A naturalized Canadian citizen who spent eight months in Ontario detention centres awaiting immigration officials to verify his identity is suing the Canada Border Services Agency for $10 million.
Olajide Ogunye, 47, was born in Nigeria and moved to Canada with his family in the 1990s. A few years after that, in 1996, he became a Canadian citizen. But his citizenship and Ontario health cards did not convince CBSA officers of his identity when they approached him outside his Toronto home on June 1, 2016, as he was headed to work at the hair salon he owned.
"I was confused, really confused," Ogunye says. The officers told him they were doing a sweep of the area, he says.
After the officers searched his home and told him they did not believe he was truly Olajide Ogunye, they brought him to CBSA's base at Pearson airport, the Greater Toronto Enforcement Centre.
According to Ogunye's statement of claim, the officers ran his fingerprints, which they said matched the identity of a man named Oluwafemi Kayode Johnson, a failed refugee claimant who had been deported from Canada to Nigeria in the 1990s.
Ogunye says he was told the CBSA believed he was actually Johnson, who had returned to Canada illegally and assumed Ogunye's identity. Those fingerprints, according to court documents, were never produced by the CBSA to Ogunye.
"It was very frustrating. Somebody telling you you're not your name," says Ogunye. "I showed them all my IDs. I showed them my citizenship. How are you going to put a Canadian citizen in jail?"
Ogunye says he was locked up for a total of eight months, from June 2016 through February 2017, spending a month at Maplehurst Correctional Complex in Milton, Ont., and the rest of his time at Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont., a medium/maximum security prison. Because of almost daily lockdowns, Ogunye claims, he was unable to contact family members.
"One time, for the whole month, I was crying non-stop. I was crying continuously," he recalls, and was put on suicide watch as his mental state suffered. "The nurse had to give me depression pills to make me calm down."
Ogunye says his physical health declined as well, and he was taking pills each day for high blood pressure, depression and a prostate condition.
On Feb. 4, 2017, he was released. CBSA issued a report on his release, detailing efforts to interview members of Ogunye's family. The first interview was conducted 6½ months after his initial arrest.
Ogunye says he wants to sue for $10 million because of how long the investigation into his identity took.
"They put me through a lot. They destroyed my life. I lost my job," said Ogunye. "They destroyed my family. I don't have a good relationship with my kids anymore. I don't think that's going to come back."
The same report from CBSA mentions Ogunye has been convicted of various charges, including fraud, impersonation and possession of a credit card obtained by crime, and the officers found an "issue of his credibility." The report says there is "no doubt this person detained is Johnson" but also states in the same paragraph, "the person in custody may be Olajide Obabukunola Ogunye."
Ogunye's lawyer says it ultimately comes down to the fact his client's charter rights have been violated.
"The individual who is being targeted is a Canadian citizen," says immigration lawyer Adam Hummel. "An individual ... who shows his identity card is not automatically given the benefit of the doubt but is questioned and accused of being someone else and detained while an investigation is taking place.
"The truth is, if this is the way they're going to conduct themselves, it could happen to anyone," he says.
Hummel says the CBSA had a "duty of care" to Ogunye but breached this duty, and his "unlawful detention was the result of hasty decision-making and a negligent investigation."
CBC Toronto asked the CBSA why it wasn't able to verify Ogunye's identity if he had been previously charged and, on a number of occasions, convicted of various crimes under the name "Olajide Ogunye" and why the investigation took eight months. It told CBC Toronto it is aware of a lawsuit but that any further comment would be "inappropriate."