Bill Horace, a Toronto man shot in London, Ont., in the early hours of Sunday morning, died without facing justice for crimes he allegedly committed nearly three decades ago during Liberia’s devastating civil wars.
London Police Service say four men forced their way into a home in a quiet middle-class neighbourhood, where a struggle took place and Mr. Horace was shot. The assailants fled. Mr. Horace made it outside and reached at least one neighbour’s home to ask for help. Blood covered the steps of a nearby house Sunday morning.
“We do believe this was a targeted event, and we believe Bill Horace was the target of that attack,” said Detective Superintendent Chris Newton of London Police.
Police have provided few details about Mr. Horace’s background. Evidence seen by The Globe and Mail, including information provided by a source close to the victim, confirmed he was the same Bill Horace who was a commander in the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, a rebel militia led by Charles Taylor. Mr. Taylor eventually became president of Liberia but was indicted by the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone and is now serving a 50-year sentence for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Globe has agreed to keep the source confidential.
“Yes, I was with NPFL. Of course I was NPFL,” Mr. Horace told Maclean’s magazine in 2009.
He subsequently rebuffed all attempts to speak to him about his past. However, testimony of those once close to Mr. Horace and Mr. Taylor, eyewitness accounts and witness statements provided to Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission implicate Mr. Horace and men under his command in war crimes, including murder, torture and rape.
In Liberia, Mr. Horace’s death has resurrected old wounds from the brutal civil war and fuelled new debate over the long-sought establishment of a war crimes court to help address the government’s failure to implement the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He is one of several key figures from the civil war who have recently died without facing justice.
Jerome Verdier, the former chairman of Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said the pursuit of justice in Liberia will continue even after Mr. Horace’s death. “The death of Mr. Bill Horace is a horrific form of justice we neither condone nor welcome,” he told The Globe in an interview. “Our hope is that the Liberian people will have justice in a comprehensive way.”
Witness statements provided to Liberia’s commission in 2006 describe a massacre carried out by Mr. Horace’s men at an abandoned palm oil plantation outside the Liberian town of Pleebo, near Ivory Coast, in 1993.
“General Bill Horace and his men were passing,” one witness testified. “They entered the plantation and accused us of looting the place. He then ordered his men to arrest people. They started chasing us, and everybody was running all over the place. They then started firing at us. I first saw one woman fall. The bullet hit her on the head. Her husband was crying. Then one of the other fighters shot him also. Both of them died instantly.”
Detective Superintendent Newton at London Police did not directly address possible motives for the attack but said anything related to Mr. Horace’s alleged past in Liberia is “not an investigative priority at this time.” The Globe has not uncovered evidence to show that Mr. Horace was targeted for this reason.
Police say Mr. Horace was 44 at the time of his death. The Globe understands he was likely a few years older than that.
Mr. Horace fled Liberia for Ivory Coast in 1993 or 1994. He was living in a refugee camp in Accra, Ghana, in 1994. At some point, Mr. Horace made it to Germany, possibly from Cameroon. The Globe understands he came to Canada in about 2001 using a false name and Dutch documents. Once in Canada, Mr. Horace made a refugee claim.
Mr. Horace was never indicted for the crimes he is said to have committed in Liberia, despite substantial evidence of such crimes being on the public record for more than 10 years.
In 2012, he was under investigation by Canada’s crimes against humanity and war crimes program, which involves the RCMP, the Department of Justice, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, and the Canada Border Services Agency. No charges were laid.
His immigration status at the time of his death was unclear. An online Federal Court summary of a February, 2020, filing quotes a letter from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada that reads, in part: “… Please be advised that, to this date, no decision has been rendered on the applicant’s application for permanent residence.”
Massa Washington, one of the former commissioners of Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said the deaths and illnesses of many former warlords and ex-combatants are making it even more important for Liberians to push for the implementation of the commission recommendations.
“The passing away of rebel general Bill Horace is a sad day for the quest for justice for war victims,” Ms. Washington told The Globe.
“We would rather that alleged perpetrators were alive to face justice and account for their crimes, and the unimaginable horrors inflicted upon their hapless victims. The longer it takes to get justice, the more elusive justice seems. At no time has the quest for the establishment of a war crimes court been more essential than now. Justice delayed is justice denied.”
On social media in Liberia on Monday, victims of wartime atrocities said they were shocked that Mr. Horace had been allowed to live in Canada in peace. “Such people killed so many innocent souls,” Chisom Praise Kizeku wrote. “I can’t even believe he was still allowed to live in such a country.”
With a report from Geoffrey York in Johannesburg and Colin Freeze in Toronto
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