Family ties trip up would-be immigrant
Canada says applicant is member of American Cosa Nostra
By Estanislao Oziewicz / The Globe and Mail
Gerlando Sciascia appears to be a perfect potential immigrant. He has been a labourer and small businessman, he wants to bring money into Canada, and he has got family in Montreal willing to help him settle. He also speaks French and English. There is only one problem: The federal government says he is a member of the New York Mafia and would get involved in dirty dealings if he were given permanent residence. Now, after years of trying, he has abandoned plans to join his son and extended family members even though he recently forced the Immigration Department to set aside its opinion that he is a public menace who should be barred from living in Canada.
Mr. Sciascia, 63, faced the likelihood that the Immigration Department would rearm for another lengthy legal battle. "If he were to reapply again, his case would be assessed again with the information that we have," said Immigration Department spokeswoman Huguette Shouldice, referring to confidential foreign and public sources. She said Mr. Sciascia would be detained if he arrived as a visitor. Mr. Sciascia, who immigrated to the United States from his native Sicily in 1955, is named in a 1988 U.S. Senate subcommittee report on organized crime as a member of the Cosa Nostra Bonanno organized crime family in New York. Since anti-organized crime immigration legislation was enacted in early 1993, the Sciascia case is the only one of eight that involves an alleged Mafia member. The others involve members of or people alleged to be associated with Asian triad criminal groups.
In 1983, according to Federal Court of Canada records, Mr. Sciascia was indicted by the FBI in connection with an alleged heroin-trafficking conspiracy. He fled to Montreal where he hid under alias until he was arrested by the RCMP. Mr. Sciascia was detained in Canada for two years until 1988 when he lost his fight to avoid extradition to the United States. That year, his son, Joseph Mark Sciascia, 33, arrived in Canada as an independent-category immigrant. Gerlando Sciascia and two co-defendants were acquitted of conspiring to distribute heroin to a narcotics ring allegedly managed by the brother of mobster John Gotti. Later, a person was charged and convicted of jury tampering in the case. After his acquittal, Mr. Sciascia and his wife, Mary, a native of Scotland, applied to immigrate to Canada. Their son, Joseph, acted as a sponsor. Mr. Sciascia lived in the Bronx and worked as a general labourer in the construction industry. According to his lawyers, he was also an owner and operator of two restaurants and a car wash. His immigration application says that he would bring $200,000 (U.S.) in cash assets to Canada.
The application languished for several years at the Canadian consulate in New York until Mr.Sciascia's Toronto-based lawyers started making inquiries about its status. Mr. Sciascia subsquently reapplied and was interviewed by a visa officer about his connections to Mafia members living in the United States. In the summer of 1995, Susan Burrows, the Canadian consul in New York, wrote Mr. Sciascia,saying that "reasonable grounds exist to believe that you are a member of an organized crime group; namely, the American Cosa Nostra."
Ms. Burrows said no humanitarian or compassionate grounds would overcome Mr. Sciascia's inadmissibility to Canada. "Although you have a son living in Canada, he has not become a Canadian citizen while your daughter who remains in the United States is a citizen of that country. As well, you have maintained employment and own property in the United States." Mr. Sciascia's son, Joseph, who is a partner in Quelli Della Notte, a swanky restaurant in Little Italy in north-end Montreal, then started the process of appealing Ms. Burrows's decision to the Immigration Appeal Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board. In a tactical move designed to block the appeal from proceeding, a senior Immigration Department official certified Mr. Sciascia as a "danger to the public in Canada."
Mr. Sciascia could not be reached for comment and his high-powered Toronto-based lawyers declined to discuss the case. "Get out of my . . . face," said a man at the restaurant who a day earlier had identified himself as Joe Sciascia. However, according to Federal Court records, lawyers Frank Marrocco and John Ormston argued that the Immigration Department used shaky evidence in coming to its conclusion that Mr. Sciascia is a public menace.
The Immigration Department used both confidential information obtained from North American law-enforcement sources and public material to cite Mr. Sciascia. The public material is the U.S. Senate report and the book Deadly Silence: Canadian Mafia Murders by Antonio Nicaso and Peter Edwards.
Mr. Sciascia's lawyers argued that the U.S. Senate report was prepared using the opinions of unnamed law-enforcement authorities whose criteria are not disclosed. They also argued that Mr. Sciascia was unaware that his name was listed and had no opportunity to test the reliability of the information. Moreover, they said the authors of Deadly Silence confused their client with someone named Alphonse Sciacia. They said the authors wrongly attributed a wiretap transcription reference to heroin trafficking by Alphonse Sciacia to Gerlando Sciascia.
Mr. Nicaso and Mr. Edwards said in interviews that they were surprised that the Immigration Department would use their book as a basis to deny someone admission to Canada and that either the Immigration Department or Mr. Sciascia's lawyers should have gone to the official FBI record to verify the information. (A 1992 Financial Post Magazine article called Why The Mob Loves Canada attributes the wiretap quote to Gerlando Sciascia.)
In a "Danger to the Public Ministerial Opinion Report" about Mr. Sciascia, an immigration officeer said that even if he denies his membership in the Bonanno crime family, or any involvement with the Mafia, "indications received from different sources lead [me] to believe there are reasonable grounds to believe Gerlando Sciascia is a member of a criminal organization." The officer adds: "I am concerned that Mr. Sciascia's close relationship to figures of the Mafia in New York, Sicily and Montreal would strengthen the Mafia situation in Montreal. Mr. Sciascia is a danger to the Canadian public because of his involvement with the Mafia and that the nature of the activities carried by these organizations."
In the Federal Court, Mr. Sciascia challenged the opinion that he is a public danger. The Immigration Department eventually conceded that the minister's delegate who certified Mr. Sciascia as a public danger erred in law by relying upon some evidence that was not put to him. The department does not specify which evidence it is referring to. Mr. Justice Marshall Rothstein of the Federal Court trial division issued an order in March allowing Mr. Sciascia's application for judicial review and set aside the declaration that he is a public danger.Judge Rothstein made no award of costs. This meant that Joseph Sciascia's appeal to the Immigration and Refugee Board to overturn the visa officer's decision to bar his father's entry into Canada could proceed. Notwithstanding this legal victory, Joseph Sciascia has withdrawn his appeal and his father has abandoned his application for permanent residence. Michel Gagné, director of the Immigration Department's organized crime section, said in an interview that he remains confident that Ms. Burrows, the New York visa officer, acted correctly. "The visa officer in our opinion had in this case more than reasonable grounds to believe that the subject was link to the mafia."
June 30, 1997