Mystery of jailed Unknown Person deepens as cloak of secrecy descends on his case

Mystery of jailed Unknown Person deepens as cloak of secrecy descends on his case
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The man, formally designated as “the Unknown Person” by the courts, has been behind bars for more than six years because he refuses to reveal who he really is.

Because he is not a Canadian citizen and has no status in this country, Canada’s immigration authorities are trying to deport him, after his arrest in a large fraud case in 2013. However, until officials know his identity and nationality, they cannot deport him; until they can deport him, they don’t want to release him from prison.

The man insists he is Herman Emmanuel Fankem, 40, of France, but French authorities say his passport is a fake, bought from a criminal forgery ring in Paris.

After years of international investigation spanning 11 countries, the mystery remains, with various countries finding hits for the man under several different names.

Although he was living in Montreal, he was arrested in Toronto in 2013 after a fraud that swindled a man out of $450,000, police said at the time. All charges against him were dropped to allow for his quick deportation. That was halted when his bogus identity was revealed.

Since then, the man has been in prison, mostly in maximum security, as Canada Border Services Agency officials try to pin down who he is.

He has been belligerent and unco-operative and refused to attend 51 monthly detention review hearings.

On Wednesday, however, he was scheduled to appear in person, with a lawyer, at a public hearing before the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB). The National Post was granted permission to attend as an observer,

Whatever he planned to say, however, he apparently didn’t want anyone to know.

This court s impression is that the Unknown Person considers himself to be the director of a play

Late Tuesday, the hearing was declared closed at the request of the man’s lawyer by IRB adjudicator Jean-Marc McCabe, without the media having any opportunity to oppose the request.

The reason: “To facilitate Mr. Fankem’s ability to fully participate in his hearing without creating additional distress.” McCabe added that further information from the man’s lawyer would be needed to see how the case is handled in the future.

Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), immigration hearings “must be held in public” except under designated or extraordinary circumstances.

The act says that, typically, non-refugee proceedings may be held in private only “after having considered all available alternate measures.”

After a request for further information on why the hearing was closed, the IRB said it was under the section of IRPA allowing a member to make a hearing private if there is “a real and substantial risk to the fairness of the proceeding such that the need to prevent disclosure outweighs the societal interest.”

Because the hearing is now private, the IRB could not say what its outcome was. It is possible the man was ordered released, his detention continued or that the hearing in not over.

Swathi Sekhar, the man’s lawyer in the case, has not responded to several requests for comment.

The Federal Court of Canada recently ruled that releasing the man when he cannot be identified and will likely disappear when released “strains all sense of logic.”

“This court’s impression is that the Unknown Person considers himself to be the director of a play and Canadian authorities are but actors subject to his direction,” Judge B. Richard Bell wrote in his court decision in February.

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