Leamington, Ont. migrant worker receives last-minute deportation reprieve

Gina Bahiwal, a champion for migrant worker rights, was expecting to be sent back to the Philippines on Sunday, but learned Friday that her deportation order had been cancelled.

Gina Bahiwal had her bags packed to return to the Philippines when she learned she could stay in Canada

Gina Bahiwal, a migrant worker activist from Leamington, was supposed to be deported on Sunday, but on Friday morning she received word last-minute that her deportation had been cancelled. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

A Leamington, Ont. migrant worker had her bags packed in anticipation of her impending deportation this Sunday when she learned it had been cancelled at the last minute.

Gina Bahiwal came to Canada from the Philippines in 2008 under the Temporary Foreign Workers Program and worked packing vegetables, as a housekeeper and in the fast food industry.

The 42-year-old was supposed to be sent back to her country of origin under a now-revoked 2012 rule that barred foreign workers from Canada after they had spent four years in the country, but on Friday morning Bahiwal received an email from her lawyer, Richard Wazana, explaining that her deportation order had been cancelled.

"I was so happy," said Bahiwal. "The first thing that came into my mind was that it's a victory for everyone, for all of my supporters and for all of the migrant workers." 

When news of Bahiwal's deportation broke, hundreds of people across the country wrote letters calling for it to be cancelled, said Wazana.

Known as a champion for foreign workers, Bahiwal is a vocal advocate for migrant worker rights and appeared in a documentary called The End of Immigration. She also spoke about their cause on Parliament Hill and helped organize the J4MW Pilgrimage to Freedom in 2011 —  a 50 kilometre walk from Leamington to Windsor, Ont.

"I'm relieved that reason has prevailed and that the government has decided against deporting a champion of migrant worker rights who fought hard to overturn a law that she herself was a victim of," said Wazana. "The optics of removing such a community leader were not good."

One-year resident permit granted

In an email to CBC the Canada Border Service Agency declined to comment on Bahiwal's case, stating they won't "confirm or deny the removal of any individual."

But according to Wazana, Bahiwal has been granted a one-year temporary resident permit from the Department of Immigration that will allow her to stay and work in the country while an outstanding humanitarian application for her permanent residency works its way through the system.

On Friday night Bahiwal planned to celebrate by hosting a simple dinner with friends before she gets back to the battle.

"The fight is not over yet," she said. "Myself and the other workers are going to continue to organize and to fight against the injustices of our immigration where we are tied to a single employer."