Over a year after seeking refuge in a Montreal church, an ailing Pakistani woman threatened with deportation has been able to exchange her sanctuary in the church for what freedom her health permits under a $5,000 bond posted by Bishop Barry Clarke of Montreal.
Supporters and a daughter said at a Montreal press conference held Sept 22. in the dioceses’s Fulford Hall that Khurshid Begum Awan, 58, has been living with her daughter, between hospitalizations for her heart condition and other problems, since she left St. Peter’s TMR Church in the Town of Mount Royal in early August. She was not at the press conference for health reasons.
In August, she presented herself to Citizenship and Immigration Canada and applied for what is known as a Pre-Removal Risk-Assessment. She is entitled to remain in Canada, subject to the $5,000 bond, pending results of the assessment and of an earlier application for permanent residency on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
Lawyer Rick Goldman of a refugee protection organization said that under relatively recent changes to Canadian law an application for a Pre-Removal Risk-Assessment cannot be filed before a year after a deportation order. (Many refugee-status claimants would already have been deported by then.)
Mrs. Awan, her husband Mohamed Khalil Awan, who was deported to Pakistan in 2013, their daughter Tahira Malik and her son, Ali Own, 16, are Muslims of the Shia tradition, a minority in Pakistan. Mrs. Awan argues that she and her husband face persecution and the threat of violence from members of Pakistan’s Sunni Muslim majority, particularly an organization known as Sipah-e-Sahaba or Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat that has targeted them in the past.
Tahira Malik fled to Canada earlier to escape the conjugal violence of her ex-husband, leaving her son, then one year old, in the care of his grandparents, who brought him to Canada in 2011. Tahira Malik obtained refugee status in 2000. She and her son are now Canadian citizens, but she says she and her son, deeply bonded to his grandmother, would accompany her to Pakistan if she were deported.
Bishop Clarke described the Awan family as “voices crying in the wilderness.” He said actions like offering sanctuary may bend the laws, but Anglicans are called “as people and citizens” to stand with people in such circumstances. She said Mrs. Awan’s physical state and mental condition are both causes for concern.
Stewart Istvanffy, the Awan family’s lawyer, said the family faces a lack of recourse under Canadian law and the federal government needs to step in “to correct serious mistakes.”
“This family has been the victim of very serious terrorism in Lahore.”
Once a relatively tolerant society, Lahore has been a focus of terrorism in about the last two years, Mr. Istvanffy said. “Does Canada stand against terrorism or not?”
Harvey Shepherd is editor of The Montreal Anglican, the newspaper of the Anglican diocese of Montreal.