Canada Calling – Canada Brushes Off Arafat
By Faisal Kutty – Prime Minister Jean Chretien appeared cool to the idea of a Palestinian state during a one-day visit to Ottawa by Palestinian leader. Arafat met with Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy and the prime minister in the first week of September to garner Canadian support for a planned declaration of Palestinian statehood scheduled for Sept. 13.
The prime minister asked both sides to “put some water in their wine” to work toward a compromise. This was the same prime minister who, last April, encouraged the Palestinians to use the threat of a unilateral declaration of statehood as a bargaining tool.
This time around, Chretien told Arafat that a declaration of sovereignty should be based on negotiated settlement. “As I said in the spring,” maintained the Canadian leader, “there was an agreement on this process at Madrid that we urge the [Palestinian] president to respect.”
A senior Canadian official clarified to the media that Ottawa’s position “doesn’t exclude the creation of a Palestinian state, if that were decided by the parties during negotiations,” adding, “we would oppose unilateral actions intended to predetermine the outcome of negotiations.”
The insistence on a negotiated settlement at all costs contradicts Chretien’s earlier statements that Palestinian statehood cannot be delayed forever.
Stateless Palestinian Family Wins Right to Stay in Canada
Five years of legal wrangling and 18 months of living in the basement of a Toronto church which had granted them asylum finally paid off for a Palestinian family seeking refugee status in Canada (see the May/June 1998 and June 1999 issues of the Washington Report).
Seventy-one-year-old Nadim Bahsous and his four adult children, Jamal, 44, Faten, 36, Anwar, 34 and Elham, 31, have been living in the basement of a Catholic Maronite church, Our Lady of Lebanon, since March 27, 1998. According to Elham, the family spokesperson, they have been living on “dry foods and sandwiches” for the past two and a half years.
“When we got the news from our lawyer, we thought we were dreaming,” Elham said. I’m glad that we finally have a country we can call home and move on with our lives.”
The special relief, based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, allows Elham’s father and three siblings, who suffer from hereditary disabilities due to cerebellum atrophy, to remain in Canada. Elham, however, is still awaiting word on her situation.
“Sympathy is not a ground for a claim to [United Nations] Convention status.”
“The applicants are stateless, Nadim having been so for half a century,” wrote the Immigration and Refugee Appeal Board in a 15-page decision. “They have moved from their mother country without achieving permanent residence status.’’
Board member Egya Sangmuah said there are sufficient compassionate and humanitarian grounds to warrant special relief in the family’s case. “The outpouring of broad public support for the applicants when they sought refuge in the church basement is evidence that a reasonable person in Canada would want to relieve their misfortune,’’ he said.
Sangmuah noted that, because of their disabilities, Jamal, Faten and Anwar were subjected to discrimination in the countries where they used to live—Syria, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. In contrast, they have been treated with dignity and respect in Canada.
The board also recognized that the Bahsouses are a very close-knit family. “Given [their] statelessness and closeness,” the board ruling noted, “family reunification is an important consideration in this case.’’
Critics wonder why, if this was the reasoning, Elham was not given permission to remain as well.
Upon arriving in Canada in 1995, the family sought refugee status. In January 1997, the Immigration and Refugee Board, the body set up to determine whether a person is a bona fide refugee, ruled that the family did not qualify as refugees. In its initial ruling, the board held that the family had endured discrimination and harassment, “but not the serious harm to basic human rights that is normally equated to persecution.”
The board also noted: “They currently have no legal right to enter any country in the world,” but added that “sympathy is not a ground for a claim to [United Nations] Convention status.”
The family became stateless upon fleeing Palestine in 1948. Since then they have lived in Lebanon, Syria, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and, briefly, in the United States, before coming to Canada. They had no status in any of the countries and did not possess any passports or travel documents.
The family’s appeals and applications to the minister of immigration on humanitarian and compassionate grounds were turned down. Two other members of the family applied to sponsor them for permanent residence. Nadim’s son, Akram, and daughter Olivia and her husband, Hanna, who recently obtained landed status after arriving from the United Arab Emirates, were eligible to sponsor the Bahsous family under a provision of Canadian immigration law which allows a citizen or landed immigrant to sponsor his or her immediate family and their dependents. However, the application was rejected because the sponsors did not have proof of income for 12 months in Canada. The local Arab community’s offer to post a $100,000 bond to cover this technicality, and an offer to repay the $40,000 which the family had received in welfare payments, were ignored by the government.
The family’s appeal of the rejection of the sponsorship application led to the Sept. 7 ruling.
Faisal Kutty is a Toronto-based lawyer and columnist for iViews.com.
Note: First Published: OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2000, page 61
Short URL: http://tinyurl.com/yf9lydo