By Alison Langley (Standard Reporter)
A woman who attempted to smuggle her husband across the border at the Peace Bridge has been granted a conditional discharge.
“The integrity of our national borders is a matter of national security and the violation of these borders by way of human smuggling has always been a serious matter and should be treated seriously by the courts,” Judge Joseph De Filippis said Monday in Ontario Court of Justice in St. Catharines after Maria Lucero pleaded guilty to two charges under the Immigration and Refugee Act.
On Oct 21, 2018, Lucero crossed the bridge from Buffalo, N.Y., to Fort Erie and told Canada Border Service Agency officers she was returning to Canada after spending the day visiting friends in the United States.
When the border agent lifted the vehicle’s trunk, court heard, he spotted something unusual.
“Inside the trunk, he saw a blanket,” the federal Crown told court. “When he touched the blanket he felt a long solid object. Underneath it, he saw a portion of a leg and a foot.”
It turns out the woman’s husband, a resident of Italy, was hiding in the trunk of the car.
Court was told the man had “angered some people who were part of a gang,” and had travelled to where he met up with the defendant, with whom he had been having a long-distance relationship.
“She decided to help him,” said defence lawyer Jeremie Nadeau, adding the couple subsequently married.
“She understands the best course of action would have been to bring him to the border and ask for refugee status, perhaps. If the situation ever repeats itself in the future she won’t try to smuggle any one over the border.”
Despite the seriousness of the crime, the judge said, a conditional discharge followed by probation would be an appropriate penalty due to several mitigating factors.
“This was not a commercial venture of human smuggling,” De Filippis said. “It was a person who smuggled another person with whom she was romantically involved.”
The venture did not succeed, he added, and the man in question has since been deported to Italy.
“She is a person who is genuinely and substantially sorry for what she’s done and I accept that,” the judge said.
Also, the defendant is an essential worker and a criminal conviction would have negative consequences on her employment.