Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen provided a briefing to members of the African-Canadian community at a Toronto barbecue establishment but the department hadn’t advised him that court documents have identified it as a known hangout for members of the notorious Black Axe criminal syndicate.
The owner of the The Suya Spot restaurant has denied any affiliation with the Nigerian-based criminal organization that has set up operations in Toronto and Vancouver.
Mr. Hussen’s spokesperson said the minister was unaware that The Suya Spot, located just outside his York South-Weston riding, has been frequented by members of the Neo Black Movement – also known as the Black Axe organized-crime group.
Police say Black Axe has been exerting growing influence over the Nigerian diaspora in Canada as well as engaging in organized crime – everything from fraud, money laundering and intimidation.
Press secretary Mathieu Genest confirmed the Immigration Minister went to the The Suya Spot restaurant on March 30 to speak about the risk of Nigerians trying to cross illegally into Canada from the United States. The majority of people entering Canada between legal border crossings in 2018 have been Nigerians carrying valid U.S. travel visas.
“This was a 20-person event at a local African restaurant where he would have an opportunity to connect to a very specific group we have been reaching out to in the context of the irregular migration phenomenon,” Mr. Genest said in an interview. “Whether the restaurant was or wasn’t linked to criminal activities, we were not aware of anything.”
He stressed the owner of The Suya Spot did not host the event, although the restaurant did post pictures of Mr. Hussen on its Instagram page and declared ”Honourable Ahmed Hussen Minister of Immigration, Refugees & Citizens of Canada is officially Suyarized.“
Mr. Genest said no one in either the minister’s office or the Immigration department checked to see whether the venue should be a place to avoid. He said it was too much trouble to check out possible links to criminal activity.
“Keep in mind that the minister does like 10 events a day on weekends,” Mr. Genest said. “Do we google every restaurant that the minister gets invited to speak to? We do not.”
Mr. Genest said the minister would avoid going to the restaurant if he is invited again.
According to the Immigration and Refugee Board, The Suya Spot has advertised in Uhuru Magazine, which is the official publication of the Neo Black Movement, and is frequented by gang members.
Immigration and Refugee Board judge Christopher Marcinkiewicz cited The Suya Spot in a ruling last year involving a Nigerian member of the Black Axe who was ordered deported back to Nigeria. In his ruling, Mr. Marcinkiewicz said there had been several violent incidents at the establishment involving members of the Nigerian crime group.
“One such incident occurred in December, 2013, when a patron at the restaurant got into a verbal altercation which ultimately resulted in a beating of four individuals later identified by police as members of the Neo Black Movement,” the judge wrote. In June, 2015, an individual was the “victim of a kidnapping, forcible confinement and torture at the hands of persons identified as known Neo Black Movement Canada zone members.”
The Suya Spot owner, Taiwo Ajala, is aware of the allegations in the IRB court documents but denied his restaurant is affiliated with the Black Axe.
“It’s bad for business. It’s not fair,” Mr. Ajala told The Globe and Mail. “We’re not affiliated with any kind of group whatsoever.”
A sister restaurant in Ottawa was closed in 2016 after four gang-related shootings outside its doors over a three-year period. Ottawa police said there had been more than 100 calls to the Nigerian barbecue establishment.
“They were giving us a lot pressure from the people in the community,” Mr. Ajala said.
The Neo Black Movement originated at the University of Benin in the mid-1970s with the focus on reviving African culture but morphed into a criminal organization. Members are known for wearing black pants, long white shirts and black coats with the axe insignia on the front and back.
Detective Constable Chad Nickels of the Toronto Police financial crimes unit said the gang mostly engages in fraud, such as phone and e-mail scams asking people for their financial information.
“They’re sending out these robocalls or these mass e-mails, where they’re putting out ten thousand a day,“ he said.