansang Chambers, who is representing Toure’s legal team in The Gambia, requested for a formal report from the Immigration Department.
Dibba said because the investigation is still in progress he would not “want to comment any further”.
But an immigration investigation report obtained by this medium revealed that the passport acquired by the Canada Border Services Agency to deport Ebrahim Toure was fraudulently obtained through the suspect (Ali Fofana).
The Immigration report says Fofana told them he was working for Canadian immigration officials. The investigation found that although the passport issued to Toure was itself authentic, the supporting documents used by Fofana to obtain it were likely forged.
The report added that the documents presented by the suspect included an Italian residency permit in Toure’s name, a police report saying Toure had lost his passport in Italy and a long-expired Gambian passport with a handwritten name and grainy photo that purportedly belonged to Toure. According to the report, Fofana admitted Toure was living in Canada, not Italy.
Toure has said he is not sure where he was born or where he might have a right to citizenship. He believes his deceased father was Guinean and his mother was born in Senegal, and he spent parts of his childhood in several West African countries, including The Gambia.
He arrived in Canada in 2013 with a passport he admitted was fake when he applied for refugee status. He was released from detention in September 2018 when the CBSA admitted they had no idea when they would be able to deport him.
In an interview, he said he knows Fofana from when they were both detained at the Central East Correctional Centre, a provincial jail in Lindsay, Ont., where many long-term immigration detainees are incarcerated.
In November this year, human rights organizations and civil liberty advocates in Canada raised an alarm over the existence of what looks like back channels between some Gambian immigration officials and agents of the Canada Border Services Agency to exchange information being used to deport Gambians from Canada.
According to The Star, the Canadian Border Services Agency officer Dale Lewis who worked with Fofana to fraudulently obtain the passport is also under investigation.
Last month Toure’s lawyer, Jared Will, raised concerns about the authenticity of the passport and birth certificate obtained by the CBSA. In a four-day hearing at the Immigration and Refugee Board, Will cited irregularities in the documents themselves, the evasive and confusing testimony of the CBSA officer in charge of Toure’s case and the dearth of evidence disclosed by the CBSA.
Testifying at the hearings, CBSA officer Dale Lewis could not explain why he communicated with Gambian authorities on his personal email and WhatsApp, rather than his government email.
He also admitted he may have lost or deleted his correspondence with Gambian authorities; that he relied on information from a single confidential informant whose identity was known only to him; that he never read CBSA’s policy on the use of confidential informants; and that he generally kept very few investigative records.
Neither Lewis nor the CBSA’s representative at the hearings could explain why Gambia had now agreed to issue Toure identity documents when for years it had refused to do so.
Ebrahim Toure, who spent time in Immigration detention awaiting his fate, was to be deported to Gambia in January.
But earlier this month – before the immigration conducted their investigation his lawyer requested and received a 30-day deferral. The CBSA spokesperson said “the matter is under investigation” and any decision on Toure’s deportation will “only be taken once the investigation is complete.”
Will said it would have been a “gross miscarriage of justice” had the CBSA deported Toure as they intended. “The gravity of it is hard to overstate.”
In an exclusive with The Standard on Friday in his Banjul Chambers, lawyer Lamin L Darboe of Bansang Chambers, said he was consulted by a Canadian Firm to help enquire about Ebrahim Toure.
“I wrote to the immigration department and confronted them with the evidence that I have and they were very cooperative. They investigated the case and discovered that truly this guy was given two Gambian passports within a period of one year. I asked them specifically how these passports were issued because if someone who is not within the jurisdiction of this country is applying for a passport there are authentic documents that the person or representative ought to produce to prove that the person is a Gambian or the person once has a Gambian passport,” he said.
Darboe, who is a trained immigration lawyer himself, said the evidence the immigration reports came out with was so compelling that “nobody will doubt that the documents were fraudulently procured in order to facilitate the deportation of Mr Toure”.
He said when the immigration sent him the report of the investigation, he took it to the Foreign Affairs for authentication and later sent it to the Law Firm which contacted him from Canada and based on that information, they were able to temporarily halt Toure’s deportation to The Gambia.
“Now they are appealing to the Federal Court of Canada. The investigation has revealed that there was serious conspiracy in the side of the Canadian immigration authorities – an immigration officer personally took this upon himself to contact a deportee from Canada who is currently in The Gambia – worked with him to procure the passport for Mr Toure, which is very scary,” Darboe said.
He added: “If Canadian authorities who had a prime interest in this case could instruct somebody, they had already deported in The Gambia to work with that person as an agent and that person using false documents to get other detainees deported to The Gambia even though the person said he is not a Gambian. For him to be able to maneuver through our Birth Certificate system to get two passports in one year. That is really scary.”
On the side of the Gambia Immigration, Darboe added: “I don’t think there had been any fraud committed but obviously if due diligent was exercised, this person would have been unravelled because for one passport to be issued two times within a year for a person who claims he is residing in Italy and within the same year claims the passport to be lost and comes back to obtain another passport. That should have sounded the alarm bell to the immigration officials.”
Need for paradigm shift
The trained lawyer argued that Gambia’s Immigration Authorities should stop the issuance of ordinary passports that are not digitized since there are Ecowas passports that require full finger print.
“The Ministry of Interior should make it illegal for the ordinary passports to be issued to anyone. If any person living outside of The Gambia wants a passport and the person is able to prove he/she is a Gambian, that is the essence of our embassies. The embassies should be equipped with machines to produce these Ecowas passports so that forgery will be curtailed,” he said.
He said the Interior Minister should ensure that the country’s national documents are not left to the mercy of the immigration department to issue them to any Tom Dick and Harry. “We need to be vigilant as citizens as well.”
Darboe said the suspect has obviously committed a crime and has been apprehended. “He is going through the due process and I do trust that the Criminal Justice system is working in The Gambia – he will be prosecuted.”