From informant for the American police to migrant smuggler in Canada
The owner of a hostel in the American West helped migrants to enter Canada illegally, before being sentenced by Canadian justice. Investigation went on site.
Robert Boulé has run the Smuggler's Inn since the beginning of 2000s. Accused then sentenced, he is now on probation.
Smuggler, informant for the American authorities, provocative innkeeper: the life of Robert Boulé could be the subject of a Hollywood film. But it is nothing. For now.
This 72-year-old American is to this day one of the few people convicted by Canadian justice for having helped migrants to enter Canada illegally. And in a rather unusual way.
He's a hero, claims Greg Boos, his lawyer and faithful friend, whom we met in Blaine, a small town in the State from Washington, nearly an hour from Vancouver.
In his eyes, his client is guilty of only one thing: excessive altruism. However, this is not exactly what the Canadian justice concluded. Nor the American authorities.
The Smuggler's Inn is located on Zero Avenue, a road that separates Canada from the United States.
In English, the word smugglermeans smuggler or smuggler. This is the name that Robert Boulé chose to give to his inn, bought in the early 2000s, located on the edge of Avenue Zéro. A small road that acts as a border between Canada and the United States.
No physical separation, no barbed wire or wall exists nearby. It is therefore extremely easy to cross the two countries, although it is illegal.
The report by Romain Schué and Martin Movilla, entitled Roxham Inc. will be broadcast on Enquête Thursday at 9 p.m. on ICI Télé.
The Smuggler's Inn is at the heart of a legal case, which opposed its owner to Canadian justice for several years. First, in the spring of 2018, Robert Boulé was charged with organizing, aiding and abetting foreign nationals to illegally enter Canada through his property, between April 2016 and September 2017.
He spent 22 days in pre-trial detention.
Rebelote a little later. While he had an obligation, by justice, to adopt good behavior and to refrain from helping anyone to enter Canada, Robert Boulé was arrested in April 2019.
Robert Boulé was convicted by the Supreme Court of British Columbia in December 2021.
Last December, he finally pleaded guilty, before the Supreme Court of British Columbia, to having again helped, between May 2018 and March 2019, seven people from Afghanistan and Syria who were staying in his property, before going on foot to Canada.
Investigation has obtained from the court the recognition of the facts signed by Robert Boulé.
In this document, the person concerned details his actions and admits having given indications to these foreigners who wanted to come to Canada. In several cases, he even picked them up at a nearby airport, with his own vehicle, to bring them to the Smuggler's Inn, before receiving, in cash, between US$200 and US$700.
These migrants stayed a few hours or a night in the hostel, then they crossed its garden and Avenue Zero, during the day or evening, before seeking asylum in Canada.
A sign has been put up in front of the hostel to discourage people from crossing the border at this location.
Convicted on various counts From indictment to 30 days in prison – already elapsed –, 12 months suspended prison sentence and 30 months of probation, Robert Boulé is an atypical character. And provocative, his lawyer Greg Boos slips us in with a smile.
In front of the entrance to his hostel sits, at the time of our visit, a black SUV, with an unmistakable license plate: SMUGLER. In the past, Robert Boulé drove another vehicle, a limousine, with a similar plate.
The rooms are named after bandits and famous people, such as Al Capone, Joseph P. Kennedy or D.B. Cooper.
He has a sense of humor, but he is so friendly, swears Greg Boos, while detailing the places and the history of this house. During this visit, Robert Boulé stayed in his room. Without coming to meet us.
Being on probation, he must remain discreet, his lawyer told us, while defending his friend's actions.
“He helped these people live long and not be killed. I'm sorry there aren't more people like Mr. Boulé. »
— Greg Boos, lawyer and friend of Robert Boulé
According to British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Robert Boulé expressed remorse and sincerely apologized.
However, any action that allows people to Entering Canada illegally is a serious offence, he said, while arguing that the accused, working alone, ultimately provided only fairly simple assistance.
“Behavior equivalent to human smuggling is serious. »
— Excerpt from the judgment of the Supreme Court of British Columbia of December 17, 2021
Mr. Boulé is very involved in the community. Mr. Boulé loves people and people love Mr. Boulé, says Greg Boos.
People who dislike Mr. Boulé try to compare him to a criminal. [But] more people like him are needed, he adds, blaming the US and Canadian governments and the ugly Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement.
