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A street fighter fires a machine gun in Liberia on May 8, 1996.Corinne Dufka/Reuters

Canada failed to bring to justice a Liberian war criminal who had lived here for almost two decades before he was shot dead on Sunday in London, Ont., say human rights investigators who gave a dossier of evidence against him to the Department of Justice eight years ago.

In what investigators describe as “shameful” neglect, Canadian authorities did little with the evidence, and never brought charges against Bill Horace, who was accused of committing mass murder, torture and rape in the early 1990s.

Mr. Horace arrived in Canada in 2002 and made a refugee claim. He admitted membership in the rebel movement of Charles Taylor, a militia leader who became president of Liberia and is now serving a 50-year sentence for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Mr. Taylor conscripted child soldiers and was convicted of terrorism and sexual slavery, among other charges. Mr. Horace said he was a chaplain.

The refugee protection division of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board dismissed Mr. Horace’s refugee claim on Sept. 16, 2005. The panel said it didn’t necessarily believe Mr. Horace had been a chaplain, and called much of his testimony unreliable. But it concluded it didn’t matter whether Mr. Horace was a chaplain, a commander or a dishwasher, only that he was in Charles Taylor’s army.

“The facts before the panel are that while on army duty, the claimant knew that children were being recruited and sent into combat. He not only knew about this, he also aided them in preparing for the task, while failing to speak out about such practices,” the ruling reads.

That decision was later withdrawn, and Mr. Horace submitted a new claim, which was dismissed in 2008. The next year, he applied for a preremoval risk assessment, which allows applicants to seek protection because they would be in danger if deported from Canada. He also applied for permanent residency on humanitarian and compassionate (H&C) grounds.

Two years later, Mr. Horace’s permanent-residency application was approved in principle and allowed to proceed. (His application for a preremoval risk assessment was refused.) By that time, however, I had published an article in Maclean’s magazine about Mr. Horace’s alleged activities during Liberia’s civil war.

The article, which used eye-witness accounts, statements to Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the testimony of Liberians once close to Mr. Horace and Mr. Taylor, revealed that Mr. Horace was a feared warlord who, along with men under his command, allegedly crucified, beheaded and raped civilians. It also suggested Mr. Horace left Liberia some five or six years before he said he did during immigration proceedings.

Matt Eisenbrandt, then legal director of the Canadian Centre for International Justice, a now-defunct Ottawa organization, read the article and set about gathering evidence that would allow Ottawa to prosecute Mr. Horace for war crimes. He partnered with Alain Werner, a Swiss lawyer who had worked on the prosecution of Charles Taylor, and Liberian journalist Hassan Bility, who runs the Global Justice and Research Project, a non-governmental organization that documents and seeks justice for war-related crimes in Liberia. They undertook several research trips in Liberia and conducted interviews outside the country. Other members of the Global Justice and Research Project also interviewed people in Liberia.

The resulting dossier is 34 pages, and contains testimony from more than 15 witnesses and victims, with notes about several more potential sources the team had not been able to interview.

Mr. Eisenbrandt gave it to a contact in the war crimes section of the Department of Justice in September, 2012. He said everything needed for a criminal investigation of Mr. Horace was there.

But the dossier came with a caveat. Canada’s Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act allows people accused of gross human rights violations abroad to be criminally charged in Canada. In practice, that rarely happens. Alleged war criminals are far more likely to be deported, because the costs and burden of proof are lower.

That was not an outcome Mr. Eisenbrandt and his partners were prepared to accept. He said he handed over the dossier with the understanding that it would be used to prosecute Mr. Horace, not merely deport him. Mr. Eisenbrandt said he and his colleagues had also told witnesses who agreed to provide evidence that their testimony would be used for a criminal prosecution, and they co-operated on that basis.

“It was our belief that deporting someone like Bill Horace back to Liberia, where he was going to live freely, is not accountability,” Mr. Eisenbrandt said. “Yes, it deprives him of the ability to live in Canada, but that’s not real justice. And it would be putting witnesses and survivors in Liberia in danger.”

The dossier did not name the witnesses or provide contact information for them. “[Canadian authorities] knew they would need our further co-operation if they were going to get in touch with these witnesses, and they knew that our co-operation was contingent on pursuing a criminal prosecution,” Mr. Eisenbrandt said.

At the time, Mr. Horace was under investigation by Canada’s crimes against humanity and war crimes program, which involves the RCMP, the Department of Justice, the Department of Citizenship and Immigration (now known as Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada), and the Canada Border Services Agency. Mr. Horace indicated in Federal Court filings related to his application for permanent residency that CBSA interviewed him for about four hours in February, 2012, about allegations of war crimes.

But in 2013, Mr. Eisenbrandt said, he met with an officer in the RCMP’s Sensitive and International Investigations Unit who told him he had not made much progress and was busy on another matter. Mr. Eisenbrandt gave the RCMP officer the names of some of the sources in his dossier, with their permission, but not their contact information. He told the officer the best way to reach the witnesses was through Mr. Bility in Liberia.

“Absolutely zero Canadian officials contacted me,” Mr. Bility told The Globe in an interview, adding that he “100 per cent” could have put investigators in touch with witnesses.

Ian McLeod, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice, said by e-mail that the department does not generally comment on investigations until a case has been made public through the courts. He said a criminal investigation of a war crime or crime against humanity allegation is “challenging and resource-intensive, including overseas travel, and work with foreign governments in securing information and witnesses located outside of Canada.”

Mr. Werner, who directs Civitas Maxima, a Swiss organization that provides legal representation to victims of war crimes, says such logistical obstacles could have been overcome — and have been in similar cases. He has been involved in several international criminal cases targeting individuals for crimes committed during Liberia’s civil wars. Witnesses could have been brought to Canada, he says, or interviewed elsewhere outside Liberia. “We find ways, legitimate ways,” he said.

Mr. Horace’s efforts to secure a future in Canada had meanwhile stalled. Court filings indicate that the Canada Border Services Agency informed the immigration department in December, 2011, that it was investigating Mr. Horace. Processing of his permanent-residency application was suspended pending the outcome of that investigation.

In a January, 2015, Federal Court Justice Roger Hughes rejected a request from Mr. Horace that the immigration minister be compelled to approve his application to stay on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Justice Hughes wrote: “Since the applicant made his H&C application, the [minister] has been made aware of the allegations that the applicant may be a member of an organization that engaged in terrorism or the subversion by force of a government and/or was a person who committed war crimes or crimes against humanity.” Investigations into these allegations continued, he added.

Lawyers for Mr. Horace challenged these delays, arguing they were an abuse of process and a violation of his rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. No formal decision had been made when Mr. Horace died in a home invasion last weekend.

In the past two years, Mr. Eisenbrandt, Mr. Werner, and Amanda Ghahremani, who succeeded Mr. Eisenbrandt as legal director of the Canadian Centre for International Justice, say the Department of Justice asked if they would assist efforts to deport rather than prosecute Mr. Horace. All refused. They say they wanted him to face justice, not return to Liberia, where he would not be tried, and where his alleged victims might be at risk or be traumatized by knowing he had returned.

In the end, Mr. Horace was never held accountable in Canada, either. He married and fathered children. He died free, 18 years after arriving and claiming to have been a chaplain. “It’s shameful,” Mr. Werner said. “He did crucifixions, for God’s sake.”

Mr. Bility said Liberians feel similar frustration. In recent days, the country’s radio and television call-in shows have been full of discussion about Mr. Horace’s murder, he said. “Many people feel they’ve been robbed of justice.”

With a report from Colin Freeze in Toronto

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