A 24-year-old Edmonton mother who says she fled after enduring years of domestic violence now faces another nightmare — the possibility of losing her young children and being deported.
For six years Aisha, an alias being used for safety reasons, said her much older husband physically and emotionally abused her and, more recently, her Canadian-born children.
But she was afraid to leave because she said he repeatedly threatened to kill them and withdraw sponsorship for her permanent residency application.
"I was scared of him. He told me he would find me no matter where I go. He told me he (would) kill the kids," said Aisha, recalling her terror when he showed her a gun, warning he could kill her.
"He told me he's going to cancel the status (to legally stay in Canada) if I go anywhere," she added.
He also warned her children's services would get involved and "they're going to take your kids away. That's the most scary thing."
None of the allegations have been proven in court and the husband's lawyer told CBC "he is denying all allegations."
But now, five months after Aisha says she summoned the courage to call 911, one alleged threat has come true.
Sponsorship application withdrawn by husband
In August, support workers tried to get provincial services such as food and housing for Aisha and her children. They were told she was not eligible to apply because her husband had cancelled her sponsorship application.
Since then, Aisha has relied on the food bank and the kindness of strangers for donations and temporary housing. She cannot work and access to medical care is limited.
"I feel hopeless. I feel alone. I feel like I have no rights," said Aisha tearfully.
She said she's adding she is considering returning to her husband.
"Because I don't want to lose my kids. If I have to go back (to Africa), they go back to him. If I die the government will be responsible for this."
Aisha wed her husband in 2009 in an arranged marriage. At the time, she was living in the United States, after a relative sponsored her from east Africa.
She said the abuse started when she was eight months pregnant with their first child.
In a sworn affidavit for an emergency protection order granted in July, Aisha described one incident where her husband allegedly punched and choked her while the children watched. She said he showed her a knife and told her he could kill her at any time but "nobody will find your body."
She said he then redirected his slaps and fists at their three-year-old daughter, pulling her into the air by her hair and dropping her on the floor and punching her older son when he tried to intervene.
Aisha said her husband refused to take their daughter to the hospital. She could not call police because he had the phone.
Instead, she said, she grabbed the children, ran into the bathroom and locked the door. She said they stayed there for five hours, the children asleep in her lap as she wept.
Aisha said a visit from police in February last year, prompted by neighbours who heard yelling in the home, resulted in officers suggesting her husband take a walk around the block to cool off.
Afterwards, she said her husband told her: "See what did I tell you? Nobody's going to help you." He noted he was a Canadian citizen and suggested everyone was on his side.
Husband denies abuse
In legal documents responding to the emergency protection order application, Aisha's husband said he has never been physically or verbally abusive to his wife or children, or threatened them. He said he has never possessed or physically touched a gun.
In June, when his wife called 911 and police took his family to a shelter, he said it was a "staged event" and an attempt to "abuse the legal system."
Family advocate Habiba Abdulle said in cases of domestic abuse involving newcomers, it is common for husbands to try and control them by threatening to withdraw support in their bid to become permanent residents.
But what shocks her about Aisha's case is that his threats have come true to withdraw his sponsorship application and leave her and the children stranded.
"That's going to send a message to other women who are trying to leave. It's going to confirm their fear that these abusive husbands are able to take their status away from them," said Abdulle, noting once that happens they can no longer work or obtain benefits needed to care for their children.
"That means women only have two choices -- they have to either stay with the abuse or they have to completely give up their children."
Good arguments for staying in country: lawyer
The province responded immediately after being contacted about the case by CBC earlier this week.
Staff at the Human Services ministry are now looking for living accommodations for Aisha and her children. They have also requested a meeting with Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) to "explore options for expediting her request for status" which would allow her to work and to access more provincial and federal services.
"Nobody should have to live in fear of violence, and we will be working to find solutions that keep this individual and her children together and safe," Aileen Machell, press secretary for Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir, wrote in an email to CBC.
But ultimately the issue of Aisha's status to remain in the country legally is a federal responsibility, Machell said.
Immigration lawyer Brian Kwan said in Aisha's case, several positive factors weigh in favour of allowing her to stay in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
They include the fact that her children are Canadian citizens, and she would potentially be deported to a place where she would face extreme hardship.
CIC has not yet responded to CBC's request for comment.