A family in Milton, Ont. is racing against the clock to be able to stay in Canada, saying that being deported to Portugal will put their health in jeopardy.
“Sending us back to Portugal now, in the middle of this pandemic, it’s like they are sending us into war,” said Eva Ferreira, who, along with her husband and 15-year-old son, has been living here for eight years.
Their push is particularly desperate given that Portugal was recently measured as having the world’s worst rate of new daily COVID-19 cases and deaths per 100,000 people — and that Ferreira’s husband, Armando Goncalves, is diabetic.
Diabetes puts people at greater risk for developing a severe illness from COVID-19, and is also a common comorbidity in COVID-19 related deaths.
“The way things are in Portugal, I feel like we’re going to put our lives at risk,” Ferreira said.
On Thursday, the family got the news they were dreading: their application to defer their deportation was rejected by the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA.)
Ordered to leave by Feb.11, it gives them exactly one week to make a last-ditch appeal in federal court.
“We love Canada, we’re hopeful that we can stay. But we are running out of time,” said Ferreira.
‘Significant and obvious safety risk’
The family’s lawyer, Jacqueline Swaisland, is now scrambling to prepare the documentation necessary to file for a stay in federal court this week to put off the family’s departure.
“There’s such a significant and obvious health and safety risk here, that I really was quite surprised that the CBSA would decide to continue the removal,” she told CBC Toronto.
Swaisland has also submitted a humanitarian and compassionate application on their behalf which would put them on the path to permanent residency, but no decision has been made on it yet.
“If the family is deported it is highly unlikely that this application will be granted, as it hardly ever is for people not in Canada,” she explained.
They had initially obtained legal work permits when they arrived back in 2012, but those lapsed primarily because of inept legal counsel, said Swaisland.
“Applications weren’t submitted correctly, and so they found themselves without status.”
Ramped-up removals ‘out of step’ with other safety measures
Swaisland is one of a number of Canadian lawyers who say they’re appalled that the CBSA has chosen to restart broader deportations.
The agency had put a freeze on most removals back in March when the pandemic began, but, according to a spokesperson, began removing “serious inadmissibility cases” in early August and “all inadmissible persons” as of Nov. 30.
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Speaking to CBC Toronto, lawyer Maureen Silcoff described the November decision as “completely out of step with all other measures the Canadian government is taking to protect public health.”
Silcoff, president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, says resuming deportations for people who are not security risks has no “appropriate rationale.”
She points out that the process requires a number of risky interactions, including public transit trips to the CBSA offices, time spent with lawyers and CBSA officers, the process of packing up a home, and the necessary travel to get back to a home country.
“And when you go back… the process starts again, you have to re-establish yourself there,” Silcoff said.
Her group is calling for the CBSA to revert back to its previous deportation policy, which allowed the removal of “serious criminal cases” but put a freeze on others.
Removals undertaken ‘in responsible manner’: CBSA
For its part, the CBSA says it does not comment on individual cases.
The agency defends the decision to re-broaden removals, with a spokesperson writing in a statement that it has a legal requirement to do so.
“This was done for a number of reasons, including… the resumption of business processes at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada to produce decisions leading to removal, an increase in available routings by commercial partners that facilitate returns and the ability to ensure that removals are undertaken in a responsible manner,” it said.
“Those being removed have either exhausted or chosen not to pursue further legal recourse and have no legal right to remain in Canada.”