Man avoids deportation after 2019 conviction

Avoids deportation 2nd time

A man who has lived in British Columbia since 1997 will be able to stay in Canada, despite pleading guilty to a handful of crimes last year.

Last week, Justice Dennis ruled on Obang Odola's appeal in Kelowna's BC Supreme Court, after Odola realized his March 2019 guilty plea could see him deported from Canada. And it wasn't the first time a conviction had put him at risk of deportation.

Born in 1972, Odola grew up in Sudan during a civil war, and entered a refugee camp at age 11. In 1997, at age 25, he arrived in Canada and has lived here ever since as a permanent resident.

Odola has been diagnosed as bipolar, but in 2015 he stopped taking his medication due to a lack of medical coverage. During this period, on Nov. 27, 2015, Odola was involved in an incident in Fort. St. John, where he forced his way into an apartment building and began throwing the resident's belongings off the balcony. The dispute was reportedly over a ticket to an event that Odola wanted.

Odola was arrested and charged with breaking and entering, mischief, theft under $5,000 and uttering threats. More than three years later, he pleaded guilty to the theft, mischief and threats charges, while pleading to the lesser charge of being unlawfully in a dwelling, rather than breaking and entering.

Despite the Crown seeking a six-month jail sentence, Odola was handed a suspended sentence with a 12-month probation period, where he served his time in the community. But unbeknownst to him at the time, the suspended sentence still carries with it possible deportation consequences.

In his appeal of his guilty plea, Odola claimed he was never told that a conviction of being unlawfully in a dwelling could result in his deportation. But Thursday, Justice Dennis Hori noted Odola had been through a similar situation in 2008, when he was ordered to be deported for a 2006 conviction. While Odola successfully appealed that deportation order, Justice Hori ruled Odola should have been aware of the consequences of his guilty plea.

But ultimately, Justice Hori ruled in favour of Odola's other appeal, to change his sentence to a conditional discharge, which will leave him with no criminal record on the charge along with no possible deportation consequences. Justice Hori noted Odola got back on his bipolar medication shortly after his 2015 arrest, and his medical team has since labelled him a “success story.”

“He has maintained stability and he was not been engaged in the criminal justice system since,” Justice Hori said, noting the original sentencing judge had not taken the immigration consequences into account when Odola was sentenced.

Justice Hori said given Odola's “significant steps since 2015,” it would not be in his interest or the public's interest to send him back to Sudan, where he hasn't lived for 37 years.

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