News/Canada: Trafficking in humans

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Subject: News/Canada: Trafficking in humans
From: Melanie Orhant (
Date: Tue Mar 07 2000 - 10:02:07 EST

Trafficking in humans
Man bilked welfare while he got rich smuggling people, court told
Paul Cherry
The Montreal Gazette, March 1, 2000

A Montreal man milked the province's welfare system for a decade while
making hundreds of thousands of dollars smuggling people into Canada, a
Quebec court was told yesterday.

During sentencing arguments in a case against Abdul Mozid Chowdhury, 49, of
Montreal, crown prosecutor Sylvie Kovacevich presented evidence that
Chowdhury charged, on average, $15,000 a head to smuggle 19 people from
Bangladesh into Canada using false passports and immigration papers either
bought or stolen in this country.

A four-year investigation by the RCMP uncovered evidence that Chowdhury
asked for payment up front for his services. Documents seized near the end
of the investigation turned up an investment portfolio in his name based in
the United States worth approximately $300,000 U.S.

The RCMP also found $25,000 in U.S. cash stashed in a safety-deposit box at
a local bank. Other search warrants that were executed turned up more than
$4,000 Canadian in gold jewelry.

But from 1987 to 1996, Chowdhury collected $800 to $1,000 monthly in
welfare payments for his family. He is currently on trial for welfare fraud
after a probe by Quebec's welfare bureau.

Kovacevich revealed that during the entire RCMP investigation Chowdhury
drove around in a late-model luxury sports-utility vehicle not registered
in his name.

The RCMP knew of at least four trips Chowdhury made in a six-month period
in 1996 during which he personally escorted 15 people to Canada and
attempted to bring in four others. (Indian authorities aborted his last

Kovacevich said Chowdhury would categorize the people he brought into
Canada. For example, men were charged $18,000. The price for women was
slightly less, and families got a group rate.

"He was profiting off of people," said the crown attorney, who described
Chowdhury as someone who traffics in humans while she argued for a tough
four-year prison sentence.

Kovacevich said Chowdhury told potential clients of the benefits of
Canada's social programs like medicare and legal aid. He also told them
about the lengthy delays in Canada's refugee-claimant system.

The RCMP picked up conversations Chowdhury had with prospective clients
during which he said things like: "This is a business. No credit," and "For
a family, we'll do it for $35,000 to $45,000. No problem."

Chowdhury's defence lawyer Daniel Rock argued his client was rendering a
service to people for humanitarian reasons. Those operations entailed heavy
costs, Rock said, including airline tickets, meals and hotel rooms.

"(The case) is not as simple as it looks," he said. "These are people who
asked Mr. Chowdhury to bring them in (to Canada).

"Someone calls you and says they have $18,000, they want to get out and
that they fear for their life. If that person asks for your help, is that

Rock was vague about what dangers Chowdhury's clients were fleeing, but
Bangladesh had a turbulent political year in 1996. The results of a
February election were disputed. Street protests and a failed military coup
soon followed.

According to the Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada accepted 203 refugee
applications in 1999 from people who left Bangladesh, and rejected 455.

Chowdhury was found guilty of four counts of violating Section 94 (1) (a)
of Canada's Immigration Act, which calls for a maximum five-year prison
sentence for anyone "who knowingly organizes, induces, aids or abets or
attempts to organize, induce, aid or abet the coming into Canada of a
person who is not in possession of a valid and subsisting visa, passport or
travel document."

The maximum fine for such a violation is $100,000.

Besides the prison term, Kovacevich also recommended Chowdhury's assets be

During sentencing arguments made before Quebec Court Judge Jean Falardeau,
the prosecutor described the complex system Chowdhury used for his operation.

Kovacevich said Chowdhury would have people he knew collect money from
clients who requested a smooth passage to Canada. With payment in hand,
Chowdhury would meet the people in small groups in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and
then take them to Bombay.

In India, he would distribute false Bangladeshi passports to his customers
before they boarded a flight to Heathrow airport in London. Before boarding
a flight to Toronto, Chowdhury's customers were given legitimate
immigration papers, which the RCMP suspects were either bought or stolen.
Those papers identified them as having landed-immigrant status in Canada, a
visa into the country. During the flight from Heathrow airport to Pearson
airport in Toronto, the papers would disappear.

When they approached customs in Canada, Chowdhury's clients would claim
refugee status.

RCMP Corporal Larry Aitken, who supervised the investigation, said the case
involved complicated research of airline and hotel receipts and listening
in on transcontinental conversations spoken mostly in Bengali.

Kovacevich entered as evidence five thick binders of conversations caught
on wiretaps.

While it might have appeared clever, the scheme initially faltered - arrest
warrants were issued for two of Chowdhury's clients after their refugee
claims failed. Only two of Chowdhury's clients made successful refugee
claims and others are pending.

It was such a highly organized operation, Kovacevich said, the Bangladesh
passports appear to have been issued by the High Commission of Bangladesh
in Ottawa. Information on the Bangladeshi passports was made to match the
Canadian landed-immigrant status papers.

The RCMP said the commission denied any knowledge of the passports during
its investigation.

An official at the high commission said it would not comment on the
passports unless it was shown the actual documents.

On June 26, 1997, Chowdhury was found guilty in Joliette court of smuggling
three people from Bangladesh into Canada through Mirabel airport. He was
sentenced to 10 months in prison along with two years' probation and
ordered to pay a $3,000 fine.

Chowdhury is appealing that decision. He is also appealing the current case
based on the argument that the section of the Immigration Act under which
he was charged is unconstitutional.

Rock did not dispute the evidence against his client. He instead argued
Chowdhury should not go to prison, saying his client brought the people in
for humanitarian reasons.

The lawyer also compared Chowdhury's operations with that of a church or
charitable organization that groups people together in a foreign country
and brings them to Canada for humanitarian reasons.

Melanie Orhant <<>>
Stop-traffic is facilitated, international electronic list
funded by the Women's Reproductive Health Initiative
of the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH)
dealing with human rights abuses associated with trafficking
in persons, with an emphasis on public health and trafficking
in persons for forced labor, including forced prostitution,
sweatshop labor, domestic service and some coercive mail
order bride arrangements.
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