The truth about Ottawa's missing war criminals

Uncovering the story behind the mug shots

Before he snuck into Canada and disappeared, Kiemtor Alidu was a loyal—and ruthless—supporter of Ghana’s military dictatorship. Between 1982 and 1985, Alidu served as vice-chairman of his local “People’s Defence Committee,” a quasi-police force that kept a close eye on political dissidents. By his own admission, more than 100 people were rounded up and murdered because he and his colleagues fingered them as threats to the regime.

“Even a person who is innocent was killed during those incidents,” Alidu testified during an Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) hearing. “A lot of people were killed.”

Foreigners who are found to be complicit in war crimes or other human rights abuses are not welcome in Canada, and in 1993 the IRB unanimously rejected Alidu’s request to remain in Toronto. (How he got into the country remains a mystery). “It is clear to the panel that the claimant was guilty of crime [sic] against humanity,” reads the ruling, obtained by Maclean’s. “The claimant was part of a team that showed no mercy to political dissidents, as well as innocent victims.”

Alidu filed an appeal with the Federal Court (“I am extremely perturbed,” he wrote in one sworn affidavit) but that, too, was turned down. After a second appeal met the same fate, Alidu vanished. He has now lived in Canada for nearly 20 years, all of them illegally.

Wherever he is hiding these days, Kiemtor Alidu has no doubt seen his name and face plastered on the federal government’s new “most wanted” list—an FBI-style Web page aimed at tracking down 30 missing war criminals who were ordered deported years ago. Since July 21, when the list was first unveiled, seven of the men have been located and three returned to their home nations. Alidu is among the 23 who remain at large.

What heinous crimes did these men commit before landing in Canada? Ottawa is not providing details, other than dates of birth and last known addresses. But a search through Federal Court files—through years of failed appeals and conflicting testimony—offers a chilling glimpse of some of the allegations behind the mug shots, and why the government is so anxious to put every last one on an outbound plane.

One man on the list, Jose Malaga Arica, was a helicopter gunner with the Peruvian military who repeatedly opened fire on innocent villagers. (“The victims of the attack included women and children,” he admitted.) Another, 75-year-old Abdul Khalil, was a senior colonel in KHAD, the notoriously vicious secret police service that operated in Afghanistan during the Marxist era. Yet another, Illandaridevage Kulatunga, was a Sri Lankan army sergeant who helped bury civilians in mass unmarked graves.

Dragan Djuric, who came to Canada on a visitor’s visa in 1999, was found to be a member of the Serbian Voluntary Guard, a paramilitary unit that committed some of the worst atrocities during the Balkan wars. In 2003, just before he disappeared from his apartment in Kitchener, Ont., Djuric typed a last-ditch letter to the Federal Court: “I would be a happiest man in the whole world if you would just give me that chance for peace in my life.” Eight years later, authorities have no idea where he is.

Granted, the new Web page is as much a public relations exercise as a law enforcement tool. While previous governments stubbornly refused to disclose the identities of lost war criminals—citing privacy concerns—Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have embraced the opposite strategy, reaping weeks’ worth of congratulatory headlines in the process. What all the press releases fail to mention, however, is that the list has its own missing parts. A spokeswoman for the Canada Border Services Agency confirms that the website does not contain “all cases CBSA is tracking,” but rather a select group that meets “a specific criteria.” In other words, there is a second collection of war-crimes fugitives that the public doesn’t get to see.

One thing, though, is not in dispute: the 30 men who did make the cut are not there by mistake. Each one has been deemed inadmissible under Canada’s Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, and each one has been given ample opportunity to prove otherwise. They chose a life on the lam instead.

Not everyone pulled a trigger or raped a civilian. Some, as detailed in court documents, claim they had no choice but to follow unspeakable orders. But because Canada is determined not to be a safe haven for tyrants who execute children or torture prisoners, our immigration laws cast a wide net when it comes to war crimes. The consequence is deportation, not jail, so the burden of proof is much lower than a standard criminal prosecution: instead of “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the legal threshold is “serious reasons for considering.” Mere membership in an organization can be evidence enough of complicity, if that organization is “principally directed to a limited, brutal purpose.”

Such was the case for William Edosomwan, another fugitive on the most-wanted list. Although he claims that he never mistreated inmates while working as a prison guard in Nigeria, his 20-year career with an agency notorious for “extrajudicial killings, torture, unlawful detention and other abuses” was enough for the IRB to brand him “a knowing participant” in crimes against humanity: “The claimant’s evasive and contradictory testimony concerning prison conditions, in spite of the overwhelming documentary evidence on the appalling and life-threatening conditions in the Nigerian prison system, leads the panel to conclude that he not only knew of these conditions but was an accomplice in the perpetration of these abusive conditions.”

Henry Pantoja Carbonel was slapped with a similar judgment. A former member of Peru’s security and national intelligence services, Carbonel insisted that he was a lowly clerk. The IRB wasn’t convinced. “His professed ignorance of human rights atrocities is not credible in light of the widespread practice of arbitrary arrests, detentions, torture, and killings perpetrated by the Peruvian security forces at the time of his military service,” the board ruled in 2004. “The panel concludes that he embraced the aims and objectives of the organization.”

Carbonel appealed, and found a job installing drywall while a judge considered his case. “If I had to return to Peru, I would not have a place to stay,” he wrote in a 2007 affidavit. “It will be very stressful and upsetting for me.” When the court rejected his plea—and Carbonel failed to show up for his flight back to Lima—a warrant was issued for his arrest.

If not for the new website, he would still be a wanted man. A tip led border authorities to Carbonel’s front door on July 26, and two weeks later he was on that plane to Peru. Today, his face is still featured on the most-wanted website, but the photo is stamped with two words: Apprehended. Removed.

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