I tip my hat to Borys Wrzesnewskyj, the former Liberal Member of Parliament for Etobicoke, who narrowly lost his seat in the Conservative tsunami that swept through Ontario this spring.
While in office, Mr. Wrzesnewskyj learned that a family in his riding was in dire straits. The Tabajs (including their three-year-old Canadian born twin boys) were being railroaded out of the country back to Albania. Their efforts to pursue an asylum request in Canada stymied, our government was not willing to follow the prescribed procedures and await the results of a pre-removal risk assessment before giving them the boot.
Clearly the government’s actions offended Mr. Wrzesnewskyj and he decided to take up their cause. He not only pleaded their case in parliament, but he also intervened with Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney personally in an effort to stay the family’s removal. After all, Mr. Tabaj claimed to have been the victim of an assassination attempt for his pro-democracy activities in Albania and, if this were true, there was the likelihood of calamity awaiting the Tabajs in their former homeland. Mr. Wrzesnewskyj believed that Canadian officials should err on the side of caution when there is even a small chance of persecution overseas. As Mr. Wrzesnewskyj put it, “I couldn’t turn my back on a family knowing that, at some point in time, there could be a bullet waiting for any one of them.” Nonetheless, our Immigration Minister was unimpressed and in June, 2009 the deportation was carried out.
Undeterred, Mr. Wrzesnewskyj dug into his own pocket and paid lawyers and the legal costs of bringing an action before the Federal Court to seek the return of the Tabaj family.
On August 30, 2011 Mr. Wrzesnewskyj’s efforts were rewarded. In what can only be interpreted as an admonishment of the enforcement practices of the Immigration Department, the Federal Court overturned the government’s deportation order and ordered the government to allow the Tabajs back into Canada. A few days ago they safely returned.
I’ll tell you what. I don’t know about the good folks of Etobicoke but if Mr. Wrzesnewskyj ever decides to run for office in my riding he would surely get my vote. More importantly, for fighting the good fight, he serves as a role model for all Canadians.
November 1998 – The Tabaj family flees to Canada from their native Albania and file a refugee claim, fearing political violence in their home country.
May 1999 – The family abandons their refugee claim and return to Albania, thinking the unrest had died down and that they would be safe.
April 7, 2000 – Arjan Tabaj becomes the victim of an assassination attempt in Tirana, Albania – one that kills his best friend and brother-in-law and costs him his left leg (he now wears a prosthetic limb) and the use of his left arm.
January 2001 – The family returns to Canada using fake passports. They are repeatedly denied refugee claimant status due to their previously abandoned claim.
January 6, 2006 – Twins Kristian and Vincenco are born in Toronto.
November 2007 – Arjan and Anilda are each taken into custody and held in detention pending their deportation.
December 2007 – Wrzesnewskyj, then-Etobicoke Centre MP, pledges $5,000 out-of pocket to secure Anilda’s release, so that she can spend Christmas with her children.
February 2008 – Arjan Tabaj is also released from detention, but the family’s fight to not be deported continues. A petition is filed on the Tabaj family’s behalf, urging Diane Finley, then minister of Citizenship and Immigration, to use discretion in deciding the family’s fate under section 25(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
February 2009 – With their deportation date scheduled for March 2009, the Tabaj’s daughter Maria writes a plea to Stephen Harper to allow her family to stay in Canada
– On Feb. 27 the Tabaj family’s deportation order is indefinitely postponed to allow them to complete several immigration applications. The family’s status hinges largely upon the ministry’s decision on a humanitarian application and a pre-removal risk assessment.
June 8, 2009 – The Tabaj family is deported to Albania, where they quickly go into hiding.
January 2010 – Tabaj family receive several death threats.
February 2010 – Arjan and Vincenco escape a drive-by shooting on the entire family with only minor facial scrapes following yet another assassination attempt on the family in Tirana, Albania. In a letter to Kenney later that week, Wrzesnewskyj once again pleads the family’s case in light of recent events, asking the minister to allow temporary visitor permits to bring the Tabaj family to Canada and “remove them from harm’s way and potential assassination.”
May 2010 – Two applications (one a pre-removal risk assessment and the other a humanitarian and compassionate one) filed to Citizenship and Immigration Canada before the Tabaj family’s June 8, 2009 deportation, get approved – more than a year after the family were forcibly flown back to Albania.
The process of bringing the family back to Canada, lawyers said at the time, should take no longer than a month to complete.
September 2010 – After CItizenship and Immigration Canada announces it is vacating the pre-removal risk assessment decision, Wrzesnewskyj makes the potentially dangerous call to go public with their plight yet again. He continues to demand answers as to why the government seems intent to continuing exposing the family to “unnecessary yet significant lethal risk.”
August 30, 2011 – Justice Sandra J. Simpson orders that the Tabaj family be issued two-year Temporary Resident Permits (TRPs), and that the family’s applications for permanent residence as protected persons be completed soon after their return to Canada.
Sept. 22, 2011 – The Tabaj family makes their safe return to Canada.
*Source : InsideToronto