Man who fled biker gang to become Australia’s first known refugee sues Canadian officials after winning asylum

Stevan Utah believes officials didn’t take him seriously because he was a white asylum claimant from a developed nation. He is now suing for more than $2.5M

Stevan Utah first encountered the Australian national head of the Bandidos outlaw motorcycle club in the mid-1990s, says author Duncan McNab. POSTMEDIA/FILE

OTTAWA — Stevan Utah fled to Canada in 2006, on the run from an Australian biker gang he said was out to kill him. A former informant for an Australian intelligence agency, Utah said he was outed that year by the very authorities who had employed him, and was nearly murdered by members of the Bandidos motorcycle club before fleeing the country. Last fall, more than a decade after arriving in Canada, Utah was granted refugee protection in a decision that pointed to “corruption, ineptitude and structural difficulties” within the Australian agencies he has accused of blowing his cover. Australian media reports have labelled him the first known refugee from that country.

The case of Stevan Utah is highly unusual if not unique. Though Canada eventually granted him refugee status last fall, the 50-year-old believes Canadian officials didn’t take him seriously because he was a white asylum claimant from a developed nation. And in an unlikely twist, he’s now suing the federal immigration department and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), arguing they were negligent in allowing his claim to drag on for years and leaving him in what one of his lawyers called “legal limbo.”

The Canadian government, meanwhile, says Utah’s criminal history — including his involvement in an Australian murder case and Canadian fraud charges that were later withdrawn — demanded a thorough investigation before his refugee claim could be allowed to proceed.

“Nothing will ever feel like home to me,” Utah told the National Post in an interview. “It’s left a very sour taste in my mouth.”

To try to understand the mystery of the first Australian refugee, the Post reviewed the decision from the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) granting Utah protection, as well as Utah’s statement of claim in his Federal Court lawsuit and the government’s defence. Together, the documents shed light on the violence that brought Utah to Canada, the danger that convinced a refugee judge to let him stay, the concerns border officials had about his criminal history and the efforts they made to send him back.

OTTAWA — Stevan Utah fled to Canada in 2006, on the run from an Australian biker gang he said was out to kill him. A former informant for an Australian intelligence agency, Utah said he was outed that year by the very authorities who had employed him, and was nearly murdered by members of the Bandidos motorcycle club before fleeing the country. Last fall, more than a decade after arriving in Canada, Utah was granted refugee protection in a decision that pointed to “corruption, ineptitude and structural difficulties” within the Australian agencies he has accused of blowing his cover. Australian media reports have labelled him the first known refugee from that country.

According to a 2008 book about Utah co-authored by Duncan McNab, a former Australian policeman and private investigator who spoke at his refugee hearing, Utah hails from the southeastern state of Victoria and served as a soldier in the Australian Army from 1985 to 1992. Utah first encountered the Australian national president of the Bandidos outlaw motorcycle club in the mid-1990s, McNab told the Post, and though Utah never became a full member of the gang, McNab said the connection would later give Utah “remarkable access” as an informant.

According to McNab, Utah was present at the 2000 death of 54-year-old Earl Mooring, who he has claimed was killed by Bandidos members. Utah arrived on the scene “just as (Mooring) was expiring,” McNab said, then helped dump the body some 1,000 kilometres away. In 2004 Utah was charged with Mooring’s murder, but the charges were later dropped, and to date nobody has been convicted in Mooring’s death.

That same year, Utah led investigators to Mooring’s body. McNab said Utah went on to infiltrate the Bandidos network, feeding police information about drug and firearm trafficking operations. His Federal Court lawsuit describes him as a “paid informant… known as a ‘registered agent,’” operating under immunity from criminal prosecution. It claims he also exposed corrupt police officers.

Nothing will ever feel like home to me

But Utah said he was exposed in 2006, after a newspaper story about biker gang violence reported that the Australian Crime Commission (ACC), the intelligence agency for which he said he was working, had begun an intelligence operation the previous year. Gang members quickly deduced that he was a likely informant, he said. “Everything pointed back to me.”

Soon after, he claimed in his refugee hearing, he was taken to a remote area and given a horrific beating from which he barely escaped. Utah told the Post the gang “absolutely” intended to kill him. He fled to Canada in June 2006, and claims the ACC offered him no protection after his cover was blown. In 2007, he filed a refugee claim.

In a statement to the Post, a spokesperson for the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, which has replaced the ACC, said the organization doesn’t comment on operational matters. “This includes confirming or denying involvement in the ACIC’s and the former Australian Crime Commission’s human intelligence source (informants) capability,” the statement said. However, McNab’s 2008 book quotes an ACC statement denying the organization outed anyone. “The ACC refutes the suggestion that it provided information to the Sunshine Coast Daily that compromised any individual,” it reads. “The information reported … was in relation to the establishment of the ACC’s national intelligence operation into Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs.”

https://edmontonjournal.com/news/politics/man-who-fled-biker-gang-to-became-australias-first-known-refugee-sues-canadian-officials-after-winning-asylum/wcm/90c20d34-81af-4a68-b19b-af7d2df7a3be