A Nigerian man who was awarded $60,000 by an Ontario judge who ruled his Charter rights were violated by multiple lockdowns at a Milton jail is slated to be deported before he even gets his money.
Jamil Ogiamien, 46, was awarded the compensation by Superior Court Justice Douglas Gray in a decision in May. But the ruling is under appeal and not scheduled to be heard until February.
Trouble is, Ogiamien has just found out he’s going to be kicked out of the country next Friday.
“I feel so oppressed. They must respect the law. They must respect the court,” Ogiamien told the Star in a phone interview from the Toronto East Detention Centre, accusing the government of pulling a fast one on him by scheduling his deportation months ahead of the appeal. He fears he will never see the money he feels is rightfully his.
In a case considered a rarity, Justice Gray ruled that the numerous staffing-related lockdowns at Maplehurst Correctional Complex violated Ogiamien’s rights to freedom from cruel and unusual punishment and that the treatment he received was “excessive as to outrage standards of decency.”
The court awarded him and another detainee, Huy Nguyen — who was awaiting trial on a firearms-related charge — a total of $85,000 for their suffering. Ogiamien’s share — $60,000 — was to be paid by the province and the federal government.
But with an appeal of the decision underway by both the federal and provincial attorney general’s offices, what will happen to Ogiamien’s case — and the cash — if he’s not in court, or even in the country, to fight for it?
Andrew Morrison, spokesperson with the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, said Ogiamien can apply to the Court of Appeal for advice on how to make a submission in absentia. He added that if the award is ultimately upheld, the province would abide by the order of the court and pay out the damages.
Speaking in general terms, Toronto litigation lawyer Neil Wilson, who is not involved in Ogiamien’s case, said the appeal court can still proceed with a hearing by video conference. However, he said the physical absence of a litigant in court puts him at a disadvantage, especially if he’s not represented by counsel.
“The litigant can still make the same arguments at the hearing. It’s always better to be at the meeting in person than by video conference,” Wilson explained, adding that the government would still need to pay the monetary award to Ogiamien if the appeal is dismissed.
However, Wilson said Ogiamien would have to pursue the payment from abroad or appoint someone to pursue it on his behalf.
“What his deportation means is he won’t be able to effectively advance his own interests at the hearing, and the government knows that,” said lawyer Barbara Jackman, who does not represent Ogiamien, but was appointed by the court to assist in the case. “He could do it from Nigeria, but it is just not realistic.”
According to court documents, Ogiamien moved to the United States in 1980. He came to Canada in 2001 and got in trouble with the law when he was arrested for using forged documents at an Ontario driver’s licensing office. He pleaded guilty and received a six-month sentence in 2002.
Although he filed an asylum claim while behind bars, the claim was deemed abandoned when he was extradited to the U.S. to face charges there of forgery and identity theft. He had several other run-ins with the law on both sides of the border over the next few years.
In 2013, he was arrested by Peel Regional Police and charged with impaired driving, possession of marijuana, robbery and prostitution related charges. He was subsequently detained at Maplehurst in Milton.
Although he was ultimately acquitted of all of the charges in 2014, he was held in immigration detention until June when he won his lawsuit over the conditions created by jail lockdowns and was released on a court order under a separate proceeding. He was detained again in early October for allegedly violating his bail conditions.
A class action lawsuit by inmates has been commenced against the province alleging that jail lockdowns have caused them physical and psychological damage.