Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Refugee board deports woman it calls a thief

Millions of dollars in goods stolen by little-known gang

Graeme Hamilton, National Post
Published: Tuesday, July 22, 2008

MONTREAL - A Peruvian woman granted refugee status in 2001 has been ordered deported from Canada for belonging to a South American criminal organization that specializes in robbing tourists and shoplifting luxury merchandise.

The case against Shirley Palomino Baltazar, 20, sheds light on a little-known gang that police say is active in Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver. A police expert testified before the federal Immigration and Refugee Board that since 2002, the organization has committed hundreds of thefts a year in Montreal alone, stealing goods valued in the millions of dollars.

Marco Gaetani of the Immigration and Refugee Board concluded last May that there were reasonable grounds to conclude Ms. Baltazar belonged to the criminal organization and was therefore inadmissible to Canada. Last month, she applied to Federal Court to have the deportation order overturned and to be granted a new hearing.

The IRB decision was based on testimony from Dominique Boucher of the Montreal police force. She said the gang, which is not named in court documents, lacks the organizational and hierarchical structure common to most criminal organizations. Instead it is a collection of loosely linked cells having up to 10 members, often relatives. Members would meet at a restaurant in Montreal, owned by Ms. Baltazar's mother, which police suspected of being a storage facility for stolen merchandise, the documents say.

Ms. Boucher said the organization had five main areas of activity: shoplifting; jewellery theft; robbing people as they leave banks, foreign-exchange bureaus and other financial institutions; stealing handbags in airports, hotels and other tourist locations; and extortion.

She said that since 2002 the gang has committed thefts at Montreal's Trudeau airport worth about $2-million a year. It is suspected of another 240 thefts a year in downtown Montreal hotels and 90 armed robberies and vehicle thefts a year. In 2005, she said, police seized high-end clothing valued at $500,000 in two raids on properties rented by the organization.

Members use a similar modus operandi in many of their thefts, Ms. Boucher told Mr. Gaetani.

Evidence before the board showed that in 2005, when she was just 17, Ms. Baltazar was arrested as she tried to buy gift cards worth $1,000 using a stolen credit card. She had six stolen credit cards in her possession when she was arrested. Because she was a minor, she was let go without a criminal conviction and told to do community work.

Last November, while she was under police surveillance, Ms. Baltazar and her mother were seen entering a shopping mall, then leaving rapidly at the same time as a woman reported having her wallet stolen at the mall. Ms. Baltazar was next observed buying perfume, transit passes, electronics and clothing, allegedly using the woman's stolen credit card. She was arrested in January and charged with theft and fraud in relation to the purchases. Those charges have not yet gone to trial.

Despite being unemployed and living on welfare, Ms. Baltazar had the means to travel often to South America, the panel heard. Since 2005, she has flown to Colombia, Argentina, Peru and Uruguay.

The immigration panel also heard that Ms. Baltazar's common-law husband and father of her children, Wilman Leon Olachea, was expelled from Canada in 2004 for belonging to the same criminal organization. He returned in 2006 under a false name and had lived with her until they were arrested together in January. Two of her half-brothers have also been ordered deported for belonging to the gang.

Montreal police led an operation called Project Sapphire targeting one of the organization's cells, which led to nine of the cell's 10 members being arrested and removed from Canada. The majority of the cell's members had a connection to Mr. Olachea, according to Ms. Boucher.

At the time of her arrest, Ms. Baltazar was carrying an international driver's licence that contained her photo but no name or signature. She claimed to have bought it in Argentina from a government official who did not have the time to include her name. Mr. Gaetani found her story farfetched and concluded she intended to use the licence "in a fraudulent manner."

Court documents do not indicate on what grounds Ms. Baltazar was accepted as a refugee in 2001. But in an affidavit accompanying her application to the Federal Court, she says she fears for her life if she is forced to return to Peru. She denies any involvement with a criminal gang.

Her appeal has yet to be heard.

Friday, July 4, 2008


Come to Canada! But only if you've got a job

Stories of Canada looking to poach British citizens are wildly exaggerated. We're only interested in professionals who can help us dig up oil

Heather Mallick guardian.co.uk, Wednesday July 2, 2008

I beg your pardon? Alberta. It's a western province of Canada. The Rockies? Edmonton? Calgary, had the Olympics in 1988? A variety of scenic spots named after various homely minor Royals of the Victorian era?

I know what will ring British bells. The tar sands. Alberta has oil, sadly mixed up with tar deep below the ground and extracting it will destroy water and land for generations to come, but never mind. Oil is the most-wanted fluid on earth next to water. Alberta has it, billions of dollars are rolling in and Alberta wants you to have a share because there aren't enough Canadians to get the muck out of the earth.

The province's minister of employment and immigration, an amiable farmer named Hector Goudreau, has been prowling the UK trying to lure what he sees as under-respected, underpaid, over-mortgaged Brits to come to sunny Alberta. The Mail on Sunday called his trip "one of the most audacious raids since Australia poached a million Britons – known as the £10 Poms after the fare they paid – in the 1950s and 1960s." It really thinks Brits wish to trade one country's high prices and dire schools and hospitals for another's.

But the Mail has it wrong, no surprises there, because it takes Goudreau at his word. Alberta wants skilled immigrants. If you can pick your way through the management jargon favoured by the province's government-is-a-business websites, they mean doctors, teachers, nurses and oilfield techies who already have a firm job offer. Interestingly, as of today, only nurses are listed in the "skilled immigrants wanted" section.

Alberta welcomed 14,000 foreigners in 2000, 20,000 in 2006 and claims it wants 50,000 this year, but it is by no means clear what they would do.

The official provincial website only has 100 job postings at the moment, a lot of them for hotel maids and short-order cooks. This means the temporary workers plan, which is desperate by definition.

Marina Lewycka just wrote a novel, Two Caravans, about the miseries of foreign strawberry pickers in Dover. Change strawberries to black goop and you have a recipe for suffering. The Alberta boom means huge prices for crap housing (so no change there, Londoners) and you'll have an intense earning experience accompanied by the Canadian winter, loneliness without your family, a taste of alcoholism, and a flight back home when the tar runs out.

I'm not sure if Britons are interested in Canadian motives, but our country is going through weird changes. The pro-immigrant federal Liberal party was voted out in favour of the profoundly anti-immigrant Conservatives. They and the provincial Alberta government compete to see who can be more rightwing. So I have doubts about the fast-track skilled immigrants program, which is intrinsically whim-based and a good way to conceal racist immigration rules.

I just received a sad email from an American immigrant who says moving to newly conservative Canada is like seeing a cool band from your youth. But when you get to the reunion concert, it's only the drummer and the bass player from the original band.

I'm sure Hector Goudreau means well. He was deputy mayor of Falher, population 1,109, the "honey capital of Canada". It has a giant bee on a stick. I suspect this was his first international trip, beyond that trip to Montana to buy seeds. A John Prescott without the sophistication and success with the ladies, he's in Britain because he thinks it's packed with white cockneys longing to clean Calgary's chimneys, guv.

If the NHS really feels its resentful junior doctors are going to be raided by colonials with oil, it should know that Canada has plenty of foreign-trained doctors who cannot get accreditation here and who are driving taxis with an understandable sense of grievance. I suspect they would move to Alberta with pleasure, being first in line and all.

So it's not all blue skies. Have your job offer framed and ready when you arrive at the border.

About this articleClose This article was first published on guardian.co.uk on Wednesday July 02 2008. It was last updated at 19:30 on July 02 2008.