Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Woman seeks refugee status to protect daughter from genital mutilation in

Globe and Mail
Tuesday, June 5, 2007

MONTREAL - Oumou Touré is 24 and will never forget the genital mutilation she underwent in her African homeland. All she wishes for is that her own Canadian-born daughter be spared.

But the soft-spoken Montreal woman now fears that very threat.

Several humanitarian and children's rights associations have stepped forward to try to block Ms. Touré's imminent deportation, which they say will expose her two-year-old daughter, Fanta, to near-certain mutilation, too.

The groups are publicly calling on Immigration Minister Diane Finley today to suspend deportation measures against Ms. Touré, arguing it would make Canada complicit in what it portrays as an act of barbarity against women.

"We believe the future of the family - in particular this little girl - is in your hands," Heather Macdonald of the United Church of Canada wrote in a letter to Ms. Finley.

The groups say letters of appeal to Ms. Finley have gone unanswered as the clock ticks down to Ms. Touré's removal, scheduled for early next month.

She would be returned to the West African nation of Guinea, where rates of female genital mutilation have been documented at 96 to 99 per cent. In general, the ritual is performed on girls as young as infants, as well as female children and adolescents.

"This is probably the clearest case possible of how persecution will befall someone - an innocent child born in Canada - if they're removed from the country," said Rick Goldman, a lawyer speaking for the Montreal-based Committee to Aid Refugees.

Ms. Touré also faces a dilemma. Because the deportation order is against her, not her daughter, she has the choice of leaving Fanta behind in Canada. But Ms. Touré has no family and is estranged from the child's father.

"It's putting her in an impossible situation," Mr. Goldman said yesterday. "Either she brings her daughter to Guinea and almost certainly risks female mutilation, or leaves her in foster care here in Canada."

The Immigration and Refugee Board has granted refugee status in the past to Guinean mothers on the basis of the risk to their daughters. The board has called genital mutilation a "discriminatory, dangerous" practice in Guinea.

But when Ms. Touré's case was heard in 2004, her daughter wasn't born yet. Her refugee claim was rejected, and the Canadian toddler's welfare was never taken into account.

Ms. Touré is now awaiting an answer on an application on humanitarian and compassionate grounds - her second such application - but Citizenship and Immigration Canada officials won't accelerate her case despite the looming deportation.

Ms. Touré's case and her approaching deadline has rallied various groups, among them Amnesty International, the Quebec Federation of Women and the Montreal-based International Bureau for Children's Rights.

"This child is a Canadian citizen living in Canada. Canada has made a commitment to protect children, and this is a very concrete example where it can act to do so," said Catherine Gauvreau of the children's rights bureau. "[Genital mutilation] is a physical violation that will leave an impact on the girl's health, both physically and mentally, her whole life."

Female genital mutilation, often referred to as "female circumcision," is the term applied to cultural practices that involve the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs. Initial complications range from severe pain and hemorrhage to infections causing death.

Ms. Touré, who also has an infant son, says she cannot stop crying at the thought of her daughter undergoing the procedure. "It hurts me when I think of my daughter going through the same thing I did. And I don't want to be separated from her."

Ms. Finley said through a spokesman that it would be inappropriate to comment on Ms. Touré's case, but added, "I can say that everyone ordered to be removed from Canada is entitled to due process before the law."