A family in Milton, Ont., is racing against the clock to be able to stay in Canada, saying that being deported to Portugal will put their health in jeopardy.
“Sending us back to Portugal now, in the middle of this pandemic, it’s like they are sending us into war,” said Eva Ferreira, who, along with her husband and 15-year-old son, has been living in Canada for eight years.
Their push to stay is particularly desperate given that Portugal was recently found to have the world’s worst rate of new daily COVID-19 cases and deaths per 100,000 people — and Ferreira’s husband, Armando Goncalves, is diabetic.
Diabetes puts people at greater risk for developing a severe illness from COVID-19 and is also a common comorbidity in deaths related to COVID-19.
“The way things are in Portugal, I feel like we’re going to put our lives at risk,” Ferreira said.
The family first arrived in Canada in 2012 after struggling to find steady employment in Europe. The parents obtained valid Canadian work permits while working as truck drivers.
According to their lawyer, their status then lapsed without their knowledge two years later, primarily as a result of inept legal counsel.
On Thursday, the family got the news they were dreading: Their application to defer their deportation was rejected by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). They were ordered to leave by Feb.11, giving them exactly one week to make a last-ditch appeal in Federal Court.
“We love Canada, we’re hopeful that we can stay. But we are running out of time,” Ferreira said.
‘Significant and obvious’ health risk
The family’s Toronto lawyer, Jacqueline Swaisland, is now scrambling to prepare the documentation necessary to file for a stay in Federal Court this week to put off the family’s departure.
“There’s such a significant and obvious health and safety risk here that I really was quite surprised that the CBSA would decide to continue the removal,” she told CBC News.
Swaisland has also submitted a humanitarian and compassionate application on their behalf that would put them on the path to permanent residency, but no decision has yet been made.
“If the family is deported, it is highly unlikely that this application will be granted, as it hardly ever is for people not in Canada,” she said.
Removals ‘out of step’ with safety measures
Swaisland is one of a number of Canadian lawyers who say they’re appalled that the CBSA has chosen to restart broader deportations.
The agency had put a freeze on most removals in March 2020 when the pandemic began, but, according to a spokesperson, it began removing “serious inadmissibility cases” in early August and “all inadmissible persons” as of Nov. 30.
Speaking to CBC News, Toronto lawyer Maureen Silcoff described the November decision as “completely out of step with all other measures the Canadian government is taking to protect public health.”
Silcoff, president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, said resuming deportations for people who are not security risks has no “appropriate rationale.”
She pointed out that the process requires a number of risky interactions, including public transit trips to the CBSA offices, time spent with lawyers and agency officers, the process of packing up a home and the necessary air travel to return to a home country.
“And when you go back … the process starts again, you have to re-establish yourself there,” Silcoff said.
Her group is calling on the CBSA to revert back to its previous deportation policy, which allowed the removal of “serious criminal cases” but put a freeze on others.
Legal requirement to deport: CBSA
For its part, the CBSA says it does not comment on individual cases.
The agency defended the decision to broaden removals, with a spokesperson writing in a statement that it has a legal requirement to do so.
“This was done for a number of reasons, including … the resumption of business processes at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada to produce decisions leading to removal, an increase in available routings by commercial partners that facilitate returns and the ability to ensure that removals are undertaken in a responsible manner,” the statement said.
“Those being removed have either exhausted or chosen not to pursue further legal recourse and have no legal right to remain in Canada.”