Canada (Thestar.com) – A Canadian aboriginal girl is being forced to leave her Ajax home for an uncertain life in Guyana with her Guyana-born father, her sole custodian, who faces deportation Friday to a place he hasn’t seen in five decades.
Lawyers for Curtis Lewis were expected to make a last-ditch effort Friday morning to ask the Federal Court for a stay on his deportation until an appeal can be heard against border officials’ refusal to defer it. The father and daughter are scheduled for a 10:45 p.m. flight to Guyana.
“He is a single parent. If he is deported, there are only two options for his daughter: go with him and lose her connection with her aboriginal community, culture and history, or be separated from her only remaining custodial parent and become a ward of the state in Canada,” said Andrew Brouwer, of Toronto’s Refugee Law Office, Lewis’ co-counsel.
“That’s not an acceptable choice for any child, but is particularly shocking given the tragic experience of Canada’s First Nations when it comes to children being put into state care.”
Lewis, 55, came to Canada with his family in 1966 but never became a Canadian citizen. He was only seven — the same age his daughter, “Alexandra,” is now — and has never been back.
His permanent residency was revoked in 2005, three years after the last of his four minor convictions for assaults dating back to 1979 — the longest sentence being 14 days in jail.
A tribunal gave him a chance to restore his landed immigrant status if he avoided any run-ins with the law for a year. However, Lewis failed to check in with immigration officials at the end of the year, and his attempt to reinstate his status was deemed to have been abandoned.
“The tribunal told me to stay out of trouble and not to have any dealing with the law. I never ran away or was in hiding. I didn’t know more should be done to regularize my status. No one told me I should seek a lawyer or mentioned the issue of my appeal being abandoned,” Lewis recalled.
“I feel like I’ve been pin-holed. It’s just a technicality. I didn’t get into any trouble. I didn’t do anything bad.”
It was not until October 2007, when Lewis had to call police for help, that he learned immigration officials had made attempts to locate him and eventually issued a Canada-wide warrant against him.
At that point, Lewis had already fathered Alexandra with an Inuvik woman who was part of the Gwich in First Nation. The girl, whose real name is protected in court, is a full-status member of the band.
Due to his common-law wife’s substance abuse, Lewis said, Alexandra was briefly put in the care of Children’s Aid before the couple separated and Lewis was granted sole custody in 2011.
“My daughter and I are just inseparable,” said Lewis, who has worked in trades to support his daughter. “Her mother is not capable of caring for her. She is still struggling with her addiction problem.”
Lewis’ lawyers have since asked a government tribunal to reopen his “abandoned” appeal for permanent residency and also requested Citizenship and Immigration Canada to grant him immigrant status on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Decisions are pending.
Border enforcement officials were not immediately available for comment.
However, in rejecting Lewis’s request to defer his deportation, the Canada Border Services Agency insisted that it’s not within its authority to assess Alexandra’s “long-term best interests.”
“I am sympathetic to the fact that the removals process, particularly as it pertains to children, is difficult and I acknowledge that there will be a period of adjustment for (her) after her father has departed Canada,” a CBSA officer said in a written decision issued Monday.
“As a member of one of Canada’s First Nations, (Alexandra) is entitled to enter into, remain in and exit Canada as she and her legal guardian(s) so choose . . . I am confident that his care and support will attenuate any period of adjustment she may experience after she has departed Canada.”
When Alexandra first learned of her imminent departure from Canada and how difficult life can be for people in Guyana, she asked her father to “take lots of water and food to give out to the people there.”
“I love my First Nations study programme in school,” said Alexandra. “But I love my dad and I don’t want to be separated from him.”
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