Date: Wednesday, 17 May 2023
NANAIMO — After a private refugee sponsorship plan in conjunction with a local church didn’t work out, the funds were’t returned, they were gambled away.
Semere Gebremichaelwe previously pleaded guilty to a charge of theft over $5,000 and was handed a conditional discharge following a Tuesday, May 16 sentencing hearing in BC Supreme Court in Nanaimo.
The 40-year-old man with no criminal record was ordered to pay back $38,520 to a man whose relative remains stuck in the unstable northeastern African nation of Eritrea.
The offender, also originally from Eritrea, was handed the funds from the hopeful emigrant to work with St. Philip by-the-Sea Anglican Church in Lantzville.
The plan was to relocate the man then living in asylum in Israel to the Nanaimo area.
Just prior to the offending, Gebremichaelwe was told their refugee application would not succeed.
Defence lawyer Kelly Bradshaw said her client “felt very much under pressure” when he was repeatedly contacted by the church and victim about the money, yet failed to return their calls.
“He just kept getting drawn further and further into it trying to win his money back and it just made it worse. It’s my understanding it was a short foray of that kind of activity in his life,” Bradshaw said, noting when approached by police he immediately confessed.
Gebremichaelwe’s wife didn’t end up emigrating to Canada as planned and their marriage broke down as a result of the charge against him.
He started working to support his family at 12-years-old. He fled Eritrea for Sudan in 2005, then eventually received temporary asylum status in Israel where he remained between 2007 and 2015.
Unable to prolong his stay in Israel where he was steadily employed, Gebremichaelwe came to Canada in 2015 where he later gained permanent residency status.
After a few years working in Calgary, he moved to Nanaimo in 2018 where he’s been employed as a cleaning contractor ever since.
Described as an industrious hard worker, court was told a confused Gebremichaelwe jumped out of the second floor of a Parkville grocery store window and broke his leg when a store alarm sounded overnight.
The incident happened three days after Gebremichaelwe arrived on the mid Island in March 2018.
Court was told Gebremichaelwe would be at risk of deportation if he acquired a criminal record.
A conditional discharge allows Gebremichaelwe to avoid such a record if he abides by his probationary conditions.
The Crown’s Nick Barber requested a conditional sentence order, guaranteeing Gebremichaelwe would have a criminal record.
“A record helps the public because they’re on notice of what this gentleman has done. If there’s no record then there’s nothing to give anybody warning,” Barber said during sentencing arguments.
Justice Robin Baird sided with the defence proposal of a conditional discharge.
He said while Gebremichaelwe’s actions were shameful, he considered his conduct not overly sophisticated and didn’t appear to be pre-meditated.
Justice Baird said despite Gebremichaelwe’s actions, he gets the impression he’s a good guy who made a disastrous mistake.
“This is the sort of disposition that we hand out to first-timers with no record who we believe won’t re-offend…It’s the sort of break that I think is humane to grant to people like you…”
Gebremichaelwe was ordered to repay the victim starting with $5,000 on June 1 and payments of at least $1,000 monthly until the restitution bill is paid off.
The judge established an early June hearing to ensure Gebremichaelwe made his first payment.
“I want this complainant to be paid back and I’m not entirely impressed by the fact he’s been out there working for four years and hasn’t given him a nickel.”
Gebremichaelwe apologized to the court with a brief statement made through a court appointed interpreter.
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