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Winnipeg man charged with human smuggling had been stopped by police near border before: lawsuit

A Winnipeg man charged in February with smuggling eight foreign nationals into Canada had been stopped by police near the Emerson border crossing twice before that, according to recently filed court documents.

Manitoba’s director of criminal property forfeiture filed a statement of claim in Court of King’s Bench Wednesday, seeking forfeiture of a van and cash belonging to Abdi Hassan Ali, who was arrested after a Feb. 22 traffic stop in south Winnipeg.

Inside the van they stopped, Manitoba RCMP said they found the driver, Ali, along with seven people from Chad and one from Mali.

According to the statement of claim filed this week, those eight people paid thousands of dollars for transportation from north Africa to Canada. It also says Ali had been stopped twice before by police before his February arrest.

The first was in October 2023, when Ali was stopped near the Canada-U.S. border crossing at Emerson, in southern Manitoba.

That stop came “at a time when illegal migrants were entering Canada,” according to the lawsuit. Ali, who was the only person in the vehicle at that point, told police he was in the area to “pick up friends,” and was not arrested.

Police stopped him near the Emerson border crossing again on Jan. 24, 2024, when a “known human smuggling event was occurring,” according to the statement of claim.

Once again, Ali was the only person in the vehicle when it was stopped. He was arrested in connection with the human smuggling investigation, but was released without charges, the claim says.

Stopped for speeding, let go before arrest

Ali’s next encounter with police was on Feb. 22, when around 2 a.m., RCMP stopped a van he was driving for speeding on Highway 3, southwest of Winnipeg, driving northbound from the border toward the city.

There were eight passengers in the van, who were each asked to produce identification, the suit says. Seven had ID issued from Chad, and one from Mali.

Ali told police he was an Uber driver and taking the passengers to “the shelter,” the claim says. Police let him go.

However, when their subsequent checks turned up his January arrest, police found the van again in Winnipeg and made a second stop.

At that point, Ali claimed he picked up the passengers in Blumenort, a small community southeast of Winnipeg, where he said they had been hiding in a shed on a farm for 15 days. 

However, the eight passengers had documentation showing they had arrived in Minneapolis between Feb. 15-20, the statement of claim says. 

When interviewed by police through an interpreter, they said they had been dropped off at the U.S. border and given Ali’s phone number to arrange transportation into Canada, the suit says.

They told officers Ali created the story about hiding in Blumenort, and told them to “stick to it” if asked, it alleges.

Each had paid between $9,000 and $12,000 to get from Chad to Canada, they told police. The suit doesn’t specify who they paid that money to.

$2K found in sock: lawsuit

Ali, who was 30 at the time of his arrest in February, was charged with violating the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act by “organizing, inducing, aiding or abetting” the entry of people into Canada in contravention of the act, and by “counselling a person to directly misrepresent or withhold” information.

In the suit, Manitoba’s director of criminal property forfeiture is seeking to seize the 2020 Kia passenger van Ali was driving, along with $2,300 US that was found in his sock when he was arrested on Feb. 22.

Both the van and the cash were acquired through illegal activity, “specifically through human smuggling,” the suit alleges.

Under Manitoba’s Criminal Property Forfeiture Act, justice officials can launch a civil proceeding in which they ask a judge to give them assets that are the proceeds of, or used in, unlawful activity.

Ali’s arrest came after Manitoba RCMP said earlier in February they had arrested a Calgary man accused of helping smuggle seven foreign nationals from Chad into Canada, when the vehicle they were in was pulled over by Manitoba RCMP near Dominion City.

In December 2023, another group of men from Chad were found in Emerson, after RCMP said they illegally crossed the border into Manitoba. One was sent to hospital with serious injuries due to exposure.

Chad faces issues with extreme poverty and political instability, along with an influx of refugees fleeing conflict in neighbouring regions such as Sudan’s West Darfur region.

Illegal border crossings, particularly during Manitoba’s harsh winters, can be exceptionally dangerous.

In January 2022, a family of four from India, including two children, died while trying to cross the border into the U.S. near Emerson.

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