Manitoba

Winnipeg-Venezuelan family elated after deportation lifted

A Venezuelan family in Winnipeg facing deportation was saved at the last moment from being forced to leave.

Bonito family says CBSA, Liberal MP notified them they don't have to leave Winnipeg for time being

Luiz Bonito, his daughter, Ana Sofia Rodrigues Suarez, and wife, Sandra Suarez de Rodrigues, were facing deportation from Winnipeg in the New Year, but that has changed for the time being. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

A Venezuelan family in Winnipeg facing deportation was saved at the last moment from being forced to leave.

Luiz Antonio Rodrigues Bonito and his family had their plane tickets purchased, their bags packed and they were prepared to leave Manitoba for Portugal Monday morning, about two months after being served a deportation notice.

Heading back to Venezuela wasn't an option due to the ongoing civil unrest and safety concerns in the country.

But over the long weekend, Luiz said Canada Border Services Agency and the offices of Liberal MP Doug Eyolfson called him separately to say the order had been lifted.

Luiz, his daughter Ana Sofia Rodrigues Suarez, wife Sandra Suarez de Rodrigues and sister Cristina Rodrigues Bonito were skeptical at first and didn't know what to think — maybe it was a cruel joke.

Subsequent conversations with CBSA and Eyolfson's assistant made him realize it was true, said Luiz.

"Ana is very very happy she jumped, she yelled," said Luiz.

"I feel happy, really, really happy because I can go back to school and see my friends and stay with them," said 11-year-old Ana. "I told three … they were really happy and excited."

Cristina, left, planned to leave with her niece Ana, right, despite having herself gained permanent residency in 2014. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

The family was granted a two-year delay and can remain in Winnipeg while their previously-filed humanitarian and compassionate plea to stay is considered, Luiz said.​

Eyolfson confirmed the family can stay for now.

"I'm glad that Mr. Rodrigues Bonito and his family are able remain in Canada," the Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley member of Parliament said in a statement. 

"Due to Canada's privacy laws, we cannot comment any further on specific cases."

The news comes as the federal government has committed $53 million to helping Venezuelan refugees and continues to criticize Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro's government.

Luiz twice had applications from Manitoba's provincial nominee program applications denied due to language test scores, though he claimed there was an administrative mix up and had test scores that suggested he surpassed the minimum threshold.

On Monday, he said he just met with the director of the program who has invited him to re-apply.

​Night of terror

Following a traumatic home invasion and robbery in 2014, the family fled Venezuela for Winnipeg, where Luiz's brother's family has lived since the 1970s.

A group of masked men had broken into their gated yard and Luiz and Cristina woke up with a gun to their heads. The invaders also tied the family up and robbed them.

The incident was traumatizing to all and followed years of worsening economic conditions and food scarcity that spawned an exodus of refugees the United Nations estimates will number over 5 million this year.

Members of the family, including Luiz and Sandra, had also been detained by local forces for participating in anti-government protests and told they would be locked up indefinitely if they were caught again.

Cristina was the first to leave in 2014 when she acquired permanent residency. She came to Manitoba because of the connection to Luiz's older brother.

The rest followed in 2015 on tourist visas.

Luiz said the past few months have been hard on the family. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Luiz's failed attempt to gain residency through the provincial nominee program eventually led him to make a plea to stay on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

That was denied, so his wife Sandra filed for refugee status on behalf of the family, and that too was rejected. 

They were notified in December they would have to leave early in the new year. They weren't allowed to await the results of a review of another humanitarian and compassionate application made in the interest of Ana.

The new order means they can stay until the results of that application are completed, Luiz said. He hopes this time his application through the provincial nominee program ensures they can remain Winnipeggers.

"I don't want to go through this kind of situation again, this is very hard," he said.

Luiz's late father was born in Portugal and helped he and Cristina obtained passports for that country before he died a few years ago. That's where they were planning on moving due to the deportation, though they had no close family ties there.

'New chapter'

Despite being a permanent resident, Cristina was prepared to leave with her brother and his family Monday.

"We are relieved," she said. "The last few months were really stressful for us and I am really, really happy that this is finally over. This is just a new chapter that we are looking forward to go through."

Cristina and Ana pose next to their first Winnipeg snowman in 2016. (Supplied by Bonito family)

Luiz said he will continue on working as a painter and cleaner at a local church.

Ana is also looking forward to growing up as a Winnipegger.

"I love the snow," she said.

Luiz said he was informed he would get formal documentation acknowledging the deportation order has been lifted this week.

About the Author

Bryce Hoye

Reporter

Bryce Hoye is an award-winning journalist and science writer with a background in wildlife biology and interests in courts, social justice, health and more. He is the Prairie rep for OutCBC. Story idea? Email bryce.hoye@cbc.ca.