March 19, 2017 01:07 pm
Calling from the Adams County prison in Natchez, Srikajamukan Chelliah wasn’t happy about being locked up in the U.S. of A. “I have a different name: Under Satan Authority,” he said. “There is no justice here.”
The 51-year-old Canadian, originally from Sri Lanka, was serving a sentence following his latest arrest by the FBI, which wrote in an affidavit that Chelliah had acknowledged smuggling 1,750 people into the United States, at least some of them destined for Canada.
“Canada is a better country,” Chelliah explained.
To U.S. authorities, the 5’5 Toronto resident is a people-smuggling profiteer who charged up to US$55,000-a-head for his illicit travel service, which ferried migrants by air and sea through Haiti, the Bahamas and south Florida.
“Nobody paid me that money, I don’t know where U.S. people got that information,” Chelliah countered in one of his calls from prison to a reporter. He denied making any profit from smuggling. “I don’t gain nothing. Not even one dollar,” he said.
In a world on the move, demand for illicit passage to the West has soared, creating a ready market for human smugglers. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said last week there was “anecdotal evidence” that human smuggling might be playing a role in the influx of asylum seekers walking across the border from the United States.
“We raised the concerns that there is the risk of that,” he told CBC’s Power & Politics after meeting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly in Ottawa on Friday. “At the moment, there is no hard evidence that would actually prove that point, but there is anecdotal evidence.
“There is something in the paperwork of some of the asylum-seekers, for example, that would tend to indicate that planning has been going on now for not just the last few months but perhaps as much as the last year.”
The Canadian Press has reported that some of those crossing into Quebec on foot had obtained American visas in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, apparently with the intention of transiting through the U.S. to their ultimate destination: Canada.
If human smugglers are involved, they could be charging a hefty sum. A newly-declassified Canada Border Services Agency report says it can cost tens of thousands of dollars to be smuggled into Canada.
“For irregular migrants, Canada’s geographical location makes it much more difficult, hence more expensive, to reach via air, land or sea,” said the Intelligence Brief by the CBSA’s Intelligence Operations and Analysis Branch.
Fraudulent documents that can be used to fly to Canada cost $4,000 to $35,000, it said. Arriving by sea is even more costly, from $30,000 to $50,000. Getting here by land means first making it to the U.S., either by plane or through Mexico.
For African and Asian migrants, crossing into the U.S. through Mexico from South and Central America costs $7,000 to $16,000. “The vast majority of refugees and migrants do not have the means to make the expensive journey to Canada,” the brief said.
Chelliah, however, seemed to have no shortage of clients.
“We used to live in Lawrence and Jane,” Chelliah said in a phone call, describing his former Toronto neighbourhood. “I was living in Canada, but time to time I was out and in, in and out. But I am a Canadian citizen. My family, my wife, children, my mother — all my family is in Canada.”
Originally from Sri Lanka, Chelliah said he had studied in Montreal before arriving in Toronto three decades ago. He said he became a Canadian citizen in 1989. It’s unclear what kind of career he had but whatever it was, he allegedly didn’t pay his taxes.
In 2007 the Canada Revenue Agency filed a case against him in Federal Court, claiming he owed $75,625 plus interest. A CRA spokesman declined to comment on the matter, citing confidentiality provisions of the Income Tax Act.