When Jamaica-born restaurant owner Everol Powell found out he could employ Jamaicans to work in his Canadian establishment, he jumped at the opportunity to better the livelihood of his countrymen.
He did not know, however, that his deeds would lead to his betrayal from some he tried to help, jail time, bankruptcy of his businesses, and a subsequent $7-million lawsuit against the Canadian government for wrongful arrests in relation to 16 counts of human trafficking.
“They destroyed my business, they destroyed my reputation. It is really sad to see how hard I have worked here, and then people are going to turn around and call me a human trafficker. This is the toughest thing in my life,” said Powell, who has operated two restaurants in Ontario, Canada, for more than 20 years.
“None of my restaurants are opened now. I lost all of them because the police are trying to make me go bankrupt. They are trying to fight me.”
According to the 49-year-old Ontario father of three, settling in Canada in the ’90s was difficult, as he could not maintain meaningful employment after being often overlooked for promotions because of his skin colour.
As a result, he opened two restaurants, and soon after started to recruit and assist Jamaicans to enter Canada to work at the establishments. Between 2007 and 2013, Powell said he assisted at least 13 Jamaicans to enter Canada to work for him through the local farm work programme.
All was kosher, he said, until one of the females he assisted to enter Canada conspired with former employees to tell cops they were trafficked into the country, and were being ill-treated by Powell, who they reported charged CAN$5 an hour for men to have sex with the women.
He said the former employees – two females, aged 52 and 30; and eight males – tried to frame him with the hope that it would better their chances of becoming legalised Canada citizens.
Powell said he was stalked by undercover policemen, who bugged his phones, harassed him while driving, and who made several attempts to have police or police informants gain employment at his establishments to verify the allegations.
He said shortly after, his restaurant parking lot was swarmed by Ontario Provincial Police and Canada Border Services, who handcuffed him and charged him with 16 counts related to human trafficking.
The ordeal left him embarrassed and confused in a community where he said he spent years earning the respect and love of those around him.
After two long, life-changing years, Powell said the human trafficking charges were ultimately dismissed for lesser charges of violation of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, for which he subsequently received an absolute discharge in 2016. But by then his life had already gone into a tailspin.
Powell said he spent days behind bars as well as under house arrest.
His home was also thrashed and his family humiliated by the cops he claimed racially profiled him, including pulling him over with claims that the car had been reported stolen, or to accuse him of throwing cigarettes out his car window. Powell, however, said he does not smoke.
The once-thriving businessman said he has since filed a lawsuit against the Ontario government seeking CAN$7 million in damages for false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and negligent investigation by the police.
But he says that no amount of money can ever repair his reputation.
“All I want is justice. They messed up my name. Nobody is going to hire me, I can’t rent a place, and my last restaurant closed down last year May and I haven’t worked since. There is no income, and I need to be happy and back on my feet. I’m not stopping until I get justice,” Powell declared.
“Here is a guy who tried to help his fellowmen, and look what they have done. They have put me down after I’ve tried to help them and give them a good start.”