This obliges migrants passing through the United States to apply for asylum in the same country. Unless they enter Canada through an irregular route, such as Roxham Road in Quebec or this Avenue Zero in British Columbia.
“He bought this inn to be an entrepreneur . He didn't know it was a hot spotwhen he bought the inn,” defends Greg Boos. Many people phoned Mr. Boulé and asked him to book a night at the Smuggler's Inn. He didn't ask for them. It didn't advertise saying, “If you want to enter Canada other than at a port of entry, come to me.”
Robert Boulé's vehicle is atypical. His license plate has been personalized with the inscription SMUGLER.
How many people did Robert Boulé help cross the border? Unable to get a clear number. But it is certainly higher than what is mentioned by Canadian justice.
I have no idea, answers Greg Boos soberly.
One day, he says, a representative of the Afghan Parliament came to stay in the hostel with his wife and children. At one point, two black limousines were waiting for them on the other side. They had the royal treatment, he says, admitting that his client is now famous.
“Mr. Boulé had a lot of guests who were senior officials of the Afghan government, the World Bank or similar institutions.
Over the years, people have discovered on the Internet that this is a place where you can enter Canada. Syrians, Turks and Afghans have taken advantage of it, he argues.
It's not just Canadian agents who are now watching the Smuggler's Inn.
During our meeting, his lawyer shows us a small animal passing through the property, in the tall grass. You'll see, it'll trigger a sensor, he laughs. A few minutes later, a US customs vehicle observed the entrance to the building.
In reality, Robert Boulé has been known to US authorities for a long time. Long before Canadian justice set out to pursue him.
Greg Boos is the lawyer and the friend of Robert Boulé, whom he compares to a hero.
For a long time, Greg Boos tells us, the multiple cameras of the Smuggler's Inn have also monitored entry to the United States.
A document from the Supreme Court of the United States, published on June 8, reveals that Robert Boulé was a confidential informant of the American agents.
He would have received nearly US$60,000 from the government for his services, can we read .
[Robert] Boulé has occasionally assisted federal agents in identifying and apprehending individuals engaging in illegal cross-border activities on or near his property.
Excerpt from a United States Supreme Court document
The Supreme Court also refers to the arrival in 2014, at the Smuggler's Inn, of a Turkish national, from Seattle, who entered Canada illegally. A date prior to the facts admitted in the Superior Court of British Columbia.
This area is a hot spot for the cross-border trafficking of people, drugs , illicit money and objects important to criminal organizations, according to details reported by one of the judges.
On numerous occasions, the agents of U.S. Border Patrol observed people crossing the border south and entering the Smuggler's Inn through the back door, it says.
Shipments of cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy and other narcotics have even been seized in the past in the hostel, can we still read.
With this business opportunity, Robert Boulé – who ended up having trouble with a US agent – greeted people entering the United States illegally, asked them to pay for a night's hotel, then he informed federal law enforcement, who subsequently arrested these particular guests.
Thousands of migrants cross the Canada-US border every year to come to seek asylum in Canada.
Conviction in Canada of people suspected of facilitating illegal border crossings remains rare.
Besides Robert Boulé, one of the main legal cases concern a Torontonian, Olayinka Celestina Opaleye, who had organized the entry into Canada of African nationals, in exchange for financial compensation. She was arrested in September 2017 by a Canadian customs officer.
As the Ontario woman crossed the border at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, a customs officer discovered three envelopes in her car containing a total of US$10,115. She also had in her possession several notes and receipts from hotels or buses.
In November 2020, before the Court of Quebec, Olayinka Celestina Opaleye admitted having helped nine Nigerians to enter Canada via Roxham Road. She was sentenced to 12 months in prison, along with two years probation and 80 hours of community service.
Between 2017 and 2021, only 112 Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) criminal investigation files secured a conviction related to human smuggling across the country. The majority of these (58) relate to Quebec.
According to Greg Boos, Robert Boulé should not be compared to these coyotes.
M. Boulé is not a coyote, insists his lawyer, referring to these smugglers who claim thousands or tens of thousands of dollars to organize illegal crossings.
Others, believes he, they are probably making a lot more money than Mr. Boulé was able to make here. He did not exploit anyone. He simply helped good people who wanted to be safe.
With the collaboration of Aude Garachon