Friday, May 21, 2010
The man who says his name is Andrea Jerome Walker has been in custody since 2006.
He sat placidly in his prison-issue jumpsuit, a sombre expression fixed on his face as the harsh detention centre lights reflected off his shiny, dark skin, highlighting an old, four-inch scar down the centre of his forehead.
He did not speak. Or even move. He was so still, in fact, the motion-sensitive video camera pointing at him in the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay repeatedly shut off as it failed to detect any movement. It suggested the patience of a man who has, so far, shown remarkable resilience in saying and doing little. He insists his name is Andrea Jerome Walker, born in Wilmington, Del., on Jan. 22, 1973. The governments of Canada and the United States are adamant he is not.
That places him in a bizarre state of limbo: Until officials know who he is, they cannot deport him; until they can deport him, they will not release him. Since Sept. 20, 2006, he has been in jail, so far serving the equivalent of a manslaughter sentence, although he is charged with no crime. And there is no end in sight. He is the unknown man.
“Subject has no family anywhere in the world. There is no one who knows him and no one would be able to vouch for him,” says an internal government report on his case. “He claims to be entirely alone in this world.”
Canadian officials have twice sent his fingerprints to Haiti seeking his identity. They have asked officials in Angola, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Guinea for help. A Nigerian diplomat visited him in jail, asking him trick questions. U.S. Homeland Security officials searched yearbooks, mug shots and government databases.
None of it has helped.
When given the chance to plead his case with an interested reporter visiting him in prison last week, he declined. Clearly he is no Hurricane Carter, anxious to get word of his ridiculous predicament to the outside world.
Instead, he seems content to sit in his cell, behind coils of razor wire, high fences and towering spotlights with no end in sight.
The stakes are high. Immigration officials fear letting him out will encourage others to adopt a similarly defiant stance. If he is released and not deported it will make a mockery of Canada’s immigration law.
From Mr. Walker’s perspective, his imprisonment is a travesty of justice, a Kafka-esque, indefinite incarceration without evidence of any crime; mixed with the outrage of being stripped of an identity and citizenship he insists is his.
Then there is another concern.
If he is not who he says he is, then what fate does he fear – should his true identity be revealed – that makes wasting away in a crowded jail such a palatable alternative? What awaits him if his identity is discovered?
What might he have done?
Mr. Walker – as the government continues to call him despite declaring he is not really Mr. Walker – arrived in Canada from New York as a visitor in April 2005. He carried a U.S. passport and was told at the border to leave within nine days.
Instead, he lived here quietly until, in September 2006, he was approached in downtown Toronto by two police officers on bicycles.
“They found two little pieces of cocaine in my pocket,” he told an immigration detention review hearing in 2006, back when he was more talkative. “My lawyer told me to plead guilty and then I would go back to the United States.”
The conviction did make him subject to deportation and when Canada Border Services Agency officials arrived to collect him at the police station it seemed a routine case.
But questions about his identity immediately arose. When CBSA officers arrived, Toronto police were already asking Mr. Walker why he looked older than his passport said he was. He said there was a typo and it should say 1963 not 1973, according to a CBSA summary of his case.
When asked why he spoke with a non-American accent, he said his mother was born in Cameroon. When a CBSA officer spoke to him in French, Mr. Walker seemed more fluent than in English, saying he learned French and Spanish during travels abroad.
The more Mr. Walker spoke, the less his story was believed.
A few weeks later, officials from the U.S. consulate in Toronto spent an hour with Mr. Walker in the Don Jail.
“We do not believe him to be a U.S. citizen,” they wrote in a U.S. Department of State memo. They said he spoke with a thick accent, either Caribbean or French sub-Saharan African.
“He claims his mother forced him into alcohol abuse at an early age and then gave him to some woman in New York City to raise. He could only offer the woman’s name being something like ‘Marie’,” the memo says.
He told the Americans he learned French during a visit to France and then, at another point, that he learned it from a Caribbean girlfriend in New York. Her name was also something like “Marie.”
U.S. officials found no record of Mr. Walker prior to 2001 and promptly revoked his passport.
About the only thing everyone agrees on is that he is not a Canadian, but without travel documents or a country of origin CBSA has nowhere to send him.
“They don’t believe that I’m a U.S. citizen,” Mr. Walker complained to the Immigration and Refugee Board, “because everyone says I have a French accent.”
At his first IRB detention review in October 2006, he tried to explain: He grew up “with a woman who was a friend of my mother, a Puerto Rican.
“Even when I was in New York I used to go to church. I study Bible school in Spanish, so that’s why I have a funny accent.” Yet, at another hearing, he said he learned French from his mother.
Such inconsistencies have not helped him. That IRB adjudicators have cited them as reasons for his detention may explain why he stopped talking.
In April 2007, a CBSA officer tried again.
“I offered Mr. Walker a piece of paper to write down his name and date of birth and any other information with which to assist us in returning him to his country of residence,” the officer says in a sworn affidavit.
“I found Mr. Walker to be completely unco-operative.”
