Woman stripped of refugee status after questions raised over identity
In a rare appeal case, Ottawa has overturned a decision to grant refugee status to a Nigerian woman, in part because of a misspelling of her name in a government birth document.
A typo could be costly, especially when it’s in the name on the ID of a refugee claimant.
In a rare appeal case, Ottawa has overturned a decision to grant refugee status to a Nigerian woman, in part because of a misspelling of her name in a government birth document from Lagos.
Gift Daniel, 32, now faces deportation from Canada at any time.
What was unusual with the government’s appeal is immigration officials did not challenge Daniel’s claim that she was a victim of female genital mutilation and domestic abuse, but contested her credibility on the grounds that she is not who she claims to be.
“I have never seen or heard of a positive decision overturned completely by the refugee appeal division, where the pressing concern was on the identity and not on the merits of the decision,” said Daniel’s lawyer, Richard Wazana. “They did not question the forced marriage, abuse and violence.”
Daniel, a hairstylist from Benin, arrived in Canada in February 2015 using a false Canadian passport under the name of Desiree Dobson and filed an asylum claim upon landing at Pearson International Airport. She was also in possession of a Social Insurance Number card, birth certificate and driver’s licence under the same name, according to federal government officials.
Daniel claimed she was forced to undergo female circumcision in 2012 and was sold by her father a year later to an older man who sexually, physically and psychologically abused her before she fled Nigeria with the help of a smuggler. The refugee board confirmed there was documented evidence of genital mutilation.
Upon her arrival in Canada, Daniel said she declared her real identity to officials as “Gift Daniel” and provided a birth document and driver’s licence issued by the Nigerian government as proof.
However, a border enforcement official quickly noticed her birth document spelled her name as “Gife” while her licence spelled it “Gift” — setting off questions by Canadian officials over her identity.
She was detained at the Rexdale immigration holding centre for three months until her release on May 13, 2015, when she was granted refugee status.
Despite concerns over Daniel’s identity, refugee judge Shamshuddin Alidina, in granting her asylum, wrote the tribunal “believes, on a balance of probability, that the claimant has persuasively established her identity as Gift Daniel from Nigeria.”
While Daniel has insisted she only became aware of the typo after it was spotted by the border official, the different spellings of her name in her identity documents triggered the government’s challenge to the refugee appeal tribunal to overturn the asylum decision, Wazana said.
“Identity is clearly an important fact, so important, that if not established, there is no need to further analyze the evidence and the claim must fail,” the government said in its appeal.
“Absent a properly established identity, a matter of utmost importance to refugee determination, the claimant cannot be considered to be a credible witness on the material aspects of her claim for refugee protection.”
In its appeal application, border enforcement officials also noted Daniel could not provide them with details on who helped her obtain the false passport she used to come to Canada and argued that her claim was “assessed on the basis of one facet of the respondent’s alleged identity: survivor of forced female genital mutilation and gendered violence.”
In addition to the error in her name on her birth document, they said her other ID, including two additional driver’s licences she later produced and a voter’s card, were not acceptable proof of identity.
Immigration officials argued the driver’s licences — two expired and one current — that Daniel submitted bear different signatures and that one expired licence has a picture that does not look like her. The identity issue was further compounded by a new birth document Daniel later submitted with the correct spelling of her first name.
The refugee appeal division (RAD) rejected Daniel’s explanation that a friend forged her signature on her first driver’s licence because she forgot to sign it on her application.
“The RAD finds that the forged document was obtained improperly outside of the normal issuing process and cannot be relied upon for the truth of its content,” wrote adjudicator Leonard Favreau.
“Regardless, even if the respondent’s friend was able to bypass the process required to obtain a driver’s licence, it is clear that the licence cannot be relied upon for the truth of its content, and as such, cannot be relied upon as reliable evidence of the respondent’s identity.”
The appeal tribunal also noted the features on one of the licences “were faded with muted colours” and its “webbing” security features were barely visible.
“Fraudulent documents from Nigeria are available in and outside of Nigeria . . . any printed document can be forged. Genuine official documents such as birth, marriage, divorce, death certificates, ID cards, driving licences and passports can be obtained,” Favreau noted in his decision to rescind Daniel’s asylum.
“In traveling to Canada in possession of a false passport and other false identity documents, the respondent has demonstrated that she has the ability to obtain and the willingness to use fraudulent documents.”
In challenging the appeal tribunal’s decision against Daniel, Wazana argued at the federal court that the assessment of his client’s identity was unreasonable and the adjudicator could not make a decision solely on identity without considering the credibility of her claims for asylum — arguments dismissed by Federal Court Justice Ann Marie McDonald.
“The RAD was not unreasonable in rejecting (Daniel’s) evidence and explanations for the irregular manner in which she obtained the licences. Therefore, the RAD was not unreasonable in concluding that the applicant’s identity had not been established,” McDonald said in her ruling last month.
Daniel, who has been studying at an adult learning centre toward a high school diploma, said she was disappointed with the decision and frustrated at what more she could do to prove she is Gift Daniel.
“I was so happy when my (refugee) claim was granted. I was ready to move on and start a new life,” said Daniel, sobbing. “It all started with the typo. Tell me if you never make any error in life, in typing and speaking. This is a huge price for me to pay.”
Immigration Minister John McCallum’s office declined to comment on Daniel’s case. The Federal Court said a media protocol prevents Justice McDonald from commenting.