Over 444 days trapped in Sanctuary

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Article: Michael Chmielewski – Editor-in-chief [Interim]

Two Nigerian Students from the U of R  face deportation; taking refuge in a Church.

Another welcome week commences at the University of Regina, but two students won’t be joining in on the festivities, and perhaps studies at some point.

Thousands of miles away from home, two Nigerian students wait in sanctuary. Confined to a church somewhere they remain, while they wait as the Canadian bureaucratic process hardly moves to do something. They may be deported from this country, but in the meantime, they’ve been in sanctuary for over 400 days.

On Sept 5th, the date of publication, it’ll be 444 days trapped away from the world. The former University of Regina students first went into hiding June 18th, 2012.

According to the website www.stopURdeportations.com, they were scheduled to be deported on June 19th of 2011. Why are your fellow students being deported? Because in 2011, they worked at Wal-Mart for two weeks. They didn’t have the correct permit: they hadn’t signed up for the then separate work permit. A two-week mistake of working illegally has landed them in these dire straights. Their names are Victoria Sharon Ordu and Ihuoma Favour Amadi.

The two girls at the heart of the issue. /source: Adriana Christianson, CJME

The two girls at the heart of the issue. /source: Adriana Christianson, CJME

Allegedly, one of them found out herself that she may have committed some sort of mistake, so she then quit her job after consulting the UR International office, according to their lawyer, Kay Adeogun, in a Saharatv interview.

Adeogun also goes on to say that the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) later called her, asking if she was working off campus at the time. She said no, but they also asked about the past, so she admitted her transgression to the CBSA, but also told that she had found out herself, and had stopped by herself.

The other girl was still actively working part-time for a few weeks, and was then arrested.

In a blog post on the stopURdeportations website, Ordu describes her conditions: “We have lost one year of education hurled up here in sanctuary in total incarceration and deprivation of a comfortable life or go about our normal activities like every other human or student. Coming from a poor home, my dreams of a Canadian education or completion of my degree at this point is uncertain.”

Amadi reminisces in her posts about her time “as an Ambassador we welcomed new students from across the world who had either come to begin or continue their journey and pursuit for education. I remember the excitement and enthusiasm in their eyes as they asked to be showed around or where the library or book store was.”

Victoria and Favour started their degrees in 2009. Victoria was studying theatre, while Favour studied international relations.

The “Crime”

This whole situation begins in 2011, when the two students took up jobs at Wal-Mart. The mistake they made was to work off of campus. Their student visas allowed them to work on campus, but not off of it.

It’s a wonder Wal-Mart even hired them.

Joseph Mburu, a professor of political science at the University of Regina, questions the role of Wal-Mart in the ordeal.

“If the students presented their social insurance numbers, it’s expected that the employers would have detected that these students needed work permits, but Wal-Mart did not notify these particular students, and so Wal-Mart failed in this case.”

After Wal-Mart made this grievous error to hire these two, they have done nothing to support the two.

If Wal-Mart had noticed this error, Victoria and Favour would not be in the bottom of a church right now, but rather finishing up their studies with the rest of us.

Professor Mburu speaks on the case to students in the Ad Hum last year. /source: Rebecca Granovsky-Larsen

Professor Mburu speaks on the case to students in the Ad Hum last year. /source: Rebecca Granovsky-Larsen

Mburu called the deportation measures “draconian.”

A few people propose, on different websites and even in person, that they deserve the sentence they have been handed, and should face up to the deportation order. Such as Spider_hockey commenting on a national news station’s website.

“They broke the law! they were aware they were breaking the law! why all the sympathy? They were more interested in making money than going to university and they got caught, time to pay the piper and get shipped home.”[sic]

Ralph Goodale, Member of Parliament for the Wascana riding in Saskatchewan points out that this is completely false, and that more appropriate measures would be “reprimands, or warnings, or fines.”

The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) arrested Victoria and Favour, and although reports differ, they were arrested on campus. Some reports indicated that one of the girls was arrested at Wal-Mart.

 

The Reaction:

“Yes, we are aware of the method in which they were arrested,” said Dr. Thomas Chase, Provost and Vice-President (Academic) at the University of Regina. “We did not think that was appropriate.”

“The University wishes to see both Ms. Ordu and Ms.Amadi allowed by the government of Canada to continue their studies here at the U of R. We don’t condone the breaking of the law, but we want to make clear that we believe that the punishment in this case is disproportionate to their offence. These two young women have lost a year of their studies, and indeed they’ve lost a year of their lives.”

Chase concluded by saying, “The University of Regina is ready to welcome these students back to their studies as soon as the Government of Canada allows them to do so.”

President Vianne Timmons, on the 7th of June, sent a letter to then Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenny asking the Government of Canada to reconsider the case, and to issue a temporary residence permit that would allow them to continue their studies at the University of Regina. Victoria said that Timmons has been “like a mother to us.”