At a 2007 IRB hearing, adjudicator Harry Adamidis ruled that Mr. Walker must remain behind bars, saying: “You have been detained a very, very long time, and also at this point there does not appear to be a solution to allow you to be released sometime in the foreseeable future.
“However, given the fact that you’ve been unco-operative with regards to your identity, I have to agree with the minister that you shouldn’t be rewarded by that with release.”
Before he ran afoul of Canada’s drug laws, little is known about Mr. Walker. He had a troubled early life in Delaware, he said, never knowing his father, and his mother giving him away.
“I went to the Bronx when I was a little boy,” he said at an IRB hearing in 2008. From the age of seven he lived on the streets of New York and never went to school, he said, explaining why he has no family or school records to support his story.
Mr. Walker said he spent several years in the U.S. merchant marine travelling the world, and yet there are no records of him earning an income, joining a union or even of having a passport at that time.
His first request for a U.S. passport in 2001 was denied for lack of documentation. He later returned with more ID cards and was issued a passport in 2002.
“None of these documents is convincing proof of identity and all of them could be obtained on the strength of a borrowed or stolen birth certificate,” a CBSA report says.
According to a records search by the National Post, the address on Mr. Walker’s temporary New York driver’s licence is that of the Door of Salvation Ministries, a Christian-run soup kitchen in the Bronx.
A spokesman at the mission said it was there long before 2001 when Mr. Walker’s ID was issued but could not confirm if anyone with that name ever stayed there.
“I can’t help you, man,” the spokesman said. “I don’t know that name.”
Once he had a passport, Mr. Walker travelled to Spain in 2004 but was returned to the United States under a deportation order after a drug conviction. Shortly after, he came to Canada.
His connection to Christian missions continued. Almost immediately after arriving, he joined the Follower’s Mission, a Christian outreach serving addicts and outcasts in Toronto’s Queen and Sherbourne area, the Post has learned.
He made little impact on staff and his name brings back no memories, said Young Wha Kang, the mission’s founder.
“That was five years ago,” she said, apologizing.
Mr. Walker’s arrest in 2006, that triggered his predicament, took place around the corner from the mission’s front door.
Despite declaring his life for Jesus Christ – “I’m a believer. I’m a Christian,” he told the IRB in 2008 – he has a long history with drugs.
When Canada sent his fingerprints to the United States, officials did find one hit in their system, but it was not for a Mr. Walker. They matched a man arrested for drug possession in New York City in 1993. The name of the man who served the sentence on Rikers Island was Michael Gee Hearns, born in Haiti on Sept. 14, 1966.
Mr. Walker admited he was that convict but said the name was just an alias, derived from “Mike Gee,” an American hip-hop artist.
“I love his music, that’s why I use his name,” Mr. Walker said.
“I never been in Haiti. I don’t even know where Haiti is.”
Even that clue has not helped. Haitian authorities have not been able to identify him, even with a photograph, fingerprints and the alternate name.
In the meantime, CBSA arranged for a specialist with the Nigerian High Commission in Ottawa to interview Mr. Walker. He spent half an hour with him, hoping he would reveal telling details through trick questions.
His assessment? Mr. Walker is definitely from Africa but not from Nigeria. Nor is he from the north or the south of the continent. That leaves a lot of troubled central African nations still in the mix.
Since then, CBSA has asked several African states for help but received no answers.
After three years and eight months of being locked up, Mr. Walker only grunted his acknowledgement to the IRB adjudicator who convened his 52nd detention review earlier this month.
With his 5-foot-7, 170-pound frame slumped in a chair, his only discernible movement over the video-link from jail during the hour-long hearing was the occasional scratch of his nose or rub of his scarred forehead.
The Refugee Law Office, a division of Legal Aid, has taken up his perplexing case, appealing his detention to the Federal Court of Canada.
“I accept the [government’s] submissions that [Mr. Walker] is not whom he claims to be and that he has been uncooperative in refusing to reveal his true identity,” Justice Richard G. Mosley ruled last month. However, he also ruled that the length of Mr. Walker’s detention was not adequately taken into account and so he ordered a fresh review.
At that fresh hearing, Karen Stewart, his public defender, argued for Mr. Walker’s release.
“This detention has become indefinite a long, long time ago. There is no prospect of CBSA resolving this,” she said. “Mr. Walker has been consistent over three years that he is a U.S. citizen.
“We are truly at an impasse here.”
IRB adjudicator Andrew Laut ruled Mr. Walker must remain behind bars.
“He is very strongly motivated… not to be removed to his country of origin as he has not yet revealed that country,” said Mr. Laut.
In a bid to break that impasse, CBSA is releasing his photograph and description, seeking help from the public in learning any information about him, including any family members, alternate names, addresses or “any organizations, military or educational institutions” he was associated with.
A CBSA phone line – 905-405-3887 – and email address – firstname.lastname@example.org – has been established to receive tips.
In the meantime, the IRB will assess Mr. Walker’s detention every 30 days. His next hearing is set for June 2, when he will likely seek release yet again.
“Send me back to the States,” Mr. Walker pleaded at a past hearing.
“I’m not going to be in jail all my life.”