Canada struggles to deport foreign-born man who made most wanted list

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

Canadians would like to think that serious foreign criminals are quickly shown the door once they've served their time here, or at least the process of expelling them is smooth and sure.

Meet Walford Uriah Steer, who Ottawa has been trying to deport back to his native Jamaica for a decade. But he is still here.

Steer, a 40-year-old career bad guy with 76 criminal convictions in Canada, is in custody in Toronto after being acquitted of his latest charge, pimping teenage prostitutes.

The Conservative government had Steer in mind when it introduced the Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act last year. The bill, which passed third reading in the Commons this week, would limit the avenues of appeal for convicted criminals to stay in Canada if they're sentenced to more than six months in jail and make it harder for those deemed a risk to Canada to enter the country in the first place.

[ Related: Deporting foreign criminals bill moves forward in House ]

Steer is in custody under an active deportation notice, the second such order against him. He was on the government's Most Wanted list of criminals considered a high deportation priority, the Toronto Star said.

Steer lost an appeal against his detention this week, deemed a danger to society and unlikely to show up for removal if he was freed, Anna Pape of the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) told the Star.

He first came to Canada in 1993 as a 20-year-old, sponsored by his mother who already lived here. But he soon began racking up criminal charges and by 1999 he was stripped of his Canadian residency status and deported to Jamaica. Canada Border Services Agency had to charter a private plane for the trip after he made violent outbursts on the commercial flight, the Star said.

By 2000, Steer was back in Canada illegally but managed to obtain refugee status by arguing his life would be in danger if he returned to Jamaica.

Steer's lawyer, Guidy Mamann, said his rap sheet mostly involves shoplifting. But the Star noted it includes nine violence-related convictions and one for possessing a handgun, which he claimed he needed because of two attempts on his life in Jamaica.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenny deemed Steer represented a "present and future danger to the Canadian public," which outweighed any potential danger he faced back home.

But the IRB ordered Steer released while his removal was arranged, ruling the government hadn't proved the public would suffer "irreparable harm" if Steer was released. He was re-arrested in 2011 after being accused of turning out teens for prostitution.

He was acquitted last month of trying to pimp out a 16-year-old girl in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke, the Toronto Sun reported.

Mamann said Steer has been "quite demonized in the press" by the comments made by government officials.

“He is entitled to be presumed innocent despite his criminal record," Mamman told the Star, adding his last criminal conviction was in 2006. "He's been crime-free for seven years."

The case has received little attention in the Jamaican media, the Star noted, with reports mostly gleaned from Canadian outlets.