Kenny, during his time as Minister of Immigration, was unsympathetic to the case of the students, even at some points questioning the students’ dedication to their academics, saying in the House of Commons, “I have information in my hands from the Canada Border Services Agency indicating that one of the subjects had not attended classes at the University in the Winter 2011 semester, [and] was required to discontinue from studies based on failure to meet academic standards.”

Goodale responded, saying that this statement “flies in the face of the facts” and that “the University has been very clear that, at all material times, these two young women were properly registered as students at the University of Regina.”

Much reaction has come from the grassroots and the U of R community, and lately a lot has been focused around the stopURdeportations website.

The community has taken to letter writing, but also Twitter, with hashtags such as #honestmistake and #stopurdeportations while tweeting at the appropriate ministers.

There has been relatively no movement supporting the deportation of the two students, but rather quite the opposite. Goodale called it a “very common public consensus.” He went on, explaining that “you’ve got the University President, the University Administration, the University Faculty, the students, the staff, who all believe that the government can and should show a little bit of common sense and compassion here.”

Even on the partisan political plane of Saskatchewan, there has been agreement.

“You’ve also got both sides of the Saskatchewan legislature: both the opposition and the government…. You would be hard pressed to find another example of such unanimity in the Saskatchewan legislature. They’re usually diametrically opposed to each other on everything. This time, there is just common cause right across the spectrum.” Goodale explained.

Kay Adeogun, though, expressed concern with the Government of Nigeria in the same Saharatv interview.

When asked if the Nigerian Government has been involved at all in the case of these two, Adeogun said, “Unfortunately, I will want to say the support is not what we expected it to be.”

Later on, he also said that the Nigerian Embassy in Canada has been “very silent” on the issue, claiming that they got inaccurate information on the case, and failed to consult Adeogun and others here in Regina.

“In terms of direct support from Nigeria, none that we’re aware of.”

In essence, the two have been abandoned by the Nigerian government, and hung out to dry by the Canadian one.

           

A Change in Legislation… A Change in Minister

In a video posted on YouTube on Oct 29, 2012, Goodale asks Kenny in the House of Commons, “is the government’s determination to deport these two girls, and thereby destroy their education, based solely on their honest mistake of working for two weeks at a Wal-Mart store, and if that is their only transgressions, isn’t such retribution out of proportion?”

Jason Kenney’s statements in the House contradicted findings from the U of R. /source: Postmedia News

Jason Kenney’s statements in the House contradicted findings from the U of R. /source: Postmedia News

Then Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenny replied, “First of all, one of the women in question is not a student, and has not been attending classes, or enrolled in an institution for several months, but was working illegally without a work permit. Now, Mr. Speaker, we do have a problem of many foreign students working illegally in Canada. This has been raised with me by Canadians who are concerned that their kids can’t find work while foreign students are taking work illegally.”

At this point he is justifiably drowned out by the House, and takes his seat.

As Goodale points out, and subsequently argued in the House, “The University has been very clear that at all material times, these two young women were properly registered as students at the University of Regina.”

Since Victoria’s and Favour’s transgression, the legislation related to their case has changed.  Now, international students can work on and off campus with the same permit.

I guess Kenny forgot about all of those worried Canadian parents’ lobbying.

On July 15th, in the Prime Minister Harper’s cabinet shuffle, Chris Alexander became the new Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, succeeding Jason Kenny.

The change in minister has not marked a change in policy, though. Alexander has yet to comment on the case, never mind take any action.

All the while, they have been imprisoned in a church for over a year, and still are.

The Canadian Border Services Agency:

“The behaviour of the CBSA seems to me to be quite over the top with many of their methods and obviously the ultimate result of deportation, or threat of deportation,” said Ralph Goodale.

One professor at the U of R, who wished to remain anonymous, posed this question in an interview, “how did CBSA know?” The professor speculated on the role of CBSA informants on campus.

When asked about the role of informants on campus, Goodale said, “I know little of a factual nature, but I have heard disturbing reports about informant operations.

“No one should minimize the difficultly of their task, or the importance of doing it properly. Canadian public safety and security is at stake, and that’s a very serious matter, in going about that crucial work. There needs to be a very senior and mature degree of judgment applied. That’s what appears to have gone wrong in this case.”

Tobi Cohen is journalist for Postmedia News covering justice, immigration, public safety and politics.  Cohen wrote an article entitled “Refugee advocates raise concerns about ‘inhumane’ deportations,” where she interviews Janet Dench, executive director of Canadian Council for Refugees about the CBSA and it’s practices.

This article focuses more so on “inhumane” treatment, as compared to undercover informants, but nevertheless, it raises serious concerns about CBSA and its practices.

Way back home:

Both girls expressed concerns multiple times since they took up sanctuary, that they will, if deported, go home completely empty handed, having wasted four years of their lives: three years studying for a degree they weren’t allowed to finish, and over a year trapped in a church.

Professor Mburu explained to The Carillon what kind of situation the two would be facing in Nigeria if deported: “their future would be ruined.”

