Deportation splits Montreal family

Posted by admin on Jul 11th, 2009

By SUE MONTGOMERY, Gazette Justice Reporter July 11, 2009

MONTREAL – Mohammud and Seema Sabir Sheikh didn’t even have time to change their shoes when three immigration officers arrived at their Park Extension apartment about noon Friday. The day before, a federal court judge refused to stay a deportation order against the couple, who has been in Canada almost a decade – but gave their four children, including a 5-year-old, a reprieve. A stunned Mohammud Sabir Sheikh, 52, and his wailing 46-year-old wife, were faced with a heartwrenching decision – to leave little Canadian-born Sabrina behind with her older siblings, or take her with them.

In the end, she stayed with sister Ashra, 26, and brother Sami, 21, both of whom are working. The older siblings’ deportation orders are under review.

Another sister, who is married to a Canadian and living in Toronto, can also stay.

Lawyer Stewart Istvanffy, who has been practising immigration law for decades, called the decision “weird,” saying he’s never seen a case where a family has been split.

But he says he’s confident he can win a judicial review of the deportation order, even if the couple returns to Pakistan.

“It’s a very strong case,” he said. “There are two Canadian grandchildren, one Canadian child and a daughter married to a Canadian.

“The centre of the family’s life is here.” Canadian Border Services Agency didn’t respond to a request for interviews Friday.

Mohammud Sabir Sheikh has been working 18-hour days for the past two years at Marché BK, a large grocery store in Park Ex.

Istvanffy also said many family members, including the children’s grandfather, have been killed in political violence in Pakistan.

“So we believe the danger is still very real.” The family arrived in Canada in 2000, and was granted refugee status in 2001. In 2007, three years after Ashra’s marriage broke up, their status was revoked. Since then, it’s been through several appeals until the deportation order came two months ago.

The family believes Ashra’s ex-husband, a Pakistani who has since returned to that country, told immigration authorities the family failed to mention on their refugee application the years they’d spent living in Dubai.

Judge Sean Harrington pointed to that lie as his reason for not staying the deportation order.

“When they’re really afraid, refugees will lie, cheat or steal to get protection,” Istvanffy said in defending his clients. “They were going back and forth between Dubai and Pakistan.

“It’s impossible to get status in Dubai so what are their options?” On Friday, Sami Sheikh said his parents begged immigration officials to send them to the United States, the country from which they entered Canada. Initially, the officials refused, saying the family would be sent to Pakistan via Toronto. But late Friday, after another lawyer intervened on the couple’s behalf, it was agreed they’d be sent to the U.S. early next week.

“They seemed really angry with us and wouldn’t listen to us,” he said. “They didn’t let them change their clothes. My dad left in his slippers.” The couple is being held in a Laval detention centre.

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