Court deals police informant a setback in bid to sue Canada

·2 min read

OTTAWA — An Australian who fed information to police about outlaw bikers and later won refugee status in Canada has lost a round in his bid to sue Canadian officials over delays in processing his asylum application.

In a ruling made public Monday, the Federal Court of Appeal unanimously dismissed Stevan Utah's action, saying a two-year limitation period had passed before he headed to court.

Utah, an Australian citizen, witnessed a serious crime by members of the Bandidos gang in his homeland, leading to his role as a police informant.

After gang members got wind that Utah was giving information to police, he was brutally attacked.

Utah was seriously injured but he escaped, arriving in Canada in June 2006.

He applied for refugee status in 2007 but 10 years passed before he was successful.

In the meantime, Utah continued to supply information about outlaw motorcycle gangs, including the Bandidos, to Australian and Canadian law-enforcement officials.

In June 2018, Utah filed a claim in Federal Court, saying the delay in processing his claim prevented him from working, receiving health or dental benefits, getting a bank account and credit file, and obtaining social assistance.

Utah argued it was only upon receiving information through an access-to-information request in June 2018 that he learned the refugee paperwork he filled out in 2007 had not been properly submitted.

Last year the Federal Court dismissed the government's attempt to have his case thrown out on the basis he did not go to court within two years of discovering the alleged harm.

But the Federal Court of Appeal overturned the ruling, citing evidence Utah was told in January 2016 that there had been errors in the processing of his file.

Therefore the two-year window to sue expired in January 2018, the appeal court said.

"A claimant might plan to bring a suit that, on the merits, is a cinch, with enormous recovery to boot. But if the claimant starts it after the limitation period has run out, the court must dismiss it, regardless of its merit," Justice David Stratas wrote on behalf of the three-member panel.

"Harsh the policy might be. But judges — even the most experienced ones we have — cannot meddle with it or refuse to enforce it unless the legislation enacting it is unconstitutional."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 4, 2021.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press