“They won’t be able to get a job; if they go back [home] they will be seen as people who are not good. There is a certain shame… there is a lot of social exclusion.”

Mburu even expressed that the case of these students could shed a bad light on their parents back home. The explanation for this shame and social exclusion would be the fact that these two women were on scholarship from the Nigerian government.

“It’s going to affect the people who have been paying for their fees. The people who have been taxed very heavily in Nigeria, are the very poor people.” Mburu explained that those who are taxed heavily want to see “good yields” from, for lack of a better term, their investments.

A Modest Comparison

Who else has been deported from Canada? Surely, these deportees would have committed similar transgressions along the lines of Victoria and Favour? Well there’s the Acadians, but they’re in a different boat.

Another is American man Richard Goldberg, scum of the earth. Wanted by the FBI for pedophilia, he was deported from Canada in 2007.

Another is David Irving, famous Holocaust denier—a remarkable day’s work by the CBSA.

Neo-Nazi Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel, too, was deported from this country.

Another hate inciting asshole booted from Canada was Leon Mugesera, who gave anti-Tutsi speeches in Rwandan.

Other people deported include Nazi collaborators, alleged terrorists, members of Hezbollah, and Mahmoud Mohammad Issa Mohammad.

Let’s not let the government add our classmates to this list of sub-humans.

 

The Student Voice

President of University of Regina Students’ Union (URSU) Nathan Sgrazzutti told The Carillon, “The URSU has been behind Victoria and Favour from the beginning. As an executive, we have personally attended rallies and events to show our support for the students in refuge.”

On top of personal support, the Union’s executive has also lobbied the government.

“Myself, along with past VP External Anna Dipple and new VP External Brooke Paterson have sent messages to many government officials within the Saskatchewan and Canadian government. I have met with Vianne Timmons, Ralph Goodale, and members on both sides of the legislature. “

“We are doing all we can.”

Sgrazzutti concluded saying that “This is the number one students’ rights issue on our table right now and we will not allow ourselves to be silenced by an unresponsive federal government. Many of us have been re-elected and they have not gotten their chance of ‘waiting us out.’”

Paige Kezima is a University of Regina student and University Council member finishing her last year of social work. Kezima was been involved in this case since last fall, and she helped organize the first teach-in.

Kezima, when asked on how the two were doing, she said, “Victoria & Favour have been graceful and gracious throughout this whole ordeal, but it is understandable that they are feeling sadness and loneliness as well. If you look at their twitter feed you can get an idea of what they’re feeling and what life in sanctuary is like. They both are lovely people who are truly sorry for the mistake they made, and they really, really want to come back to school.”

The near unanimous consensus on this issue is truly remarkable, but some people are more critical. When The Carillon covered this story in Nov 2012, one self styled “JP” commented online arguing, “While deportation seems a little much as punishment, ignorance of the law is not an acceptable defense in any country in the world. It was up to these girls to ensure they knew what the rules were before seeking employment.”

The commenter went on, saying, 
”Hopefully, a middle ground can be struck in this situation. I can understand why the government would be skittish to go easy on them as it opens the door to other offenders and sets a precedent.”

Allison Zorn is a third year History major at the U of R, and argues a counter-point to JP.

“The girls should not be deported because they tried and contribute to a normal experience of going to university and having a job.

“This does concern me as a student,” Zorn continued, “because it makes me reconsider my right as a student and a Canadian citizen, and [it is] making me concerned if my rights would also be taken away from me in the future.”

Zorn is a Canadian citizen, but imagine how some international students feel about their rights.  They walk a much finer line, and the international student population at the U of R has been skyrocketing in the last few years.

 

Solidarity

A professor, wishing to remain anonymous, told The Carillon, “Nobody wants a pound of flesh.”

Because of this case, three University of Regina professors have started the UR Legal Defense Fund, which will be available to international students, if they need, by application. During the summer, the Fund held a fundraiser.

That being said, there are many ways to express Solidarity with the two girls.

As Kezima told The Carillon, “There are a few things that UofR students can do to help Victoria & Favour. They can tweet, call, or phone the Minister of Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Alexander, asking him to let the students come back to school. @calxandr is his username on Twitter, and make sure to include the #letthemstay hashtag. Another thing that students can do is send messages of support to Victoria (@beingvictoria) & Favour (missfavour8), themselves, via Twitter. It’s very difficult for them to be isolated from their friends and I’m sure they would greatly appreciate any positive messages.”

More formally, one can send a letter to their Member of Parliament, or Member of the Legislative assembly. Furthermore, and as the stopURdeportations website suggests, one can send a letter to/contact either Chris Alexander, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigrations, or Steven Blaney, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

The website goes on, suggesting to supporters that they can post on their respective social media, follow the @let_them_stay handle, tweet with various hashtags, blog, or write a Letter to the Editor.

With all this activism, with all this positive communal consensus on this issue, how much longer will they stay in sanctuary? Will the deportation order be lifted?

As the old cliché goes, only time will tell.

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