Men linked to botched border crossing have deportations for human smuggling put on hold
Adrian Humphreys | November 3, 2016 10:06 PM ET
TORONTO — Two men caught trying to bring people from the United States into Canada across the St. Lawrence River on an inflatable raft had their deportation orders put on hold in the wake of last year’s landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling on human smuggling.
The two cases not only highlight the top court’s reversal on what is considered criminal human smuggling, but also reveals rich details on what authorities said was a crew moving people back and forth across the Canada-U.S. border along the Thousand Islands archipelago.
This incident unraveled quickly when remote sensors monitoring movement along the waterfront were triggered during the night on June 6, 2011.
About 1:20 a.m., two RCMP constables spotted a vehicle parked on Hill Island, Ont., a picturesque clump in the St. Lawrence straddling Ontario and New York.
They found Tamazi Gechuashvili, then 59, and a citizen of Georgia, the former Soviet republic. He said he was lost, the Immigration and Refugee Board heard.
The officers searched his vehicle and discovered a patch kit for an inflatable rubber raft and a backpack containing a letter to Robert Comeau.
Gechuashvili, who four months earlier had applied for permanent resident status in Canada, was arrested.
The crew on the other side of the river fared no better.
U.S. Border Patrol found Michael Robertson, a Canadian, with two foreign nationals, also Georgians.
Robertson quickly admitted he was trying to smuggle the two into Canada.
After the U.S. border guards alerted their Canadian counterparts, tracking dogs and a search team found Mirian Vashakidze and Comeau hiding near the river’s edge.
A rubber raft, two paddles, a pump and a small duffle bag were nearby. What was not found was any fishing equipment, the IRB heard.
Robertson told U.S. authorities Gechuashvili was in charge, and Vashakidze and Comeau were also involved. He was being paid $1,000 and had brought others across in the past, including Gechuashvili’s daughter.
He said he had also helped take a man into the U.S. from Canada.
In Canada, Comeau was also talkative, the IRB heard.
He said he was paid $3,000 for his part and also said Gechuashvili was in charge.
Gechuashvili denied involvement. He said he didn’t know Vashakidze or Comeau and maintained he got lost near the border.
Vashakidze admitted knowing Comeau through work and Gechuashvili through the Georgian community in Toronto, but said he was merely fishing.
Fast forward to 2016.
Since the arrests, Gechuashvili and Vashakidze were deemed inadmissible to Canada on the grounds of organized criminality for international people smuggling. Both were ordered deported but have not yet been removed.
Since then, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act changed after a court challenge.
The Supreme Court reversed the interpretation of the organized criminality section last November, ruling only smugglers obtaining financial or material benefit could be considered transnational organized crime participants.
The two men found by the river appealed to the Federal Court for their cases to be re-assessed by the IRB.
While evidence was accepted that other participants had been paid for their role, the IRB adjudicator did not determine whether Gechuashvili and Vashakidze materially benefited from their actions.
Both were released on bond and granted new hearings.