It's International Women's Day and few appreciate a woman's role in the family today like Ian Wilkie.
The Mountain resident and his three children are anxiously waiting on the fate of Wafaa Abdou, his wife of 12 years who is awaiting deportation in a Rexdale correctional facility. She is also the subject of an information picket in Hamilton at 4 p.m. outside the the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) office on Bay Street North.
The family fled Syria's civil war nearly two years ago, starting a tangle with the federal government that Wilkie says exposes the heartlessness of Canada's new immigration laws.
When the family arrived in June 2011, Wilke was certain his Egyptian-born wife would be welcomed in Canada. Now the east-end native says he feels "powerless and guilty."
"All the years I spent in my wife's country and abroad, I was always treated very well," he said. "To bring my wife home and to have this happen to her is shameful. I try to tell the kids 'this isn't the Canada I know.'"
Their story starts in 2000, when Wilkie was working as an English teacher in Egypt. Abdou was his next-door neighbour. They fell in love and married in 2001. Following Wilke's work, the family moved to Jordan and eventually Damascus, where they lived until June 2011.
The family fled when Wilke's employer warned him to leave, and the neighbourhood had become nearly unlivable anyway. Gunfire was common, as was hostility toward westerners. On two occasions, he drove through violent fire fights to get to work. They left with some hastily packed suitcases and the clothes they were wearing.
Friends of the Wilkie Family information picket
Where: Citizenship and Immigration office at the federal building, 55 Bay St. N.
When: Friday, March 8 from 4 to 5 p.m.Other International Women's Day events
"We were worried we wouldn't get out right up until the time we got on the plane and it took off," he said.
When they arrived in Canada, they went to the Citizenship and Immigration office in Hamilton. There, Wilke said, he was told that he didn't make enough to sponsor his wife and children. The worker advised Abdou to apply for refugee status, he said.
That resulted in what he describes as months of intimidation. Abdou was regularly questioned, as were members of their family. A routine appointment on Jan. 14 took an unexpected turn, he said, where she was interrogated and told her claim had been denied.
At a tribunal hearing two days later, she was deemed a flight risk and incarcerated, and has been ever since. Throughout the ordeal, she has been questioned without her lawyer and stripped of her head-scarf and down to her undergarments on several occasions, Wilke said. She signed a document allowing her to leave the country on Feb. 15, which he says she did under the promise that she'd be able to keep her children.
Staff in MP David Christopherson's office stalled the deportation by pointing out that the necessary paperwork was missing. Christopherson is still involved in the case.
"We are pleased that Ms. Abdou's removal has been stayed, and we are hopeful that Ms. Abdou will have the full opportunity to make her case to remain in Canada at the hearing scheduled for March 20," Christopherson said in a statement Thursday.
Decisions are 'fair and impartial'
Citizenship and Immigration officials can't comment on specific cases before the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), said Erika-Kirsten Easton, director of ministerial events and media relations, in an email to CBC Hamilton on Thursday.
But as for the notion of Abdou being erroneously advised to file for refugee status, the department "does not offer immigration advice of the kind you suggest," she said.
Canada's refugee system, Easton said, is "one of the fairest refugee systems in the world. Decisions regarding who is granted refugee status are made "only after a thorough review," she said. "Due process is diligently followed at every step."
And unless a spouse sponsors an immigrant, the government does not give more weight to someone married to a Canadian, she said.
"(Citizenship and Immigration Canada) considers all applications in a fair and impartial manner according to Canada's immigration laws and based on the facts of the case."
New laws work faster
In 2012, Canada passed the Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act, which brought changes to the asylum system. It works faster now, with claimants from a country such as Egypt receiving hearings within 60 days of the claim being referred to the IRB.
"This means that those who need Canada's protection will get it faster, while those who don't will be sent home faster," Easton said.
Wilkie doesn't want his wife to be the latter. These weeks without her have made the family fully realize her importance, he said.
"I understand how difficult it is to do what my wife does easily," he said. "To get those kids up, to get them clean, to cutting their nails, to dressing them, to making the lunches. The kiss on the cheek. The pat on the head. The compassion. She's irreplaceable."