Canadian Chronicle – Stateless Palestinians Ordered Deported From Canada
By Faisal Kutty — Members of a stateless Palestinian family, denied a stay of deportation from Canada, have taken sanctuary in a Toronto church. Immigration Minister Lucienne Robillard refused a last-minute request from the family’s lawyers to stay proceedings until the lawyers had sufficient time to prepare a case on their behalf. The family’s lawyers have now refiled a request for consideration under Humanitarian and Compassionate Grounds.
Seventy-year-old Nadim Bahsous and his four adult children, Jamal, 40, Faten, 33, Anwar, 31 and Elham, 29, three of whom suffer hereditary physical impairments, have been living in the basement of a Catholic Maronite church, Our Lady of Lebanon, since March 27, 1998. According to Elham Bahsous, the family spokesperson, they have been living on “dry foods and sandwiches since then.”
Shoshana Green, the lawyer currently handling the file, told the Washington Report that the family was supposed to have reported to Niagara Falls, Ontario, a few weeks ago for deportation. “Warrants have been issued for them under the Immigration Act because they did not show up,” says Green.
Upon arriving in Canada in 1995, Bahsous and his 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. In its 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…” Ironically, 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, United Arab Emirates and, briefly, in the United States, before coming to Canada. They have no status in any of the countries and do not possess any passports or travel documents. Shoshana Green told the Washington Report that they would be deported to the United States, as this was their last country of transit. It is unclear where they would be sent from there.
The family’s appeal of the board’s decision to the Federal Court of Canada was rejected and a further appeal by the family directly to Minister of Immigration Lucienne Robillard to allow them to stay on humanitarian and compassionate grounds was also refused. “This is the most hard-hearted minister I have come across in my 38 years of practicing,” said lawyer Mendel Green who, along with his associate, Shoshanna Green, is still trying to make a case for their clients.
“They currently have no legal right to enter any country in the world.”
Mendel Green resubmitted a new application for consideration under humanitarian and compassionate grounds on April 8, 1998. The initial application was prepared by the family, who did not have a lawyer at the time. Shoshana Green said the application is used basically to seek “exemptions from the regular requirements” in situations of hardship such as this.
Elham told the Washington Report that a number of organizations, including Albassa, the Canadian Arab Federation, and Palestine House, have worked hard to help them out. They are extremely thankful to all these groups and individuals.
“We love Canada and desperately hope that the minister will give us a chance” to live in Canada, 29-year-old Elham said. She added that she has no idea where they would end up if they are deported. The family is also concerned about how they would manage anywhere else, as three of the children suffer from cerebellum atrophy. The hereditary disease requires them to use a walker or a wheelchair. “It would be hard for them to cope in other countries as the facilities would be lacking,” said the articulate 29-year-old.
Support for the family has been growing since their plight hit the media. More than 100 people protested in favor of the family outside the church, which has a mostly Lebanese congregation. Letters and calls of encouragement, financial support and job offers have also been arriving at the church.
The family appears to be safe as long as they have the patience to remain indoors in the church. Many observers say that it would be a public relations disaster if immigration authorities were to forcibly remove the family. Mary Heyes, a spokesperson for the immigration department, told the Toronto Star, “Normally, we prefer to wait people out.”
Hate Crimes or Childish Prank? Police Investigate Islamic School Bus Arson
Three buses belonging to the Ottawa Islamic School, the only Islamic school in the Canadian capital, were torched on March 8, 1998. No charges have been made so far. The local police are treating it as arson and have suggested that it was a prank by 12-year-olds.
Many in the 35,000-strong Ottawa-Carlton Muslim community feel differently. “This is more than just a children’s prank,” says Abdirizak Warsame, a teacher in the 220-pupil school. Community members also point to an increase in break-ins and vandalism at the school, which to them indicates a pattern.
Sheema Khan, a Muslim activist and former head of the Montreal chapter of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told the Ottawa Citizen that police should treat the matter as a hate crime. Khan, who plans to set up a CAIR chapter in Ottawa, also noted that incidents such as these prove that Canadian Muslims must become more vigilant.
Staff Sergeant Gary Meehan, who is in charge of the arson squad, said that “nothing we have gathered so far indicates the fire was motivated by hatred of Muslims.” He also said that “until there is some indication this is a crime motivated by ethnic hatred, the hate crime section won’t be involved.”
Aleem Khan, executive director of the Ottawa branch of the Canadian-Muslim Civil Liberties Association (CMCLA), says that his group plans to follow up with the police to find out the status of their investigation.
The school was closed for two days as the majority of the students could not get to school.
Canadian Islamic Congress Meets With Media And Announces Media Scholarship
The Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC), an organization formed last year by Dr. Mohamed Ibrahim Elmasry, met with senior representatives of The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star and The Montreal Gazette. The series of meetings on Feb. 24, March 26 and March 30 were called to discuss the negative portrayal of Islam and Muslims.
The delegation made presentations and provided guidelines to combat the negative stereotypes and misinformation. The CIC hopes to have follow-up meetings within six months to evaluate the progress.
Acknowledging the importance of getting directly involved in the media, the CIC also recently announced the establishment of a media scholarship. According to its newsletter, the $500 scholarship will be offered to a “Muslim student studying journalism or media-related subjects at a Canadian post-secondary institution.” The winner will be selected by the CIC from nominations received no later than Sept. 30 of each year. The decision based on the student’s curriculum vitae, university or college status and a nominating letter from a community organization familiar with the nominee, will be announced at the CIC annual conference in the following year.
The CIC will be holding its first conference in Toronto this year. The one-day conference, titled “Muslims as a Minority in Canada,” will be held at the Ramada Inn, 1677 Wilson Avenue on June 27, 1998. The confirmed speakers include: Dr. Jamal Badawi, Dr. Maher Hathout, Dr. Imtiaz Ahmed, Dr. Munir El-Kassem, Dr. Mohamed Elmasry as well as representatives from the media and political parties. For more information contact: CIC, 420 Erb Street West, Suite 424, Waterloo, Ontario, N2L 6K6, tel. (416) 7461-CIC, fax (416) 746-2929, e-mail: email@example.com.
Faisal Kutty is a Toronto-based lawyer and free-lance writer.
Note: First Published: May/June 1998, Pages 56, 92
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