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Evidence that trip to Sault, Ont. was human smuggling is 'overwhelming', Crown argues

Actually, the man in question thought he was driving his friend's cousins, and there is no evidence that he knew they didn't have legit Canadian passports, says his lawyer
Michael Purvis/SooToday
Tamba Gbamanja's lies to border services officers, combined with circumstantial evidence, confirm the Toronto man was illegally bringing people into Canada on April 15, 2017, the Crown argued Tuesday.

Once he was stopped at the International Bridge, he took overt steps to conceal the identity of three passengers in his vehicle, and "all these lies were borne out when Nigerian passports were found in a vent," federal prosecutor Narissa Somji said.

The evidence Is "overwhelming," she told Ontario Court Justice John Condon, maintaining the accused knew what was going on.

 "You can consider all the lies he made to border officers at the time of entry to infer it was being done to conceal the identity of these travellers," the Ottawa prosecutor said.

Gbamanja, 31, has pleaded not guilty to two charges under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

Defence counsel Katie Scott countered that the Crown has to prove her client knew these people, who were carrying Canadian passports, didn't have the documents to come into this country.

"There is no evidence to substantiate that," she said, suggesting there was nothing to indicate the three people named in the first charge actually exist, that they are not admissible into this country, and that Gbamanja knew he was in contravention of the act.

The lawyers made their closing arguments on the seventh day of Gbamanja's trial, and after hearing their submissions Condon reserved his decision until Aug. 2.

During the trial, he heard testimony from 11 witnesses, including seven Canada Border Services officers, Gbamanja and a co-accused.

Scott attacked the credibility of Babajide Desalu, who is serving an 11-month sentence after pleading guilty for the part he played in the incident.

Describing him as dishonest and a "master manipulator," she suggested he lied, under oath, to the court, and was "making up things as he goes." 

During his testimony, Desalu changed his story many times and it made no sense, Scott said.

Somji noted Desalu had acknowledged that he provided Gbamanja with three Canadian passports, one of which he had stolen, for the passengers.

Desalu never crossed the border and there was no reason why he would not be honest about how these migrants got passports, she said.

The witness, also a Toronto resident, acknowledged he had tried to smuggle people before, got caught and that was why he didn't travel to the United States with Gbamanja that day.

"He beelined it out of Sault Ste. Marie," after he learned Gbamanja and his passengers were nabbed, the prosecutor said, adding police caught up with him in December 2017.

Scott argued that her client's evidence, that he was just being paid $500 to drive the vehicle, was unchallenged and should be believed.

His evidence was unshaken during cross-examination, he didn't embellish and there were indications he had reasonable explanations for his actions, she said.

Gbamanja tried to assist police and told them about two other people, who were among the five passengers he had picked up in Ann Arbor, that were at a Sault Michigan hotel, the defence said.

He had a pocketful of receipts from his travels that day, and indicated he kept them to be reimbursed for his expenses, as well as for tax purposes.

"If you're knowingly bringing in people you would hide your trail," Scott suggested.

Gbamanja believed he was driving Desalu's cousins, she said.

"He had no reason to suspect Desalu had ulterior motives."

Somji said the accused had lied about why he was in the US, telling border officers he had gone to pick up his co-workers who had been clubbing in the Michigan Sault.

"You can draw the conclusion the falsehoods were to conceal identities, "she told Condon.

"He should not be believed. You should believe the border officers, trained professionals with no motive to lie" who took notes about their interaction with Gbamanja

The large number of receipts showed he had driven to Ann Arbor and back, and then rented a hotel room for the two people who remained across the river, the prosecutor said.

The only reason he rented the room was because his plan was to bring three people over, and go back to get the remaining individuals, Somji said.

"He expected to be repaid for the hotel because expenses were part of the bargain."

Desalu had testified that he got a call from the accused, who advised him one of the passengers only had $2,000 US, and Desalu told him to take it.

Gbamanja arrived at the border with $2,158, which was seized by the border officers.

The inference can be made "it was a portion of the payment," Somji said. "Whether it is all, we do not know."

Scott argued " there is nothing nefarious about having money in your pocket," noting her client had just returned to Toronto from the States before driving to Sault Ste. Marie.

If five persons were being smuggled, why was there no concern that the other four didn't pay, she said

"It doesn't make sense" he only had money from one person."

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About the Author: Linda Richardson

Linda Richardson is a freelance journalist who has been covering Sault Ste. Marie's courts and other local news for more than 35 years.
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