Canada grants temporary visas to family of asylum seeker with Stage 4 cancer

Taha El Taha crossed the border into Quebec last year, and is now set to be treated for colorectal cancer with the support of his wife and children.

Taha El Taha learned he was terminally ill after crossing from New York to Canada in December

Taha El Taha's family will be nearby when he undergoes emergency surgery on Wednesday to treat his colorectal cancer, which has spread to his thorax. (Rami Alsaqqa)

Read Story Transcript

Taha El Taha crossed the border into Quebec last year, and is now set to be treated for colorectal cancer with the support of his wife and children.

Taha's wife and children, 3 and 7, will arrive in Montreal on Monday, two days ahead of his scheduled surgery.

"Taha's family will finally be able to be united with Taha to stay beside him during his treatment. and foremost, to see him before he undergoes an extremely critical and invasive operation," immigration consultant Rami Alsaqqa said in a statement.

"We were extremely happy to receive the good news."

Taha said he talks to his wife on the phone every night. The couple will be reunited on Monday. (Rami Alsaqqa)

Taha, a stateless Palestinian who fled Hezbollah in Lebanon last year, was diagnosed with colorectal cancer days after crossing the border from New York to Quebec in December.

His family was initially denied temporary visas to travel to be with Taha during his treatment, as they could not prove they could financially support themselves while in Canada, or that they would return to Lebanon when their visas expired.

"I am alone. There is no family, no friends for me here," Taha, 36, told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann during an emotional interview in early May.

"We pray every night that we can see each other and be a family together again."

Taha El Taha's doctors say the best thing for his health would be to have his family by his side — but Canada has denied their visitor's visa application. 7:32

Taha's doctors and attorney appealed directly to Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, who has the discretion to issue temporary resident permits to any inadmissible foreign national if it is deemed "justified in the circumstances."

The family learned Saturday that their request was approved.

A spokesperson for the minister's office said individual cases can't be discussed.

Reaction from Canadians 

Taha's story left an impact on CBC readers and listeners.

After his interview with As It Happens aired in May, several people wrote in to express their support for the refugee claimant, and one Montrealer offered to be his friend and provide companionship during his treatment.

"Thanks to the tens of thousands of Canadian who stood beside Taha by showing their sympathy and support, and to everyone who supported us during these critical times," Alsaqqa's statement reads.

Taha's two children have been granted temporary visas to Canada to be with their father as he undergoes cancer treatment. (Rami Alsaqqa)

His story has also drawn the ire of those who worry about the stress that border jumping puts on Canadian services. 

In 2017, RCMP officers apprehended 20,593 asylum seekers between official border checkpoints. More than 90 per cent of those crossings happened in Quebec.

The federal government had a backlog of 48,974 refugee claims in in March alone, according to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada website.

The Toronto Sun's Mark Bonokoski decried Taha for what he characterized as jumping the queue to receive medical treatment.

"His story, while tragic, highlights the profoundly problematic nature of the Trudeau Liberal government's open door policy toward refugee claimants," Bonokoski wrote.

Reached by As It Happens on Monday, Taha declined to do another on-air interview, but expressed his gratitude to the Canadians who have supported him during this difficult time. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Kevin Robertson.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.