Toronto man who helped save police officer's life in knife attack now faces deportation
‘I’m not a danger to this country,’ says Bonifance Muwonge, who says he fled persecution for being bisexual
A Toronto man who rushed to the aid of a police officer during a knife attack two years ago is facing removal from Canada and pleading for the government to reconsider — saying if he's forced to return to Uganda, he'll face arrest or worse due to his bisexuality.
Bonifance Muwonge, 43, could be deported in a matter of days if no one intervenes, despite helping to save the life of a police officer who had been stabbed in the neck. He'll also likely be called to testify at a possible trial.
CBC News cannot report when and where the stabbing took place, nor provide details of the possible trial, because of a publication ban surrounding the case.
Nevertheless, the situation has left Muwonge questioning how someone who risked his safety for an officer and is willing to help play a role in the judicial process could be forced out of the country.
"They should give me a chance.… If I didn't love this country I wouldn't bother to help the police," Muwonge told CBC News.
"I'm not a danger to this country, I'm not a criminal."
'A person that supports the Canadian ... justice system'
According to a letter from Toronto police corroborating his story, Muwonge was living in the basement of a home at the time, when a resident on an upper floor attacked an officer.
The letter, seen by CBC News, outlines how Muwonge heard the commotion and went upstairs to help, adding the officer has since recovered from his injuries.
You don't sleep.... You have that fear because someone is taking you back where you ran fearing for your life.- Bonifance Muwonge
"Mr. Muwonge has demonstrated to me that he is a person that supports the Canadian criminal justice system, and I would like to make this information known to the person examining his permanent residence request," a Toronto police detective sergeant wrote in the letter.
Muwonge told CBC News he had just come home from working a night shift, and was getting some sleep before going to his second job, when he heard a scuffle.
He says he rushed upstairs and saw an officer bleeding from the neck as another officer yelled for Muwonge to get a towel. He ran back to get one and then applied pressure to the wound, before the officer was rushed to hospital.
At the time of the stabbing, Muwonge had been in Canada for about three years, having fled from Uganda, where he says he faced persecution for being bisexual.
According to a 2021 report by Amnesty International, the east African country's penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex conduct, and members of the community frequently face violence and arbitrary arrest.
Charged with 'illegal sex activities'
Muwonge says that discrimination is what prompted him to flee the country in 2018 and seek asylum in Canada.
In a submission to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), his lawyer wrote that Muwonge was a "zealous" advocate for the LGBTQ community in Uganda and was charged with "illegal sex activities" and "membership in notorious same-sex groups," among other such charges, when he fled.
Still, his refugee claim was denied in 2021. Canadian immigration officials alleged his documents were forged. Muwonge appealed the decision, only to be given the same answer. He tried again through a federal court review, but to no avail.
Then, last December, Muwonge filed a humanitarian and compassionate application, which can take an average of 26 months to process, according to the federal government.
"Because Mr. Muwonge resisted and later escaped his tormentors to come to Canada, there are existing contempt of court charges against him in Uganda," his application says. "His potential return will trigger dire consequences as a result of these charges."
The IRCC acknowledged receipt of Muwonge's application earlier this month. Nevertheless, he was told to report to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and buy a ticket back to Uganda.
Muwonge and his lawyer say they pleaded for the CBSA to reconsider, providing them with the letter from police as well as a letter from the Ministry of the Attorney General indicating Muwonge may be needed for a possible trial.
No sign of whether CBSA will intervene
The CBSA indicated it would review the situation, but there's been no word back so far, Muwonge and his lawyer say
Asked about Muwonge's situation, the agency said it does not comment on specific cases. That's despite CBC News submitting a CBSA consent waiver signed by Muwonge authorizing the agency to share details about his case.
"We can tell you that the CBSA has a legal obligation to remove all foreign nationals and permanent residents that are inadmissible to Canada under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act," the agency said in a statement, adding it "only actions a removal order once all legal avenues of recourse have been exhausted."
A humanitarian and compassionate grounds application does not automatically stop a deportation, the CBSA added.
As for whether the agency would halt a deportation for someone expected to be required for an upcoming trial, the agency told CBC News in such situations the CBSA would speak with the "appropriate stakeholders" to determine if there are grounds for a statutory stay.
Status 'not a gift for services rendered': advocate
But it shouldn't take an act of heroism to be granted status in this country, argues Syed Hussan, executive director of the advocacy group Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.
"Permanent residence status is not a gift for services rendered," he told CBC News. "You don't have to have actually stopped a cop from being killed for you to just have immigration status."
Hussan says Muwonge is one of half a million people in Canada living undocumented, paying taxes, contributing to their communities, who live under daily threat of arrest and deportation.
"If you are a father or a mom and you're dropping your child to school, you're taking a risk. If you're taking transit, you're taking a risk. If you go to work to feed yourself and your family, you're taking a risk," he said. "Immigration enforcement treats these people who have been denied status by the federal government as criminals."
That's despite a 2021 mandate given by Prime Minister Trudeau to the immigration minister to "further explore ways of regularizing status for undocumented workers who are contributing to Canadian economies."
CBC News has previously reported that this work is underway; however, for Muwonge and others, the wait means they could be deported even as a policy is in the works that could keep them here.
"It's completely irrational," said Hussan.
With parliament expected to sit only until May 31, Hussan says it's critical that the Trudeau government deliver on its promise by the end of this session.
Meanwhile, for Muwonge, the threat of deportation looms with each passing hour.
"You don't sleep," he said. "You don't plan for the future."
"You have that fear because someone is taking you back where you ran fearing for your life."
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.
With files from Patrick Swadden