WORLD

A trade in criminals

MAUREEN SHERIDAN,NOMI MORRIS February 17 1997
WORLD

A trade in criminals

MAUREEN SHERIDAN,NOMI MORRIS February 17 1997

A trade in criminals

WORLD

JAMAICA

MAUREEN SHERIDAN

NOMI MORRIS

B inns Road is in one of the roughest neighborhoods in Jamaica. “There have been over 40 murders in the past six weeks here,” says Msgr. Richard Albert, an Irish-American priest from the Bronx who has spent 20 years ministering to Kingston’s inner-city poor. He is driving his black Mitsubishi four-by-four through a maze of downtown ghetto areas to his mission in Riverton City, a community of corrugated iron shacks built around the capital’s garbage dump. Stopping in a laneway, Albert calls to a man whose bare chest shows the scars of several bullet holes and knife wounds. “I haven’t seen you in church lately,” the priest jokes. “Soon come, father,” the man answers, smiling. He is known as one of the most fearsome murderers in the ghetto. He is also a deportee from Canada. “He’ll kill anyone,” says Albert.

The bullet-pocked criminal is one of thousands of convicted Jamaican lawbreakers who have been sent home from Canada, the United States and Europe. In Jamaica, they have become the target of rising public

anger, some of it directed at Canada’s policies. Often the returnees are destitute, many are dangerous, and, as a group, they are believed to be a prime cause of Jamaica’s soaring crime rate. “We have had a total of 4,781 deportees—about 400 from Canada—over the past three years,” says Owen Clunie, acting deputy commissioner of police. “Not all of these are criminals, but a lot of them are, and we know that they are contributing, whether actively or behind the scenes, to the increase in crime.” Last year was the bloodiest in Jamaica’s history, with a total of 925 murders, or 30 per 100,000—among the highest homicide rates in the world. It surpassed even the 800-plus killed in pre-election turmoil in 1980.

The wave of violence has shocked Jamaicans during another rough period for the country. The economy is failing, fewer tourists are coming and there are signs of an exodus of upper-middle-class professionals to North America. And once again, elections are looming. The socialist Peoples National Party is in power, although without its

charismatic former leader, the ailing Michael Manley. But today it is the gunwielding criminals, not local politicians, who often call the shots—literally.

Jamaican experts say many deportees have become masterminds of the underworld, directing local parolees who actually perpetrate the crimes. Barry Chevannes, dean of social sciences at the University of the West Indies in Kingston, says there is a new pecking order favoring deportees. “Their experience abroad gives them greater status,” he says. “They can utilize their international network to acquire firearms from abroad.” In some cases, the deportees have become the new dons, or so-called community leaders, of Kingston’s gang-segregated ghetto turf. Along with sophisticated weaponry, they have introduced the management techniques of North American and European gangland bosses.

Many Jamaicans view the deportees as a further burden on a developing economy with few resources to absorb them. “Coun-

tries like Canada are better equipped to punish and rehabilitate violent and drug offenders,” says Chevannes. “Such countries could assume the greater responsibility.” But the Canadian government defends the deportations as a reasonable measure—backed by the Geneva Convention—to shield Canadians from newcomers who abuse the law. Pierre Bourget, director-general of enforcement for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, says that despite an empathy for the Jamaican situation, Canada must put its own

well-being first. “We have a responsibility to protect the health, safety and good order of Canadian society,” he says. ‘We don’t do it selfishly or blindly.”

Responding to continuing public pressure—69 per cent of respondents to a recent Maclean’s poll believed new immigrants contribute to the crime rate—Ottawa amended the Immigration Act in June, 1995, to tighten the refugee and immigration process. At the same time, it stepped up the deportation of non-Canadians convicted of serious offences in Canada—regardless of their status within the system. Since then the number of “criminal removals” from Canada has risen from 15 per cent to 35 per cent of all deportations. Many are legal, landed immigrants who have lived in Canada for years. “When it comes to long-term, permanent residents, the decision to deport is not taken lightly,” says Bourget. ‘We take a humanitarian approach, and consider the individual’s circumstances.”

