The government’s case against Cindor Reeves stinks

4,000 pages of documents confirm Ottawa has no dirt on him

Since beginning four years ago to dig into the story of Cindor Reeves — the man who helped bring former Liberian president and warlord Charles Taylor to trial in The Hague, and whom Canada is now deporting — I have occasionally worried that there might be some missing piece of the puzzle that I didn’t have. Perhaps the government has information about Reeves that would explain its determination to send him back to Liberia, where he faces murder, other than incompetence, malice, and a perverted sense of justice.

I have now read nearly 4,000 pages of government documents released to me by the Immigration and Refugee Board because of an access-to-information request. My fears that the government might have dirt on Reeves are now gone. In their place is a deep sense of disgust with this government and with the Immigration and Refugee Board — particularly Joanne Sajtos, the IRB member who ruled against Reeves; Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who intervened in this case; and Brenda Lloyd, counsel for the minister, who represented the minister in the hearing and argued that Reeves and his wife and children should be excluded from refugee protection because of Reeves’ alleged complicity in crimes against humanity.

Let’s start with incompetence. Among the disturbing details to emerge from transcripts of Reeves’ hearing is that in a case involving international espionage, Brenda Lloyd apparently did not know what the British intelligence agency MI-5 is. Elsewhere she wonders why Reeves, on the run from Taylor, didn’t simply go to the United Nations or the Red Cross.

Lloyd argues Reeves was not in danger from Taylor’s goons when he was living in Accra, Ghana. The Special Court for Sierra Leone, to whom Reeves was secretly providing evidence, thought otherwise. They learned a team of assassins was on its way to kill Reeves, and therefore spirited him out of the country. Alexander Yearsley of the British NGO Global Witness — which Reeves also aided in its campaign to expose the blood diamond trade — testified in an affidavit that Reeves was attacked at a supposed safe house in Ghana, and that his friend in the same house was murdered.

Joanne Sajtos, who ruled against Reeves, doubts Reeves tried to tell the U.S. Consulate in Burkina Faso about Taylor’s activities. But there is no evidence anyone tried to verify this with the U.S. State Department. This case is full of such logical gaps and slipshod research.

The line between incompetence and malice is a blurry one. Does Lloyd honestly think Reeves exaggerated the threats against him, for example, or does she simply want him out of the country and will make that case however she can?  It’s hard to say. But there is a weird subtext in much of Lloyd’s arguments regarding Reeves’ relationship with Maclean’s. There is abundant evidence Reeves has been threatened here in Canada. I’ve published some of the warnings he and members of his family have received. Yet Lloyd suggests that if Reeves truly felt he was in danger, he wouldn’t have publicized his presence here by speaking with me. It’s difficult not to suspect the government resents the publicity more than it thinks Reeves’ decision to talk to me reveals anything about his safety.

Finally, and most crucially, there is the question of justice. There is no evidence that Reeves directly harmed anyone. He did smuggle diamonds and weapons between Liberia and Sierra Leone on behalf of his brother-in-law, Charles Taylor. Reeves admitted this when he arrived in Canada and claimed refugee status in 2006. There may be legitimate questions about his motivations and the degree of choice he had. But it is undisputed that Reeves risked his life to help the Special Court for Sierra Leone build its case against Charles Taylor. He never asked for anything in return, and when offered a bribe by at least one of Taylor’s associates if he would desist, he refused.

Alain Blaise Werner, a former prosecutor for the Special Court, says this about Reeves in an affidavit: “I can attest that Cindor Reeves is one of the very few who had the courage to risk his life and the life of his family and collaborate with the office of the prosecutor in Freetown at a time when nobody else dared to talk about the involvement of Charles Taylor with the RUF [Revolutionary United Front, a Sierra Leone rebel group].”

Elsewhere Werner describes Reeves’ help as voluntary and “only motivated by his desire to have the people most responsible for the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone brought to justice.”

Christopher Santora, a prosecutor in the trial against Charles Taylor, makes a similar claim, also in an affidavit supplied to the IRB: “I can state unequivocally that Cindor Reeves is one of the few people in this whole conflict that did the right thing when the opportunity presented itself. I state this as someone who has dealt with hundreds of ‘insiders,’ former commanders and direct perpetrators…

“It was Reeves who took the first opportunity to come forward, and without his cooperation it would have been extremely unlikely that the Office of the Prosecutor would have had enough underlying evidence to indict Mr. Taylor, which eventually led to his departure from Liberia in August 2003.”

The issue here is redemption. Whatever wrongs Reeves might have committed when working for Taylor, he has made up for them by his actions since. He is an extraordinarily brave and moral man. The very least he has earned is his life, which he may well lose if he is sent to Liberia; and the company of his wife and young children, which he will also lose, as they are allowed to stay here (based on the self-evidently bizarre reasoning that their relationship with Reeves makes it too dangerous for them to return to Liberia).

There is also the more practical issue of making international justice work. Bringing tyrants to justice requires that insiders in heinous regimes cooperate. They should not be offered amnesty, but they must know that they will be treated fairly and honestly. Reeves has not, and others in his situation might reasonably conclude they will not either. Canada has given millions of dollars to the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The irony is thick.

“These white people, the international community, when they need something from you, they will treat you like a newborn baby,” Taylor once said to Reeves. “They will use you to make a case against me. But after, they will dump you.”

Reeves has received a removal order from Canada Border Services Agency. His last chance to stay in Canada — temporarily — is a pre-removal risk assessment, now underway.