"Justice for AJU IROAGA"
This site has been put together to provide information about our son, brother and friend Aju Iroaga who went missing on May 15th 2006. He was last seen 67 kilometers from the Planters camp which is 10 kilometers from White River in Sudbury Ontario, while working for the A & M Reforestation Company.
A Canadian citizen of Nigerian origin disappeared in disturbing circumstances in May, 2006. The police investigation of this disappearance remains tragically inadequate to this day. His parents are now fighting desperately to right this injustice.
Police agencies across Canada have recently been reminded by the Supreme Court of Canada that they have an obligation to investigate crime properly and thoroughly without prejudice or assumption. In Hill v. Hamilton Wentworth Regional Police Services Board, the Supreme Court found that the police are legally responsible if they fail in this duty. Such a duty is not only consistent with the Charter of Rights, but fosters the publicís interest in responding to the failures of the justice system.
Aju Iroaga was a third-year engineering student at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He arrived in Sudbury, Ontario two days before his disappearance to begin his summer job working as a tree planter for A & M Reforestation Company. It was a job he knew well, as it was his second summer working for the company. He had returned early from a family trip in Nigeria in order to take this job and earn his tuition money. School was very important to him and he had hopes of completing his engineering degree and working in the field.
On the day of his disappearance, it reliably appears that Aju argued loudly and vigorously with his supervisor on the bus on the way to the jobsite. The nature of their disagreement or dispute remains unknown. During the morning planting activities, she twice demanded that he replant his trees - this from a return planter with a reputation for diligence and skill. Despite having traveled far and having made sacrifices to take the job, Aju apparently saw no alternative but to quit his job immediately.
It was only noon on May 15, 2006. He requested the company provide transportation back to the main forestation camp some 67 kilometers away, so he could collect his belongs and make his way back 10 kilometers to the town of White River. There he could make contact with his family.
Many vehicles were available on the tree planting site and were used by the A & M Reforestation staff for routine activities. Despite this, Ajuís supervisors required him to wait alone at a remote intersection of logging roads near the dayís reforestation activities until the other workers were scheduled to return by bus to the camp at 6pm. Aju was seen at the intersection several times in the course of the afternoon. However, he was no longer to be seen at the intersection at 4:15 p.m., nor was he there when the bus was to head back to camp at 6 p.m.
The A & M Reforestation staff did not contact the police until 8 p.m. that night, and the police did not arrive at the scene until 9 p.m. The police failed to properly question the workers on site or their supervisors or other support staff on site. The police appear to have proceeded on the assumption that Aju walked off the job site when other alternatives, including foul play, could in no way be ruled out. The police limited their cursory search to the logging roads and the immediate area, and called off the crucial first nightís search after a mere four hours.
The extent of the investigation the next day was still superficial, focused entirely upon Aju either having walked out of the area or upon Aju having become lost. There appears to have been no serious investigation into other very relevant possibilities for Ajuís disappearance.
The police brought search canines and a police helicopter. The officer in charge drove back to the site where Aju disappeared only to find that the tree planters had cleared their camp, and gone to their respective locations. He had potentially lost valuable evidence because the scene of the disappearance was not secured. The police also lost the opportunity to not only interview witnesses at that time, but to know firsthand who was at the site when Aju disappeared. These failures demonstrate that the police simply and negligently believed Aju walked off or become lost, eliminating the need to investigate other alternatives.
Ajuís family went up to White River to find out what happened to their son and brother. They were given one joint statement by the three supervisors, in the presence of their General Manager, Paul Thususka of A & M Reforestation Company. The police also returned Ajuís valuable belongings including his wallet, health card, driverís license, keys, and Passport. These were all stored in his locker at the base camp with no regard to the significance of these items to their current search premise that he had simply walked off the site. In particular, it appears that the police completely disregarded how unlikely it was that an intelligence student, of Nigerian origin, in such a demanding discipline as engineering, would simply walk off a job site and abandon his Passport, driverís license, health card and keys forever.
