Cindor Reeves, a man who sought refugee status in Canada after helping bring down a notorious Liberian war criminal, feared he'd be killed if he was deported to his home country. It turns out he had reason to be afraid.
Reeves's brother-in-law Charles Taylor is a warlord and former president of Liberia.
Reeves ratted him out to authorities in the United Kingdom. Now, Taylor is serving out a 50-year jail sentence for aiding and abetting rebels who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone during the civil war.
But even though he helped jail the warlord, Canada's Immigration Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) rejected Reeves' refugee claim in 2011, concluding there were reasons to believe he also committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, despite his cooperation with the Special Court of Sierra Leone as it built a case against Taylor.
Taylor, the first former head of state convicted by an international war crimes court since World War II, was found guilty of sending weapons to the Revolutionary United Front, a rebel militia that systematically murdered and raped civilians during the civil war in Sierra Leone between 1991 and 2002, in exchange for blood diamonds.
Reeves told the IRB that he feared retribution for his testimony if he were to be sent back to Liberia.
The IRB denied his claim in 2011, and a federal court upheld his deportation order that same year.
It turns out Reeves' fears weren't unfounded, as he recently told Maclean's Magazine in a phone interview from a secret location.
He said seven men carrying Kalashnikovs made an attempt on his life near the end of 2015 in Monrovia. He was sleeping on a mattress on the floor when they tried unsuccessfully to storm into the house. They shot through through the walls, and as he scrambled to get away, a bullet hit him in the leg. A friend came and extracted the bullet using a knife, and when he was well enough, Reeves said he left Monrovia, he told the magazine.
Reeves, whose sister married Taylor when he was a teen, has always been open about helping Taylor smuggle guns and blood diamonds between Liberia and Syria. Eventually, he turned on his brother-in-law to help the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Reeves and his family landed at Toronto's Pearson airport in 2006 and sought asylum.
In an affidavit to the federal court obtained by VICE News, Reeves explains how he passed on the names of mercenaries working with Taylor, the details of arms routes to Liberia from other countries, photos from the rebels' territory, and end-user certificates for arms purchases. He passed the intelligence first to journalists and NGOs, and later to the Special Court.
His contribution was "simply invaluable," wrote former prosecutor for the Special Court Alain Werner to the Canadian court during Reeves' appeal, adding that it would have been extremely difficult to connect Taylor to the RUF's activities without Reeves' testimony.
The Canadian government was assured repeatedly of Reeves' innocence and received multiple commendations of his work.
"It was Mr. Reeves who provided us with much of the credible information upon which we proceeded with our initial investigations which ultimately led to the indictment against Charles Taylor," wrote prosecutor for the Special Court, Brenda Hollis, in an affidavit. At no time, she continued, was Reeves in a high-level position within the Taylor regime.
They were also told in no uncertain terms how dangerous it would be for Reeves to be sent back to Liberia.
"I strongly believe that if Reeves is sent back to Liberia he will be under a severe threat to life," wrote Alex Yearsley, head of special projects at Global Witness — one of the organizations that Reeves passed information to. He said that key members of Taylor's inner circle who helped inform on the former president have been "brutally murdered or disappeared.
"The Taylor network is still very strong and active in West Africa."
But the government, in fighting against his application for refugee status, said Reeves was complicit in crimes against humanity and weapons trafficking. Asking for his claim to be dismissed, the government cited his intimate knowledge of Taylor's organization and said Reeves "provided the type of ongoing support to the structure which may have extended the ability and length of time" the organization operated.
The IRB also found discrepancies in Reeves' evidence, pointing out holes in the timelines he put forward of when he started cooperating with various intelligence agencies and the Special Court of Sierra Leone.
In its decision, the IRB explained that at the time Charles Taylor's organization was delivering arms to the RUF, the militia was involved in rape, enslavement, torture, and murder all around Sierra Leone—acts that amount to crimes against humanity. Reeves' involvement in Taylor's operations at the time, the IRB wrote, made him complicit, and therefore, excluded from protection as a refugee.
According to Maclean's, Reeves has moved again and is laying low.
Follow Tamara Khandaker on Twitter: @anima_tk