Mr. Chairman, honourable members, thank you for this opportunity to appear before your committee. My name is Richard Goldman. As Stephan mentioned, I'm the refugee protection coordinator for the Table de concertation. I'm also the coordinator for the Committee to Aid Refugees, a small church-funded, non-governmental organization that assists refugee claimants. On a personal level, I've worked with the refugee determination system in various forms since before the creation of the IRB in 1989.
For the purposes of our presentation, we feel that a real-world example always gives the clearest picture of the real-world impact of a law. So we're going to present a real case that is currently running its course. We'll change the name, of course. This case was the subject of an opinion article that Paula Kline of our sister organization, the Montreal City Mission, and I wrote.
I gave it in. I don't know if it has been distributed and translated. It has? That's great.
We believe it illustrates the real-world impact mainly of the question of the humanitarian applications, but also of the short timelines.
Just briefly, the story goes like this. It's the story of Brihan. That's not her real name. It means “light” in her native Amharic. She was given into marriage at age 12 by her parents. She was the eldest of nine children. She was born in a village in northern Ethiopia. She never got to go to school. On the day after her 14th birthday, she gave birth to her first child, a boy. In the next five years she had another son and two daughters.
In 1998, the Ethiopian-Eritrean war broke out. Her husband was called to fight in the war and is presumed to have died in combat. Meanwhile, the Ethiopian authorities began picking up and expelling people of Eritrean origin. Brihan's mother, who is Eritrean, was expelled to Eritrea. Brihan was arrested herself and held for a week in a tiny cell with more than 40 other detainees. She was beaten, tortured, and brutally raped. Aside from the emotional scars, she was left with a serious medical condition.
After that horrific week in prison, she was released and fled to Sudan, where she worked at odd jobs for five years. She was always afraid of being deported to Ethiopia. Of course, she had to leave her four children behind. Finally, in 2004, one of her friends arranged for her to get on a plane and make it to Canada.
She arrived in Montreal with no identity documents and no knowledge of English or French. She was actually illiterate, even in her native tongue. Because she had no identity documents, she was held in immigration detention for three months, which actually had the effect of speeding up her refugee hearing. I'm sure you've heard that many people wait two years or more for their refugee hearing, but because she was in detention, it was sped up a great deal.
As she had had little access to her legal aid lawyer or to interpreters and she had had little time to properly prepare for her case, her refugee claim was refused. However, with the assistance of the Committee to Aid Refugees and the Montreal City Mission, she subsequently presented an application for permanent residence on humanitarian grounds, showing evidence of the medical condition contracted during her assault. This evidence had not been available at the time of her refugee hearing. With that evidence, and also in light of other compelling humanitarian considerations, like the best interests of her children, notably her two daughters, who faced the same risk she had of being given into forced marriage at a young age, the humanitarian application was accepted. If all goes well, she should be reunited with her children very shortly.
As I mentioned, this is a real case, and as a matter of fact, we got the wonderful news last week that the visas for her four children were issued by Nairobi, and therefore her four children should be coming literally in days from now, if all goes well. They will be reunited with their mother after a ten-year separation.
Meanwhile, Brihan has done a very good job of integrating. She has learned to read and write in both of Canada's official languages, and she has already gained some Canadian work experience. If the proposed reforms were in place as they are currently presented under C-11, she would not have been able to file this agency application. She would have been deported to Ethiopia within 12 months, possibly to her detention and death, leaving her children as orphans.