Authorities clash over fate of boy shipped to Canada
Mom sent teen to Toronto on one-way ticket
Canwest News Service
Published: Monday, December 28, 2009
Canadian immigration and child welfare officials are in an unprecedented legal fight over the future of a St. Lucian teenager flown here on a one-way ticket by a family that doesn't want him back.
Kasim (not his real name) is in the care of the Children's Aid Society of Toronto, which has gone to Federal Court in an attempt to prevent his deportation.
The child welfare group does not believe Canada should send Kasim, 16, back to a family that is unfit to care for him.
Federal officials, however, say to keep Kasim here will only encourage people from impoverished countries to send and abandon their children in Canada. What's more, they say, separating Kasim from his family may do more harm than good.
In a recent decision, Judge Robert Mainville agreed to put Kasim's deportation on hold while the CAS obtains an official report on his family and explores whether he can be placed elsewhere in St. Lucia.
Mainville described the case as a “sad and disturbing” one that demands government action.
He called on federal officials to review their travel policies for unaccompanied minors, given that Kasim was 14 years old when he stepped off a plane alone in Toronto in August 2007.
“Clearly measures need to be taken to avoid similar situations in the future,” Mainville said, adding: “There is no question of encouraging in any fashion or manner whatsoever the act of sending and abandoning foreign children in Canada.”
According to court documents, Kasim was placed on a plane by his mother and aunt with a one-way ticket to Canada.
After he landed in Toronto, Kasim went to live with his older brother, who had also arrived illegally.
In March 2008, police discovered both brothers were without immigration status.
The older brother, a young adult, was jailed by immigration authorities and deported to St. Lucia. Because of his age, Kasim was placed in the custody of the Children's Aid Society of Toronto.
According to court documents, a child welfare worker contacted Kasim's mother, who said she wanted him to remain in Canada since education and employment opportunities were so limited in St. Lucia.
Based on its investigation, the CAS tried in December 2008 to persuade immigration officials to allow Kasim to remain in Canada, but they refused. The two agencies have been battling over the teen's fate ever since.
Kasim's deportation was delayed in March when the CAS requested a pre-removal risk assessment in his case. During that hearing, CAS lawyers argued he would be at risk of being targeted by a youth gang in St. Lucia.
An immigration officer rejected the argument and approved Kasim's deportation, and the teen was ordered to report for removal to St. Lucia on Dec. 12.
In late November, the CAS asked for the deportation to be deferred so it could pursue Crown wardship and obtain immigration status for him. Immigration authorities again refused the request.
As a result, the CAS in early December asked the Federal Court to stay the order while they pursued leave to appeal the initial deportation decision.
The organization argued that Canada is obliged under the international Convention on the Rights of the Child to act in Kasim's best interests.
Federal lawyers said that does not entitle a child to remain in Canada to obtain a better life.
Lawyers for both sides agreed there was no legal precedent for the case.
Judge Mainville said the clash between government agencies has only compounded Kasim's “unacceptable situation.”
“Two government agencies,” he said, “are working at cross-purposes from each other in this case, each claiming to be taking into account the true best interests of the child.”