A 43-year-old Regina woman is facing human smuggling charges in connection with an RCMP investigation into asylum seekers crossing into Saskatchewan from the United States.
According to police, as part of a four-month long ongoing investigation, nine foreign nationals were intercepted Friday night while crossing into Canada in an area between the North Portal and Northgate ports of entry at the Saskatchewan/United States border.
The nine people were not injured and were safely transferred to Canada Border Services Agency’s custody. The RCMP is not confirming the age, sex or nationalities of the individuals. However, during a press conference Wednesday, it was confirmed the nine foreign nationals were from “West Africa.”
Michelle Omoruyi, 43, was arrested at the scene in connection at the incident.
Jason Evert, assistant director of the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), said Omoruyi was driving north of the border with the nine foreign nationals in her vehicle. By 9 p.m. CT, she was pulled over in an isolated area by RCMP.
He also said the nine people have been processed by the CBSA and released into Canada. All nine have made claims for refugee protection.
Also on April 14, United States Border Patrol Grand Forks Centre arrested several people in relation to the investigation.
The next day, RCMP, with assistance from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and Regina police, executed a search warrant at a residence in Regina. RCMP said “evidence and a significant amount of cash was seized from the residence.”
Omoruyi is charged with one count of human smuggling and one count of conspiracy to commit human smuggling. She will make her first appearance in Estevan Provincial Court on May 15.
The operation, Project FADDUCE, involves the Canada Border Services Agency, RCMP Integrated Border Enforcement Team and United States Customs and Border Protection – office of the border patrol and office of field operations and homeland security investigations.
Evert said CBSA has been investigating organized human smuggling in southeastern Saskatchewan since December 2016.
On Dec. 23, 2016, Evert said CBSA agents at the North Portal crossing flagged a man, who was a Canadian resident, after he had been frequently using the North Portal entry for more investigation. Evert would not confirm if he was a Canadian citizen or not.
“The CBSA launched an investigation as a result of the information uncovered during this examination and began coordinating its efforts with the RCMP,” Evert said.
Evert said over the course of the investigation, evidence was found that suggested alleged smugglers were bringing foreign nationals into Canada from the United States by facilitating illegal crossings between designated ports of entry.
On Friday, U.S. border agents saw the same man had crossed the border into North Dakota and alerted CBSA. RCMP were also told a smuggling attempt may be in the works.
That man was arrested by U.S. police. He has not been charged at this time.
In February, Saskatchewan RCMP said they had not intercepted any migrant people who have attempted to cross the border illegally in 2017. Saskatchewan RCMP also enhanced patrols along the Canada and U.S. border in February.
Manitoba has seen an influx of border crossings. As of March, more than 200 asylum seekers have illegally crossed into Canada near Emerson, Man.
On Tuesday, Lorne Waldman, Toronto lawyer and past-president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, said human smuggling charges in relation to asylum seekers are very rare.
“If you’re motivation in bringing people into Canada was to save their lives, you couldn’t be charged with human smuggling, if your purpose is humanitarians, so in order to obtain a conviction, the government is going to have to show that people that were alleged to be involved in the smuggling were doing it for money and not for humanitarian reasons,” Waldman said.