Montreal

Saudi man fears being separated from family as deportation looms

A Saudi man is pleading with authorities to let him stay in Canada, two days before he is supposed to be deported back to his country where he fears he will be tortured and possibly killed.

Man being held in Laval detention centre as he awaits federal court hearing

A guard stands outside the gates of an immigrant holding centre in Laval, Que., where Omar is being held. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

A Saudi man is pleading with authorities to let him stay in Canada, two days before he is supposed to be deported back to his country where he fears he will be tortured and possibly killed.

Omar has been barred from claiming asylum here but he doesn't want to be forced to leave his wife, who he said has been exhibiting signs of depression, and his young sons, who are four and seven.

"She barely can take care of herself, how can she take care of two kids?" he said from the immigration detention centre in Laval, Que., where he's being held.

"If I am removed from Canada, a whole family will collapse."

CBC News is withholding his real name due to his concern for the safety of family members who are still in Saudi Arabia.

Omar's team of lawyers have sent a request to the United Nations to intervene on his behalf.

He has a telephone hearing Tuesday morning with a Federal Court judge. He is trying to get his removal stayed and a decision is expected later in the day.

"Maybe in 24 hours, things will change. This is the last hope for me."

He is slated to be deported Wednesday, Aug. 8.

Reached on Monday, a holiday in Ontario, the Immigration and Refugee Board said it would call back Tuesday.

A request for comment to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) was not returned.

Critical comments draw scrutiny

Omar says last year, while chatting with colleagues at work, he made a comment that was critical of the conflict in Yemen.

He didn't know one of his colleagues was working with a Saudi intelligence agency. Once flagged to the agency, Omar's comments drew scrutiny.

He was told he would need to act as an informant as well. Wanting to flee the country, he applied and was accepted for a student visa and came to Canada in the spring of 2017. Weeks later, he filed an asylum claim.

His plan was to bring his wife and children to Canada once the claim was accepted. But while he was waiting for his claim to be processed, his wife was arrested and detained for three days.

Fearing for the safety of his family, he decided to return to Saudi Arabia. But in order to do so, he had to withdraw his asylum claim so he could get his passport back.

His plan was to eventually return to Canada with his family and file an asylum claim together.

Omar and his family entered Canada at the Roxham Road crossing, which has become a busy point of entry for asylums seekers. (Aaron Lakoff / David Zinman)

Earlier this year, the family escaped Saudi Arabia and flew to the U.S. This past spring, the four of them crossed into Quebec illegally at Roxham Road.

But while his wife and sons were allowed to file their asylum claims, he was told he was ineligible because he had filed a claim before and then withdrawn it.

Out of chances

The Canada Border Services Agency informed him that he would be able to apply for a pre-removal risk assessment (PRRA), which allows people facing removal from Canada to seek protection by describing the risks they believe they would face if they are deported.

But during a subsequent hearing with the CBSA, he was told the information was erroneous because it hadn't been a full year since he withdrew the first asylum claim.

He was then told he would be deported.

Omar has been detained in Laval since July 26 because authorities believe he is considered a flight risk.

Documents from the CBSA, obtained by CBC News, say that Omar did not seem like someone who is afraid for his safety in Saudi Arabia because he had chosen to return.

Omar said the Saudi intelligence agency has given him two chances to cooperate with them, and if he returns, he doesn't believe they will be lenient.

And now, with rising diplomatic tensions between Canada and Saudi Arabia, he fears the punishment will be worse.

"You betrayed your country and escaped to one of the countries we have bad relations with, like Canada. There is no chance for you to breathe, no chance for you to ask for a third chance."

On top of his personal security issues, Omar is a Shia Muslim, the minority in Saudi Arabia. He is from the Qatif region of the country, where Saudi forces have been cracking down on the Shia minority.

Stéphanie Valois, one of Omar's lawyers, says if the CBSA had chosen to review Omar's pre-removal risk assessment, they would have found that he has serious reasons for withdrawing his first asylum claim, and for not wanting to return to his country of origin.

She said it is problematic that Canada is considering deporting him without having evaluated his file.

"Canada has recognized Saudi Arabia as being a country that violates human rights, and Canada is claiming to be a country that respects refugees and human rights, so it doesn't make much sense," she said.

With files from CBC's Matt D'Amours