The Canadian government has done an about-face and agreed to waive thousands of dollars in fees for a family that was deported to Libya where the father was imprisoned and tortured.
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander made the decision this week on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
“In this extraordinary case, the [Citizenship and Immigration Canada] fee has been waived,” Kevin Menard, a spokesman for the minister, wrote in an email to CBC News on Thursday.
Adel and Aisha Benhmuda were given the good news in a phone call from their lawyer, Andrew Brouwer, who got the notice from the Canadian Embassy in Paris.
“I spoke with the family very early this morning [Thursday] when I got the email from Paris. Of course they were very, very delighted and relieved,” he told CBC News.
Last month the family had been told they would have to pay $6,800 to cover the cost of deporting them to Libya in the first place.
“They have been riding a roller-coaster for the past three or four years but this last roadblock, after so many barriers, to be hit with this new demand to be paid by the end of December?” he said. “We were just very pleased that the minister has done the right thing and decided to waive the fees. It was really unconscionable to be asking them to pay this in the first place.”
Visa officer biased, judge rules
Adel Benhmuda and his family fled Libya in 2000 and settled in Mississauga, Ont. Adel said the family was in danger and faced persecution because his brother was linked to a group opposed to the regime of then dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Their two youngest children, Adam and Omar, were born in Canada. But the family’s refugee claim was turned down when it was finally heard years later, and the family was deported in 2008.
Upon his return to Libya, Adel Benhmuda was immediately imprisoned and tortured by Gadhafi’s officials. He was later released and the family fled to a refugee camp in Malta, where the UN High Commission for Refugees declared the family to be legitimate refugees. It asked Canada to take them back.
But a visa officer at the Canadian Embassy in Rome rejected that, alleging the family had been a welfare drain after arriving in Canada. That was not the case.
In a scathing ruling a year ago, a federal judge ruled the visa officer was biased and had placed erroneous information in their file. She ordered the case be sent to another visa post.
It was sent to the Canadian Embassy in Paris, where visa officials accepted the family’s application earlier this year. But it took months for the family to wade through the federal bureaucracy and have their visas granted.
Then the family were told they would have to pay to cover the cost of deporting them to Libya in 2008.
Petition garners 6,000 signatures
Brouwer called the request “outrageous," saying the family have been living hand-to-mouth in Malta where the parents have been unable to work and could not afford the fees.
Last week, a petition urging the government to waive the fee generated more than 6,000 signatures in two days.
“I was contacted by a number of individuals who were so moved by their story that they offered to pay the fee if the government refused to rescind it,” Brouwer said.
People who are deported from Canada and then readmitted can legally be forced to pay the government for the cost of deporting them.
“In a case where someone has been deported to torture, asking them to repay the cost of that deportation to torture, that is what shocked us,” Brouwer said. “Really it is Canadian officials who put this family at risk. We can’t demand that they repay that cost.”
Brouwer said the minister’s decision to now waive that fee on compassionate and humanitarian grounds now opens the door to their quick return.
“If all goes well, I should probably meet them in Toronto face-to-face in about three to four weeks,” Brouwer said.
The Benhmuda family have maintained strong ties in Canada, especially with the children’s teachers and school friends. As well, Adel’s former employer continues to hold open his old job for when he returns.