Canada denies asylum to PDP chieftain over spelling blunders

Canadian authorities denied the asylum request of Mosunmola Awonuga and her three children after discovering spelling errors in the manner Nigeria’s major opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party, or PDP, was written on her supporting documents, according to court filings seen by Peoples Gazette.

Ms Awonuga was represented by Jacqueline Ozor of Law Ville Professional Corporation in Toronto, Ontario. The attorney general of Canada stood in for the minister of citizenship and immigration listed as the respondent.

Ms Awonuga had predicated her asylum application on her alleged persecution by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) for being an active member of the PDP and also that her female children would be subjected to the painful procedure of female genital mutilation.

However, the Canadian immigration authorities deemed the claims “clearly fraudulent” because of the spelling discrepancies in PDP-issued documents, including a membership card, stamp and a letter submitted to support her plea.

She applied for a judicial review of the denial but was dismissed.

The foreign government could not fathom why PDP was written as “Peoples Democratic Party” on her membership card issued in 2012. But the stamp inside it read “People Democratic Party” without the alphabet letter ‘s’, which they said was inconsistent and unreasonable for a major political party in Nigeria, where fake documents were also prevalent.

To compound the error, the Refugee Protection Division (RPD) responsible for granting or denying asylum requests in Canada “also noted the party name was spelt ‘Peoples’ Democratic Party’ (with an apostrophe) in both the Letter of Support’s header and contents,” Madam Justice Go of a federal court in Toronto said, detailing reasons for the asylum denial on January 8.

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Asked to explain the discrepancy, Ms Awonuga’s response that she was not aware of the mistake “but she was seeing it now” did not assuage the fears of the Canadian court that the documents were fake.

The explanation that “maybe it was the way they (PDP) made the stamp” was adjudged too weak and untenable for the error.

Still, Ms Awonuga’s counsel argued that Canadian standards should not be applied to non-Canadian documents, given that Nigeria, as “a third world country,” was bound to have “printing errors in their documents,” and it was unreasonable not to anticipate such mistakes and bear it out on innocent citizens.

But the RPD said that “it would be reasonable to expect that a major political party be able to spell its own name correctly and consistently in their own documents.”

Ms Go, the justice over the matter, chided that parties and decision-makers of other nations should also exercise caution and avoid making errors that would “suggest that their peoples and institutions somehow lack the competence to produce documents in a professional manner.”

Ms Go echoed the judgments of similar cases decided in the past that misspellings in government stamps or letterheads were not the same as spelling errors in the body of a document.

She affirmed that the RPD was reasonable in its decision to find the documents “fraudulent.”

Justifying Ms Awonuga’s asylum denial by the RPD, the justice said that it was strange that the applicant’s police report was issued in Lagos when she was supposedly living in “Akura (sic),” which “negatively impacts their overall credibility.”

Additionally, the justice wondered why there were many verbatim repetitions between the police report and Ms Awonuga’s narrative in her Basis of Claim (BOC).

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The justice cited a sentence in which the applicant said she “heard (the agent of persecution) was planning to use diabolical powers (voodoo powers) to hypnotise them and take the children for circumcision” as appearing in the same sequence in the police report allegedly filed in 2017 and her BOC drafted in 2020.

She said Ms Awonuga’s explanation that she was already in Canada when the police report was issued was insufficient to account for the precision and verbatim similarity of words in her BOC.

Also, the ages of her children in the supposed 2017 police report did not change in the BOC, which she said was drafted in 2020.

According to Ms Go, Ms Awonuga could not provide a reasonable explanation for the “overwhelming number of striking similarities and near word-for-word copies” between both documents.

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