[Toronto, February 8, 2016] A major injustice was redressed this past week by Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum in his decision to issue a two-year multiple entry Temporary Resident Permit (TRP) to the Pusuma family from Hungary who were deported in December 2014, and to approve them for permanent status once they get here. The announcement was made yesterday by Arif Virani, MP, Parkdale-High Park at a Sunday morning service at Windermere United Church, Toronto, where the congregation had provided sanctuary protection to the family for two years.
In his remarks, Virani emphasized that the Liberal government has moved toward an approach that does not vilify asylum seekers, but one that embraces the best of Canada’s humanitarian traditions. It will look at cases on their own merits, evaluating them fairly and acting where necessary.
The Trudeau government has taken this extraordinary step to right a terrible injustice done to the Pusumas by the immigration and legal system and the former government by showing leadership and compassion to this family.
The Pusumas’ deportation was enforced even though the reason their refugee claim had been rejected was the fault of their previous lawyer, who had failed to file critical evidence in their case. The lawyer was subsequently found guilty of professional misconduct by the Law Society of Upper Canada in his representation of the family. They sought every available legal remedy, but every door was closed. 45,000 Canadians signed a petition demanding justice for the family, but Conservative Ministers Jason Kenney and Chris Alexander resolutely refused to intervene.
In May 2015, the Federal Court finally weighed in and in a strongly worded decision ordered the government to re-determine their case, taking into account the extensive evidence of risk as well as the best interests of the Pusuma’s young daughter, Lulu. But it was only the election of a new government that finally broke the logjam in this case as well as several other cases dealing with the previous government’s unjust treatment of Roma refugees.
This case has exposed a number of systemic flaws in the system that need to be fixed.
Joszef Pusuma and Timea Daroczi were experienced Roma rights activists in Hungary, who worked closely with former Member of European Parliament Viktoria Mohacsi, a well-known human rights advocate. In the course of their work they were threatened and beaten because of their advocacy. Following their arrival in Canada as refugees and engaging a lawyer to prepare their claim, they were refused status by the Immigration Board.
By insisting on justice in Canada following their previous counsel’s misconduct, they made a significant contribution to exposing the terrible impact that a few bad refugee lawyers were having on a vulnerable group of Roma refugees in Canada. They paid a high price for this advocacy by living several years in sanctuary protection in a church to ensure that justice was done.
Canada failed them consistently by ignoring the fact that their lawyer had breached the rules of professional conduct, by The Law Society of Upper Canada’s hearing process that was long and slow in dealing with the complaint, and by the previous Minister’s continued refusal to set things right despite being repeatedly asked and presented with the evidence. They were finally vindicated by the Law Society and the Federal Court.
Supporters seeking a resolution to this Roma injustice feel there are other issues that need to be addressed in the current refugee process such as elimination of all nationality-based restrictions on human rights protection, improving lawyer regulation by the Law Society of Upper Canada, and ensuring human rights concerns and best interests of children are properly and fully considered prior to deportation.
There is also an opportunity for The Law Society of Upper Canada to take responsibility to redress the wrongs done to this group of Roma by members of the legal profession.