The controversial case of Owen Dale Campbell, who was lawfully brought to

Canada from Jamaica as a 17-month-old baby, illustrates the cross-border dilemma. Campbell’s mother had never applied for him to become a Canadian citizen, an oversight that allowed him to be shipped back to the island of his birth from Toronto last April at age 22. Campbell, whom his defenders termed a “product” of the Canadian social and justice systems, had 16 convictions as a juvenile and 15 as an adult, on charges ranging from theft and narcotic violations to assault and possession of a weapon. A “func-

tional illiterate,” he arrived in Jamaica “penniless, homeless, familyless and friendless,” according to Jamaica’s former commissioner of police, Trevor McMillan.

It did not take long for Campbell to get into trouble. A few weeks after his return, he was arrested for petty theft just outside Ocho Rios, one of Jamaica’s north coast tourist towns. A sympathetic judge dismissed the charge. But by September, Campbell was in court again—this time in Kingston—on more serious charges of commercial and residential burglary. He was sentenced to two years of hard labor in Kingston’s General Penitentiary, where he is commonly known as “the Canadian.”

Barry Bonitto, president of Canada’s National Council of Jamaicans, says a large number of the returnees were raised in Canada and have gone through Canadian schools and often the Canadian foster home system. “We don’t condone crime, but they should be punished and rehabilitated here,” says Bonitto. “What they’ve learned to become criminals they’ve learned here. Canada is passing the buck to poorer countries because of a technicality.” Bonitto says Ottawa should allow the mostly unskilled young men to serve their time in Canada where they have family, rather than “dumping” them in Jamaica. And if they must be deported, he says, “Canada should help Jamaica set up a rehabilitation program.”

Jamaica’s deputy commissioner Clunie says his country does not have the money to offer jobs or training to the deportees. “So the easiest way for them to make money is through drug and firearm trafficking.” Some, he adds, are down one week and back in Canada or the United States the next. They quickly change their identities with false documents, easily bought for about $200 on Kingston streets.

The monsignor believes most deportees leave the country again, but says that many who remain wind up at the top of the criminal hierarchy. “It’s all about controlling turf, because when you control these neighborhoods, you control everything.” says Albert, whose St. Patrick’s Foundation runs five resource and training centres. “Kingston’s ghetto has always been a dangerous place,” he says, “but now it’s really frightening.”

What locals call “tribal” politics began decades ago in Jamaica. Both the PNP and the Jamaica Labour Party traditionally played an equal role in giving out guns and political favors as a means of controlling individual electoral constituencies. Until the mid-80s, despite sporadic outbursts such as the 1980 election violence, a power balance protected the status quo. Many Jamaicans shrugged off the situation as “the runnings,” slang for “the way things are.” But under pressure from the United States in 1980, the then-ruling Labour party set out to destroy an industry that was a mainstay of

Canada's policy of deporting lawbreakers helps fuel Jamaica's soaring crime rate

WORLD_

the Jamaican economy: the trade in marijuana, or ganja. With Jamaica’s homegrown drug industry shrinking, Colombian cocaine cartels quickly moved in, using Jamaica as a trans-shipment centre and recruiting the local political fixers. Power in many neighborhoods passed from the politicians to their gun-toting former subordinates. Add an influx of dangerous deportees to this already volatile scene “and the criminals just take over,” says Albert.

Al Nauman, a Canadian immigration counsellor at the high commission in Kingston, says Canadian authorities do not

keep track of deportees once they land in Jamaica. While Jamaica does have a legal process to monitor them, local police simply lack the manpower to carry it out. Chevannes thinks Canada and Jamaica should sign an understanding to work together on the issue of deportees—their reintegration in Jamaica, as well as the crossborder nature of much of their criminal activity. “Offences like illegal trafficking in firearms and drugs are matters of hemispheric, not merely national, interest,” he argues. There have been RCMP training programs for Jamaican police. But there is no

direct Canadian aid program designed to help Jamaicans absorb deportees.

Policeman Clunie believes the repatriation of criminals can backfire on the deporting nation as well. “The foreign country wants to reduce crime and shrink its prison population,” he says. “But when this is done, the family that’s left behind can end up destitute and on welfare. It’s a no-win situation for everyone.” For both rich countries like Canada and poor ones like Jamaica, exporting criminals does not get rid of the problem.

MAUREEN SHERIDAN in Kingston and NOMI MORRIS in Toronto