Of further significance, Ajuís expensive work boots were returned to his family without laces. There was no explanation offered as to where or how they were found or whether Aju was wearing other shoes at the reforestation site. Ajuís newly purchased steel planting shovel was never located.
To this day, the police have not shown that they have compiled a list of the tree planters, supervisors or support staff who were present on site the day Aju disappeared. The police have also not interviewed all the potential witnesses to determine what might have happened to Aju. In a subsequent meeting with the police and Ajuís family, these details were still not clarified and this part of the investigation remains undone.
Ajuís family is understandably distraught. His father, mother, three sisters and brother are still waiting for satisfactory answers about what happened to Aju, including information as to the nature of the very public dispute with his supervisor. His family has made repeated requests that the police undertake a proper investigation, leaving no stone unturned as they might if one of their own had mysteriously disappeared. Instead of progress, the police have provided only roadblocks and excuses. As with any victimís family, Ajuís family deserves more than to be brushed off or silenced.
The police in Ajuís case had blinders on. They heard that a man had an argument with his supervisor and erroneously assumed he stormed off into the woods. They assumed this despite the fact that Aju had already waited four hours for a ride to the campsite, he had no personal effects or documentation and the nearest point of civilization was 67 kilometers away, so far that no reasonable person would attempt such a journey.
The seriously flawed assumption that Aju walked off the planting area was also promoted by the police to the media. Sergeant Darren Luckasavitch told the Chronical Reporter on Friday, May 19th, 2006 that Aju was last seen around 4:30pm Monday, after he left a remote work area on foot.
This is not the standard of investigation that the Ontario Provincial Police owe the people they serve.
The Iroaga family has retained legal counsel, Marlys Edwardh, to assist them in bringing the appropriate attention to Ajuís case.
On January 6, 2008, Chief Iroaga and Ms. Edwardh had a conference call with senior members of the OPP. The OPP indicated that it now considers Aju to be dead. The police have found no evidence that Aju walked out of the work site that day and no evidence of foul play. According to the OPP investigation, Aju simply vanished.
Most significantly, the OPP indicated that none of the officers involved with the case had interviewed any of the tree planters present the day Aju disappeared. The OPP also have no intention of doing so in the future, unless further information was uncovered signifying interviews were necessary. There were three crews of tree planters working that day, each crew being composed of 14-18 individuals, amounting to a total of between 45-50 people. Aju was a member of one of these crews. Multiple members of Ajuís crew or the other two work crews may have seen or heard something relevant, but the OPP chose not to interview any of them.
The OPP did not ask A & M Reforestation whether Aju or the other tree planters were given any instruction on safety precautions in the forest or on procedures if someone gets lost. It is unclear what policies or procedures A & M Reforestation has for when a tree planter goes missing.
The OPP also concluded that Aju did not actually have any arguments with his supervisor, Ms. Kathy McPherson, based solely on an interview with Ms. McPherson conducted by Detective Sergeants Bangma and Pastorek. This was despite the OPP having originally told my client that two such arguments occurred between Aju and Ms. McPherson.
The Iroaga family is calling for a Coronerís Inquest into the death of their son. The Chief Coroner of Ontario has assigned Dr. Lauwers, Associate Deputy Chief Coroner, to undertake a preliminary investigation to determine whether such an inquest is appropriate. A Coronerís Inquest is necessary in Ajuís case because all the questions such an inquest is meant to answer remain open, specifically when, where, why and how Aju died. A Coronerís Inquest would also require the OPP to reveal the contents of their investigative file, which to date they have refused to do despite repeated requests from the family.
The OPPís investigation remains unsatisfactory and a Coronerís Inquest is essential to filling in the serious gaps left by police. To conclude that there is no evidence of foul play and no evidence that Aju walked off leaves an unacceptable mystery. People simply do not vanish.
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|Created by: Dattu Patel|