Failed refugees alleged crimes raises questions
Kathryn Blaze Carlson
Published: Wednesday, March 04, 2009
From a fake passport, to a stolen pair of $160,000 jewel-encrusted slippers, to alleged credit card fraud and jail time, Filip Djukic's life in Toronto sounds far from typical. But then, Mr. Djukic is not a typical Canadian. In fact, Mr. Djukic is not Canadian at all.
That the failed refugee claimant was able to remain in the country and allegedly be involved in two of Toronto's high-profile crimes has raised questions about some troubling loopholes in Canada's refugee system.
Mr. Djukic, 38, of Serbia and Montenegro, was arrested in a recent case that involved the theft of credit and debit card information of more than 215 customers at a high-end spa. He was previously arrested three years ago for allegedly stealing a $160,000 pair of jewel-encrusted slippers from Toronto's Bata Shoe Museum.
Police investigating this latest case involving the spa say that Canada's border agency has launched its own investigation into how Mr. Djukic was able to buy himself enough time in the country to allegedly commit these crimes.
“The Canada Border Services Agency is actively looking into the status of Mr. Djukic,” said Det. Const. Todd Hall, who worked on the Yorkville spa case. “They're going to wait until the outcome of the charges to complete their own investigation,” he said, adding that Mr. Djukic is now in jail pending a bail hearing in Toronto this morning.
Mr. Djukic entered Canada on March 16, 2005, crossing the border with a fake passport. After being denied refugee status by the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) on Nov. 4, 2005, Mr. Djukic did what about 7,000 failed claimants do every year in this country: he sought to overturn the decision. Mr. Djukic's case went before the Federal Court of Canada, which in most cases puts on hold an imminent removal order.
“Once your claim is denied, that's when the game starts,” said James Bissett, a retired ambassador and former head of the Canadian Immigration Service. “It's a totally dysfunctional system in desperate need of reform, but no political party wants to touch the issue of refugee protection.”
Mr. Djukic's case before the federal court was dismissed before it even reached judicial review. Court documents show his appeal was denied on Feb. 14, 2006 – about one month after he is alleged to have stolen the Bata slippers and less than a month before he was arrested for the bizarre theft, which grabbed headlines throughout the city.
Between the application for review and its dismissal, Mr. Djukic married Julia Sung, then in her early 20s, who was also charged in connection with the recent spa fraud. Mr. Djukic, Ms. Sung and two others today face more than 150 charges related to that case.
Though Mr. Djukic was freed after his arrest in the 2006 shoe heist – charges were withdrawn after the shoes were returned to the museum – he remained “under duress from the Immigration Department,” according to a 2006 statement by Detective Peter Karpow, who worked on the Bata shoe case.
In fact, the border services agency arrested Mr. Djukic sometime in the 48 hours prior to his March 8, 2006, refugee board detention hearing over concerns he might not appear at future proceedings, according to Charles Hawkins, spokesman for the refugee board.
Mr. Djukic was detained until his second detention hearing on March 15, 2006, which concluded with an offer of release. Ms. Sung posted a $5,000 bond and assumed responsibility for Mr. Djukic in exchange for his release, according to a detention hearing report. Among other conditions for his release, Mr. Djukic was to check in with an immigration reporting centre each month, reside with Ms. Sung, and avoid engaging in “any activity subsequent to release which results in a conviction under any Act of Parliament.”
Mr. Djukic reportedly worked as a construction worker and lived in a Yorkville condominium with Ms. Sung until his arrest last month.
He applied in 2007 for what is called a pre-removal risk assessment, another avenue a claimant may take in the hopes of acquiring status in Canada. The assessment, which involves an evaluation of the risk of returning a refugee claimant to his or her home country, was delayed for several months, then restarted, according to a source familiar with the border agency's process.
“We know this is of concern to all Canadians and, quite frankly, our hands are somewhat tied by the courts and the existing rules that make it even more difficult to finalize failed asylum claims,” said Alykhan Velshi, a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.
The refugee board's Web site states that about 35,000 refugee protection claims were referred in 2008, and while about half these claims were finalized, Dan Murray, a spokesman for Immigration Watch Canada, said the statistics paint a misleading picture.
“The immigration industry has so sabotaged the system that even though people are denied their claim, they find a way to put off their removal,” said Mr. Murray. “Hundreds of thousands of people have made refugee claims in Canada since the early 1990s. It's just a foot in the door and people find ways to stay.”
But Danielle Norris, a spokeswoman for the immigration department, said Canada's refugee system is effective, balancing a refugee's need for protection with the safety of Canadian citizens. “This system is there for those who need it and is done on a case-by-case basis,” Ms. Norris said.
Still, a spring 2008 report by Auditor General Sheila Fraser said Canada's border agency had lost track of 41,000 illegal immigrants, “jeopardizing the integrity of Canada's immigration program.”
“The border services agency should spend more energy deporting criminals and less time deporting children and hard-working people,” said Olivia Chow, NDP MP and that party's immigration critic. “If he is convicted, it's people like Mr. Djukic that the CBSA should focus on.”