Ex-coastguardsman’s refugee status bid denied

The bid by a former member of the Guyana Defence Force Coastguard to be granted refugee status in Canada—on the claim that his life was threatened after he was part of a team that made a cocaine bust—was quashed late last month, when a judge dismissed his application to have a removal decision reversed.

On June 27, Justice D G Near dismissed an application by the man for judicial review of a decision of the Refugee Protection Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board, which had determined that that he was neither a convention refugee nor a person in need of protection.

According to the decision, seen by this newspaper, the man, who would have still been a member of the GDF when he left this country in 2008, worked as a repair technician with the Coastguard division. It was stated that on September 19, 2008, he was on a Coastguard vessel when it intercepted another vessel. The Coastguard personnel boarded the vessel and conducted a search.

“A large amount of cocaine was found on board.  In the course of the search, the men on board the boat threatened the applicant and the other Coastguard personnel, saying they would be ‘finished’.  The six men on board the boat were arrested and taken, along with their boat, to the Coastguard base. The police then took the men into custody,” the court document stated.

The man, in his refugee claim, stated that two weeks after the bust he recognised some of the individuals from the intercepted boat hanging around in a parked vehicle outside the Coastguard base. “The applicant claims they mimicked shooting a gun at him,” the document said.

Soon after, he claimed, he received threatening phone calls at his home. The caller wanted to know where the seized drugs were being stored. The man said he was threatened with death if he refused to cooperate. He also claimed to have received ten similar phone calls between October and November 2008, and each time he told the caller that as a repair technician he had no knowledge of the seized drugs.

He said he made complaints to both the Commanding Officer of the Coastguard, and the police in Georgetown when he realised that his life was in danger – the night he received the second phone call. Although the police took a report and said they would look into the matter, to the best of his knowledge, no action was ever taken on his behalf.

In November 2008, he travelled to Canada to attend the funeral of his younger brother on a visitor’s visa. After he shared his fears with his relatives, he was advised to seek refugee protection. He did so on December 12, 2008.

In refusing his application for refugee status, the board found that he failed to take all reasonable steps under the circumstances to seek state protection in Guyana. It was pointed out that he had only approached the authorities on one occasion prior to seeking international protection in Canada. He did not follow up to see whether his complaint was investigated, or the results of any investigation that was conducted. The board also said that he did not know if his alleged persecutors were prosecuted or incarcerated, because he did not inquire.

The board found that the Coastguard and police in Guyana were working effectively on September 19, 2008 when they intercepted the vessel, found a substantial quantity of illicit drugs, and apprehended and arrested the suspects on board.

“The board was of the view that these actions suggested that state protection would be available for the claimant, as no persuasive evidence was adduced to indicate that state protection would not be forthcoming,” the decision stated.

As a result the board concluded that it was the man’s own actions, namely, his failure to follow-up, that may have thwarted the attempts of the police to properly investigate his allegations.

In his ruling, the judge said he was satisfied that the Refugee Board did in fact conduct the state protection analysis while accepting that his allegations were true. He said there was no disguised credibility finding, and the board engaged with the factual matrix.

According to the judge, the board reviewed the documentary evidence and found that the preponderance of the objective evidence regarding current country conditions suggested that although not perfect, adequate state protection was available in Guyana. He said the ex-coastguardsman failed to rebut this presumption, not because he presented a dubious tale, but, because, by his own admission, he thought the police would do their job, and he left for Canada before that belief could be borne out.

In his submission, the man had said that if the absence of a credibility finding is not alone a fatal flaw, the board’s conclusion regarding state protection is nonetheless unreasonable. He based this on the contention that the board discussed country condition documents with marginal relevance to the drug trade but ignored documentary evidence dealing specifically with the issue of the drug trade and the authorities’ inability to respond.

He said that the board should have thoroughly canvassed the nature of his claim of risk and reviewed the documentary evidence on country conditions before concluding that the he failed to rebut the presumption of state protection.

He specifically cited three documents contained in the board’s own national documentation package. The United States February 2009 Department of State International Narcotics Strategy Report which noted:

“Government counternarcotics efforts remain hampered by inadequate resources for, and poor coordination among law enforcement agencies, an overburdened and inefficient judiciary; and the lack of a coherent and prioritized national security strategy.  Murders, kidnappings and other violent crimes commonly believed to be linked with narcotics trafficking are regularly reported in the Guyanese media…UGS analysts believe drug trafficking organisations in Guyana continue to elude law enforcement agencies through bribes and coercion.”

The United States March 2010 Department of State Guyana Country Report similarly found that resource constraints limited the effectiveness of the Guyana Police Force and that public confidence in the police remained low due to corruption. Lastly, he pointed to a document entitled, “Criminal Violence and State Response, touching on aspects of the police force, drug trafficking and related criminal activities”. The judge said the article describes a “phantom death squad” that is alleged to have killed hundreds of people in Guyana and has been linked to the convicted drug trafficker Shaheed Roger Khan.

However, the judge noted that none of the documents detailed anything other than what was already contained in the board’s quite extensive review of the documentary evidence.

He said the board did note that corruption, inefficiency and bribery remain real concerns in Guyana.

According to the judge, the documents cited by the man lack the specificity required to warrant interfering with the board’s decision.

He said they do not directly counter the board’s conclusion that, “Guyana is in effective control of its territory and has in place a functioning security force to uphold the laws and constitution of the country,” nor do they unequivocally support the man’s own account.

“In consideration of the above conclusions, this application for judicial review is dismissed,” the judge ruled.

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