Don't dismiss 'honour killing' claim: judge, immigration ruling
By Kenyon Wallace
November 24, 2009
TORONTO—-A Federal Court judge has ordered Citizenship and Immigration to consider the credibility of a woman's claim that she will be the victim of an “honour killing” if deported to her home country of Pakistan.
Justice Michael Kelen found that an immigration officer reviewing evidence in the case of Roohi Tabassum, a 44-year-old Mississauga, Ont., hair stylist, who has been fighting to stay in Canada since 2001, made a mistake by characterizing as “not threatening” letters purportedly from Tabassum's husband in which he promised to “finish” Tabassum if she returned to Pakistan.
According to documents submitted to Citizenship and Immigration obtained by the National Post, Tabassum claims her husband, Faisal Javed, thought to be living in Dubai, began sending her letters and emails in 2006 in which he threatens to kill her for “dishonouring” his family by touching other men's hair while working at a Mississauga salon.
She also claims her husband and his family have become erroneously convinced that she is living with another man in Canada, after a friend's husband answered the phone at her apartment one night.
“What you are doing there, does it look better to you and does your religion allow you to touch other men? It is better to die hungry,” says one 2006 letter translated from Urdu and allegedly written by Javed.
“Tell me everything true otherwise you know that I can do anything for my honour. Do you know how much I believed in you? Other than this you are also aware that your life is seriously in danger in Pakistan . . . Everybody is against you. I am also very combative to you. If you are here, I could not leave you alive.”
After asking her husband for a divorce, Tabassum received another letter dated February 2007 in which Javed allegedly writes: “My doubts about you are real and right but keep this in mind that now I will finish you myself.”
According to court documents, Tabassum and her husband fled Pakistan in 2001 on fear of persecution from Sipah-e-Sahaba, a Sunni Muslim religious group that was declared a terrorist organization by Pakistan's former president, Pervez Musharraf. Tabassum claimed she and her husband were targeted by the organization for their religious activities on behalf of Pakistan's Shia Muslim community.
She made it to Canada, while her husband fled to the United Arab Emirates.
In 2003, Tabassum's refugee claim was denied on the basis of a “lack of credibility and the availability of adequate state protection” in Pakistan, according to the court. She remained in Canada, however, and in 2007 filed an application for a “Pre-Removal Risk Assessment” in which immigration officers determine if deportees face any danger in their destination country.
Earlier this year, Citizenship and Immigration determined there was insufficient evidence to support Tabassum's claim.
But in his ruling released Monday, Kelen said the immigration officer reviewing Tabassum's case “mischaracterized the letters as not threatening” and should have instead focused on the credibility of the letters.
The decision is something of a reprimand for immigration officers conducting these kinds of assessments who decide to label evidence as “insufficient” or “not threatening” instead of calling a hearing in which the applicant is interviewed to determine their credibility, said Max Berger, a Toronto-based immigration lawyer acting for Tabassum.
Calls to Tabassum on Monday were not returned.
The judge referred the case to another officer and suggested a hearing to “determine if these documents containing the threats are credible, or self-serving documents created by persons close to the applicant to buttress her case to be allowed to remain in Canada.”
If the letters are found not to be credible, Tabassum will be deported.