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Students in sanctuary: Time for new Minister Chris Alexander to do the right thing

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Photo: Students in Sanctuary Facebook page

This Monday, August 12, 2013, has been declared a National Day of Action for two University of Regina students who have been hiding in sanctuary for nearly 14 months. All eyes will be on the new Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, Chris Alexander, asking him to bring about a common sense outcome in the case involving two young women who made the honest mistake of working at Walmart for two weeks.

Working at Walmart was a violation of their permits (they were only authorized to work on campus) and although Canadian Border Services Agency officers had discretionary power throughout the course of their investigation they chose to pursue the stiffest sanction possible: deportation. It is unclear why CBSA choose the toughest penalty; it also remains unclear if the employer, Walmart, was ever sanctioned for giving employment to the two young women.

On the night of June 18, 2012 Victoria Ordu and Favour Amadi made a painful choice to seek sanctuary to avoid their scheduled deportation the following morning. The deportation would ban them from Canada for at least one year. Both believed there was not much of a chance they would be able to return to Canada with their scholarships following this exclusion. Desperate to return home with completed degrees, and with nearly three years of their education complete, they made a difficult choice: seek sanctuary and appeal to the federal government. They have been hiding in church basements since under Canada-wide warrant and deportation orders.

Over the past fourteen months, support for Victoria and Favour has been unprecedented. From local and national unions to academic and student organizations, everyone is calling upon the federal government to intervene and allow these two young women to complete their degrees. The University of Regina President Vianne Timmons has been actively advocating for the students' return. Indeed members of the Saskatchewan Party also appealed to the federal government to review their cases. Saskatchewan Justice Minister Wyant characterized the offenses as "trivial" and members of the Sask Party continue to try and liaise with the federal counterparts to resolve the case.

And while advocacy and support grew, the federal government played ping pong with the case as Minister Kenney and Minister Toews each claimed it was the work of the other Minister to review the case. And although Minister Jason Kenney refused to engage in the case, in December 2012, he announced proposed changes to the International Student Program (ISP) that speak directly to the mistake made by Victoria and Favour. The changes, scheduled to be implemented by January 2014, include a provision that allows eligible students to work on and off campus with the same permit. This change will allow students easier access to employment by removing a bureaucratic requirement to seek a work permit for each new employer. Despite the link to Victoria and Favour’s case, the Minister refused to intervene. In effect Victoria and Favour could now be deported for an offense that has been reconciled by rule changes.

I can continue to go on and on about the case but the simple fact of the matter is Victoria and Favour made a mistake working at Walmart. They are students that needed a bit more money to subsist. Do they deserve to be deported for this "trivial" offense? No. Is it right to deport someone for an infraction that will not longer be an offense in the future? No. These are two young women who have been hiding in church basements as the seasons change, and as friends graduate.. These are two young women attending university on scholarship, from modest backgrounds; they know a degree could make all the difference to their futures. Let's exercise some common sense here and work on a common sense solution.

Please join us in asking the new Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism to intervene on this case and allow these women to return to class. Tens of thousands of international students are choosing to study in Canada. We welcome these students and understand that, just like everyone else, they make mistakes from time to time. But in this case, the punishment must fit the crime. Join us on Monday, Aug 12 as we reach out to Minister Chris Alexander and ask him to allow these students to complete their degrees.There are staged times for groups to participate – everyone that is concerned about this case can join to help send a unified message:

Schedule for National Day of Action for Students in Sanctuary:

9 -10 a.m. (CST): Blitz Minister Alexander asking him to intervene on the case.

Fax: 613-957-2688 Ph 613-954-1064 email: [email protected]

2-3pm (CST): Tweet @calxandr and @evansolomoncbc with the hash tag #letthemstay. This case was covered on Power and Politics on Friday afternoon let's send them a strong update and get a follow up on Monday!

These are the target times -- feel free to carry on the message all day. Please include our Twitter handle @let_them_stay or #letthemstay

Here's a link to the event page on Facebook.

You can find out more about the cases and the campaign at www.stopurdeportations.com

Michelle Stewart is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Justice Studies at the University of Regina where she teaches in the area of social justice. She also works with the Saskatchewan Immigration Justice Network and the UR Legal Defense Fund for International Students.

Photo: Students in Sanctuary Facebook page


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