After toiling in Quebec's long-term care homes, a migrant from Ivory Coast faces deportation
Mamadou Konaté's lawyer says Canada won't process his client's refugee claim because of obscure, arbitrary law
Mamadou Konaté has only lived in Quebec for four years, but he's worked in parts of this province many Quebecers have never set foot in.
"Saint-Michel-des-Saints, Trois-Rivières, Gaspésie, William, Beaupré, Sherbrooke."
Konaté has felled trees for Hydro-Québec, sorted trash in waste management centres, and, most recently, tended to and cleaned the rooms of COVID-positive patients at three long-term care homes. He caught the disease in late April while doing so.
But even though the province brokered a deal with the federal government to guarantee residency for many of the asylum seekers who laboured in Quebec's beleaguered long-term care homes, Konaté faces deportation as soon as flights to Ivory Coast are once again allowed.
"It's really unfair. The UN is trying to get people out of there and [Canada] wants to send me back," said Konaté, who was recently released from an immigration detention centre on a $7,000 caution and a set of conditions that forbids him from working.
He was detained after he and his lawyer tried to apply for a stay of deportation and residency on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
Before that, Konaté had gone underground. His first refugee application was found "inadmissible" because of an obscure section of the Canadian Immigration Act, stating that anyone who participated in the overthrowing of a government cannot seek residency in Canada.
"It's basically the clause under which we would make Nelson Mandela inadmissible," said Stewart Istvanffy, the human rights lawyer who's taken on Konaté's case.
"Anybody who joins the resistance against the Nazis would be inadmissible to Canada under this clause of our law. It's a crazy clause. In a democratic country, we shouldn't have it but it's there in the law."
Istvanffy has filed a request for the federal government to waive Konaté's inadmissibility, as well as a writ to try to force the government to make a decision quickly in his case. He has also applied for a temporary resident permit for Konaté.
"He was the first face that some of the people in the CHSLD would see in the morning, with smile on his face. He was helping people," Istvanffy said.
"I think the work he's done should be recognized and he should be accepted here in Canada."
Istvanffy says Konaté, who is 39, was once a member of Les Forces nouvelles de Côte d'Ivoire (FNCI) rebel group — formed in 2002, in the wake of the country's civil war.
Istvanffy says his client fled Ivory Coast a couple of years later and at times required protection from the Red Cross and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. He was a refugee in Nigeria and Liberia for years before coming to Canada in early 2016.
Another advocate for Konaté, Philippe Desmarais, says Konaté had little choice as a young man but to join the group. Another member of the forces, Guillaume Soro, went on to become the country's prime minister from 2007 to 2012.
Desmarais says Konaté's case is unfair to him and is emblematic of the hardships asylum seekers in Canada face, as well as their often unrecognized contributions to society.
Desmarais says Quebec Immigration Minister Nadine Girault could use the province's selection power in immigration to ask the federal government to allow Konaté to stay in Quebec.
But a spokesperson for Girault, Flore Bouchon, says a selection certificate can't be submitted by Quebec while Konaté's case is still under reviews by the federal government.
"We are sensitive to Mr. Konaté's situation," Bouchon said, in an emailed statement. "We continue to follow his case. The minister's cabinet is in touch with her colleagues at the federal government."
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the co-spokesperson of the Québec Solidaire opposition party, joined a rally after Konaté was detained in September.
He told the crowd he had urged Girault to put pressure on the federal government to give Konaté residency.
"Despite all the steps taken in his case, a solid application for residency on humanitarian grounds, his resilience, his patience, his hard work in long-term care homes throughout the pandemic, and evidence he was a prisoner during a war in his country, Mamadou Konaté is detained," Nadeau-Dubois said, in an impassioned speech.
A spokesperson for Federal Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino did not respond to a request for comment from CBC.
Konaté says he saw Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaking on television one time, saying Canada must help build a better world.
"How can we build a better world when there are immigrants here who have no status? Those people aren't bad people," he said.
"I worked, like everyone else. I integrated into the society. I believe I deserve a place here."