Court upholds deportation order splitting Pakistani family in Montreal
By Tobi Cohen
The Canadian Press
July 11, 2009
MONTREAL Having exhausted all legal recourse, the fate of a Pakistani family living in Montreal rests with politicians after a judge refused to grant a stay of a deportation for the parents while giving one to their four children.
Sabir Mohammed Sheikh and his wife Seema were whisked away from their Montreal home to a detention centre Friday, a day after the federal court decision, to await deportation.
For the time, they've managed to secure removal to the United States under the “Safe Third Country” agreement but they still fear having to return to Karachi where they face persecution for both political reasons and due to death threats from the estranged ex-husband of one of their daughters.
Their lawyer Stewart Istvanffy said he's out of legal options for the time being and only political will can keep them from having to leave their five-year-old Canadian-born daughter in the hands of her older siblings or risk taking her with them.
They've decided to leave Sabrina with her sister Ashrah, 26, and brother Sami 23, both of whom are students. Their deportation orders are under review and another sister in Toronto was also allowed to remain in Canada for the time being. If deported the Sheikhs will also leave behind two grandchildren.
“Politically somebody could take a decision, 'Ok, don't deport them.' Legally, I've done everything I could do right now,” he said in an interview.
A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan who overseas the Canada Border Service Agency said he couldn't comment on an individual case but noted it's the agency's duty to carry out removal once all legal avenues have been exhausted.
“The removal of inadmissible individuals is key to maintaining the integrity of the immigration program, and to ensuring fairness for those (who) live in this country lawfully,” Christopher McCluskey said in an e-mail.
CBSA spokeswoman Kareen Dionne noted it's “it's never taken lightly to remove someone from Canada” but she couldn't say how common it is for families to be split up in this manner.
In the meantime, Istvanffy is seeking a judicial review of the deportation order which was issued because the couple wasn't honest about the amount of time they spent in Dubai after leaving Pakistan.
“Hopefully there's going to be a judge that looks at all this and says what terrible nonsense it is to deport a family that is so well integrated here, that are making a strong contribution here with a lot of community support,” he said.
“I'm hoping that eventually I'm going to win the judicial review at the Federal Court, based on the adult children, based on the Canadian child and the strong community involvement of this family.”
The Sheikhs came to Canada in 2000 and secured refugee status in 2001 due to the father's involvement in the Pakistan People's Party and the fact that his father and nephew were both killed for political reasons.
Istvanffy said Sabir Mohammed Sheikh had become a respected figure in his Montreal community, volunteering as a translator at a health centre and managing a popular grocery store.
But in 2007, authorities suddenly and unexpected revoked the family's refugee status. Samir Mohammed Sheikh believes it was the violent ex-husband of his daughter, who himself was deported to Pakistan, who ratted them out in revenge.
While Sheikh admits he lied about the 20 years he spent in Dubai, he said he was merely there on a work visa and never had any legal status. He also remained politically active in Pakistan and returned often to visit family.
“I'm very depressed, very tense. They split my family,” he said in a telephone interview from the Laval detention centre where he's holed up, separated from his wife.
Istvanffy argues immigration authorities based their deportation decision on a mere “technicality,” one upheld by Judge Sean Harrington who fingered the lie in his reasoning for not granting the stay.
Still, Istvanffy believes there's a strong humanitarian case to be made and that Canada needs to step up.
“Right now in Canada, people who are refused as refugees, basically we treat them like criminals,” he said.
“The system acts like they want to deport everybody. There's a real breakdown in the humanitarian system right now in Canada. Basically, it's like we're just losing our soul.”