By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
An Akwesasne man facing charges in connection with a human smuggling case recently trumpeted by the Conservative government says the Nigerian network allegedly behind the underground operation has put a hit out on his life.
Seth Lazore, 28, says he discovered the threat against his life while incarcerated in the Ottawa provincial jail following his arrest. Lazore said he was told the individuals who wanted to kill him were linked to the network allegedly involved in smuggling a Nigerian family of five into Canada through the U.S.
The RCMP announced on Sept. 6 that Lazore and another Akwesasne man, Oren Lazore, 21, along with two men from Brampton, Ont., Emmanuel Omoghan, 46, and Felix Omoghan, 66, had been charged following a three month human smuggling investigation involving several police forces – from Toronto to Akwesasne – and border agencies in Canada and the U.S.
The charges drew the attention of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. They issued a joint statement praising authorities for the arrests.
The federal Conservative government has made cracking down on human smuggling a priority of their tough-on-crime agenda which features legislation that will impose mandatory minimum sentences on human trafficking convictions later this year.
APTN National News has learned that the family -a mother, father and three children-travelled originally from Nigeria to Italy and then to the U.S. before they were allegedly taken into Canada by boat across the St. Lawrence River to Cornwall, Ont.
The family was allegedly in contact with a Nigerian network which was involved in arranging their passage across the Canada-U.S. border.
Lazore told APTN National News the family was in Chicago before they attempted to enter Canada.
The RCMP would not comment on the case or confirm the nationality of the family.
The Mohawk territory of Akwesasne sits about 120 kilometres west of Montreal and straddles the Ontario, Quebec and Canada-U.S. borders.
Given its geography and the fierce nationalism of the Mohawks, the region has developed into a main corridor for smuggling for tobacco and guns going north and marijuana heading south.
While he was in custody at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, Lazore said he was told inmates in the jail were looking to kill him at the request of the network. While he had protection inside, Lazore said he took the threat seriously and said fear forced him to turn down a jail-house meeting with an APTN National News reporter at the last moment.
Lazore said he quickly left the Cornwall, Ont., courthouse after his release following a bail hearing last Wednesday over worries a member of the network was in the courtroom.
Lazore, who is a father of three children, was released after the mother of his long-term girlfriend put up a $1,500 surety and $5,000 bond. He was ordered into house arrest until the case comes to its conclusion. His conditions allowed him to find work and he recently found a job on a construction site.
Lazore, who was raised by a single mother, grew up in and around Akwesasne and cared for his grandfather, Hubert Lazore, until the 87 year-old was felled by a stroke, said the charges against him should be tossed.
All he did, he said, was help a family travel through Mohawk territory.
“I didn’t do nothing wrong in my eyes and I’m sure in a lot of other’s eyes, just helping a family out get into Canada,” said Lazore, in the backyard of the Akwesasne home where he’s been ordered to live. “I don’t even think there is a border there…This is our land, this is the Mohawks’ land…The way I look at it, there ain’t no boundaries and borders around here.”
He said the family was trying to escape a miserable situation in Chicago and get into Canada where they hoped to reunite with extended family and start a new life.
“They were living a horrible life in Chicago,” he said. “They were saying they were getting their paycheques taking from them and everything out there, they were working basically for free. They were living on…maybe $100 a week…they were talking about coming to Canada, starting a new life, they would get loans or whatever.”
During his bail hearing, Lazore was overcome by emotions at one point when he believed he’d be heading back to the provincial jail. Lazore said the Ottawa jail is worse than the U.S. federal penitentiary he spent 27 months in following a plea agreement on a 2004 indictment on marijuana distribution.
“The way they got that place set up, it’s like the max. They have it set up almost as if you were a serial killer, almost as if you did a heinous crime and some people are only in there on little charges,” he said. “I don’t wish that up on anybody to go up in there….tension is tight in there, real tight.”
Now Lazore, whose next court appearance is set for Sept. 25, says he’s trying to spend as much time as he can with his family in case another prison term locks down his future.
“I am in a bad position right now, really bad position,” he said.