Thursday, June 7, 2007

Deportation ruling deems Lebanon safe

By Don Lajoie, Windsor Star
Published: Tuesday, June 05, 2007

"Look, this is Lebanon, look," said Abdu Madi, as he pointed at the scene unfolding on television, where crouching militants fired AK-47s and grenade launchers from behind a broken wall.

"Every day is like this," the father of two small children added, the firefight footage dissolving into a scene of smoke rising from a burning building as civilians scattered for safety. Even from the security of his Reginald Street living room, surrounded by family, Madi could not hide his distress.

"My God, my God. I can't take my family there."

But Madi's family does risk returning to Lebanon, where the threat of civil war is real, because he and his wife are scheduled to be deported June 18 following denial of an application for refugee status by Immigration and Citizenship Canada.

They were informed their application was denied after it was determined they would not be at risk if returned to Lebanon. But that ruling came just days before last year's July 12, Israeli invasion of Lebanon, said immigration lawyer Maria Fernandes.

That conflict was followed by a year of rising tension and violence culminating in the current fighting between the Lebanese army and Islamist militants, now threatening to degenerate into all-out warfare. The circumstances, said Fernandes, have obviously changed.

Nevertheless, Madi and wife Lucie have been ordered to report to Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers at the Windsor-Detroit tunnel to return to the U.S., where they launched their bid for refugee status more than two years ago. From there, they face removal to Lebanon.

Fernandes said the family has been granted the right to have a second pre-removal risk assessment carried out. But chances of that being completed and ruled upon before the deportation order takes effect are remote. In the absence of a ruling, they must leave or face prosecution.

Fernandes said the only legal recourse would be to file an application to Federal Court to stay the removal order pending the second assessment's finding. But Madi has paid more than $20,000 in legal fees and, speaking from his sparsely furnished housing unit, added he cannot afford more.

"They say $4,000," said Madi. "We can't afford it."

Fernandes said the family has a strong case, considering their one-year-old son was born in Canada and it cannot be denied that instability in Lebanon presents a new danger to them.

Madi was not politically active in Lebanon. But his neighbourhood was controlled by Islamist Hezbollah militants and he ran afoul of one of the guerrillas as the result of a traffic incident. He said the militant discovered Madi was from the Christian minority and told him "your Jesus doesn't control things here, we do."

He said he and his extended family were subjected to beatings, armed intimidation and harrassment. They left possessions behind and fled, first to the U.S., then to Canada.

Madi has been working at two full-time jobs, never taking government handouts and literally giving blood to the community by donating regularly.

"We adapted to Canada, paid taxes," Madi said. "This is a safe country, supposed to be humanitarian. What fault (do we have) to kick us out?"

Victoria Totten, spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, would not speak specifically about the case but said the Immigration and Refugee Board process has no appeal mechanism. Decisions are final. But, she added, a second risk assessment may be done, provided it's based on new information.

"You can't make the same case twice." she said. "But an officer would consider new information where a second request for protection is applied for."