A Libyan family deported by Canadian immigration officials five years ago is being allowed to return to Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds after a Federal Court judge ordered a review of their case.
After the review, Citizenship and Immigration Canada approved the Benhmuda family's return to Canada.
Efforts to get the family back to Canada were spearheaded by Ingrid Kerrigan, the younger children's kindergarten teacher at Springfield Public School in Mississauga, Ont. Kerrigan raised money to fight the matter in court and initiated the online petition which was addressed to Canada's Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney.
The petition posted on change.org, an online petition platform, garnered 15,674 signatures.
"It wasn't just the Benhmudas who were asking to come back, it was more than 15,000 people who had read their story and were so moved by it that they took the step of signing the petition," said Andrew Brouwer, the family's lawyer.
The names and comments on the petition were downloaded and presented to the courts as part of the evidence to support the family's application to return.
Adel Benhmuda, his wife and four sons — two of whom, Adam and Omar, were born in Canada — were deported to Libya in 2008 after their claim for refugee status in Canada was denied.
The Benhmudas had lived in Canada since 2000 and applied for refugee status, saying they were in danger because Adel Benhmuda's brother was linked to a group opposed to the regime of the late dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
As soon as the family arrived in Libya, Adel Benhmuda was arrested by Libyan police and spent four months in prison, where he was tortured.
After paying a bribe, the family fled to a refugee camp in Malta, where the UN High Commission for Refugees declared the family to be legitimate refugees and asked Canada to take them back.
But a visa officer with the Canadian Embassy in Rome rejected that idea, alleging the family had been a welfare drain after arriving in Canada. That was not the case.
In a scathing ruling last October, a federal judge ruled the visa officer was biased and had placed wrong information in their file. She ordered the case to be sent to another visa post.
The family's lawyer said the Benhmudas have been vindicated.
"We are so relieved that they will finally receive a measure of justice after everything they have been through," said Brouwer in a statement.
Kerrigan, her colleagues, and students at Springfield Public School pulled together to support the family and keep in touch with them throughout their ordeal.
"All they ever wanted from the first time they came to Canada was peace and hope and safety, and now it's back in their grasp," said Kerrigan.
She, and other supporters of the Benhmuda family's plight, will help the family re-integrate back into Canadian culture.
"It's a dream come true and a red letter day for them for sure," she said.
The family will still need to complete steps, such as new police checks and medical evaluations before they get the final approval to return to Canada.
"My hope is that it won't be more than a few weeks," said Brouwer.