United Nations requests Ottawa stop deportation of Saudi man

Hours before he was set to be deported Wednesday morning, the United Nations stepped in and asked the Canadian government not to expel a Saudi Arabian man to his home country.

Asylum seeker held in Quebec detention facility was slated for deportation Wednesday morning

The wife of a Saudi man, whose deportation was halted by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, says she is relieved but still fearful about what could happen to her husband. (Charles Contant/CBC)

Hours before he was set to be deported Wednesday morning, a United Nations committee stepped in and asked the Canadian government not to expel a Saudi Arabian man to his home country.

The man CBC is calling Omar had been held at a Laval, Que., detention facility since July 26 pending his deportation, which was scheduled for Wednesday morning, but which did not take place.

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

One of his lawyers, Anne Castagner, has confirmed that Omar was not on the 7:30 a.m. ET flight set to leave Canada, but that he is now in hospital, though it's unclear why.

"The fact that it had to go up to the UN, for us, is a total waste of Canadian money, a total waste of resources and of time for everybody," Castagner told CBC News.

A Federal Court judge denied a stay of removal Tuesday afternoon on the grounds that Omar had withdrawn an asylum request in Canada last year.

Castagner said that considering the current foreign relations breakdown between Saudi Arabia and Canada, as well as Saudi Arabia's human rights record, the judge's decision was "absurd."

Omar and his family are Shia Muslims, a religious minority which has been persecuted in the country.

Wife still fearful

His wife, whose identity CBC is also protecting, said she spoke to her husband, who told her he felt "reborn" because he hadn't been deported this morning. 

"I heard his voice and I felt better," she said in an interview from the family's small apartment. 

Arriving in Canada in the spring had brought the family hope that they could build a life with peace of mind, she said.

They hung a Canadian flag in the living room and for the first time in years, she began painting again. 

Still, Omar's wife said, "I'm really scared because at the beginning I had hope and it was broken."

Omar's wife says she will only feel truly happy when she can see her husband again. (Charles Contant/CBC)

Omar told CBC that he applied for asylum the first time due to concerns for his safety in Saudi Arabia, but had to return abruptly when his wife was arrested and detained for three days.

​He then came back to Canada with his wife and two young sons, who were able to file asylum claims and therefore have not been at risk of deportation.

Canada typically respects UN requests

The United Nations' body that asked Canada to halt the deportation while it reviewed Omar's case is the Human Rights Committee, a group of independent experts who make sure member countries respect the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

In a letter sent to Omar's lawyers, the committee says it asked the federal government not to send him back to Saudi Arabia until it has examined his case.

"The UN has no binding power over Canada, of course, but they do ask Canada to respect their decisions," said Stéphanie Valois, another lawyer representing Omar, in an interview with CBC Montreal's Daybreak on Wednesday morning.

"And in the last years, we've seen that Canada has respected the requests from the UN."

The man known as Omar has been held at the immigrant holding centre in Laval, Que., since July 26. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Omar and his family flew to Chicago before crossing into Canada at Roxham Road in the spring.

The family filed asylum claims, but Omar's was rejected outright because he had withdrawn his previous claim to go and get his wife and children in Saudi Arabia before returning to Canada with them.

In his decision filed Tuesday, upholding the deportation order, Federal Court Judge Roger Lafrenière said Canadian law states refugee claimants are not allowed to file another claim once they withdraw.

Lafrenière said Omar didn't provide any documentation to back up his claim that he would be in danger should he return to Saudi Arabia.


  • An earlier version of this story said the UN high commissioner for human rights was advocating for the stop in deportation. In fact, it was the UN Human Rights Committee.
    Aug 08, 2018 10:50 AM ET

With files from Matt D'Amours and CBC Montreal's Daybreak