Canada's public safety minister has instructed the Canada Border Services Agency to review why more than $12,000 was seized from a woman at the Ottawa airport and not returned, CBC News has learned.
The news comes in response to a CBC Ottawa special report that aired Monday about single mother Genet Shume. In September, she had the money seized from her while travelling to Ethiopia to see her ill father, along with her two children.
The money was from community and church members who hoped to give some to family back home. Shume also brought some savings from her work at a bank to give to her family.
Shume, carrying $12,000 at the airport, was unaware of the restrictions under the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act, which require people leaving the country with $10,000 or more in cash or foreign currency to report it to a border services officer.
Authorities seized the money and asked Shume whether she was involved in drugs or terrorism.
"'Maybe this is for terrorist,' he say," Shume told the CBC's Simon Gardner, adding that she responded, 'I'm not that person. I'm Christian. I'm not for terrorism."
Toews wants answers
Shume was allowed to fly to Ethiopia where she said she begged for food because she had no money. The RCMP assured her, she added, the money would be returned but border services said the deadline to appeal passed.
CBC News has learned Toews instructed the border services agency late Tuesday afternoon to look into exactly why border agents never returned the money.
Shume's lawyer said she is "falling through the cracks" between two federal departments — the RCMP and border services — and their bureaucracy.
"There has to be some way this woman can get the money back because if she doesn't get the money back, it really doesn't look good, does it?" said Russell Kaplan.
The elder of Shume's church, the Oromo Evangelical Church that holds services at a west end Lutheran church, said she is not a criminal, but an innocent victim.
"As a church elder, I'm sure Genet is an innocent woman," said Yiman Falmina Teso. "She is a good woman. She is 'choir' as they say in our church. She worships God."
Teso added he agrees with the government reviewing the case.