Arranged marriage breaks down at Toronto airport

A Toronto man who allegedly rejected his Pakistani bride at Pearson Airport claims he wanted a divorce and told his wife to stay home.

Pakistani bride says she was stood up at Pearson; groom says he told her not to come

Owais Qurni and Aisha Noor were wed in 2009 during an arranged marriage in Peshawar, Pakistan. (CBC)

A Toronto man who allegedly rejected his Pakistani bride at Pearson Airport says he wanted a divorce and told his wife to stay home.

The woman, Aisha Noor, says her husband, Owais Qurni, told her he was excited about their reunion and didn't learn he was backing away until she had landed.

Aisha Noor says her Pashtun culture will stigmatize her if she returns to Pakistan divorced. (CBC)

"I have been crying since I came to Canada," said the 23-year-old, who says she is speaking to highlight the issue of so-called abandoned brides.

Immigration officials have given Noor until Sunday to leave the country.

Qurni and Noor were married in August 2009 during an arranged marriage in Peshawar, Pakistan.

In an email to CBC News, Qurni, 22, said the marriage was never consummated and had only been held to start the immigration process. Noor's visa was issued in January, but Qurni had second thoughts, he wrote.

Conflicting stories

He says he told Noor before she arrived March 4 that the marriage would be a failure because there was no chemistry between them and that they didn't share any interests.

"I decided to back off from this wedding before it was too late and both our lives were further ruined," he wrote. He says he sent the application to withdraw his sponsorship to Noor's father last month.

Qurni says he had no idea Noor was flying to Canada.

"I did not find out that she had landed in Canada until an immigration official contacted me on the phone and confirmed my cancellation of sponsorship, which I confirmed," he wrote. "It was after that that Miss Aisha Noor decided to call me from the airport and asked me to pick her up. This was shocking for me because I advised her against coming because I was not willing to go ahead with preparations anymore."

Noor claims that's not what happened. She says he told her he loved her and couldn't wait for her to arrive.

"His emails, his video chat, I still remember," she said. "That was all fake."

Noor also accuses Qurni of withdrawing her immigration sponsorship because her family refused to pay thousands of dollars. Qurni says those allegations are "completely false."  

Couple have not met in Canada

Qurni refuses to see Noor. She says she was never served with divorce papers and can't understand his behaviour.

Noor hopes to stay in Canada because she says she'll be stigmatized in their Pashtun culture if she's forced to go back to Pakistan after a divorce. Qurni admits that divorced women are stigmatized in Pakistan, but says it would be worse for Noor if the marriage had been consummated.

"In that regard her life was not ruined because we had no physical contact whatsoever," he said. Qurni said he only went along with the marriage out of respect for his parents and wants to marry somebody he loves.

Noor hopes that immigration officials will allow her to remain in Canada on compassionate grounds. It can take years for a spouse to be sponsored, but sponsorship can be cancelled in just days, sometimes with just a phone call. Critics say it leaves young brides open to extortion and blackmail.

Shalini Konanur, executive director of the South Asian Legal clinic, said it's up to Canadians "to decide whether we value these women enough even though they're not Canadians, and that we value women in general internationally." 

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said all spouses should check on their sponsorship status before getting on a plane to Canada.