Basketball trailblazer denied Canadian permanent residency, must return to U.S.

·2 min read
Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir and her husband moved to London, Ont., three years ago. Abdul-Qaadir coached at the London Islamic School.  (Haute Hijab Sport - image credit)
Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir and her husband moved to London, Ont., three years ago. Abdul-Qaadir coached at the London Islamic School. (Haute Hijab Sport - image credit)

Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, the trailblazing basketball player who set up an academy for girls and coached multiple sports at an Islamic school in London, Ont., has been denied permanent residency in Canada and will have to go back to the United States.

"We've been here for two years, my son is Canadian, and we would love to be part of this country, but we finally got the message from immigration that we were denied permanent residency. It's very unexpected," said Abdul Qaadir from her London home. "I'm at a loss for words. I've single-handedly brought sports to an underserviced community. It's heartbreaking."

Abdul-Qaadir and her husband, A.W. Massey, moved to London from Tennessee three years ago.

She said she hasn't been able to work in Canada since August, when her work permit expired and wasn't renewed by a Canadian border official.

"We're still trying to figure out what we're going to do. We aren't sure. We're angry and we're tired. We put our heart and soul into this application. We felt like we checked all the boxes."

Submitted by A.W. Massey
Submitted by A.W. Massey

Abdul-Qaadir led a four-year battle against the International Basketball Federation, which banned religious head coverings on the court. She won, but sacrificed her basketball career to do so.

She had been the leading high school point scorer for both boys and girls in Massachusetts, and went on to play for the University of Memphis in Tennessee, where she was the first woman to play in a hijab in NCAA Division 1.

Alongside her motivational speaking gigs, she teaches at the London Islamic School and has opened a basketball academy in London, but all that is now up in the air.

On Thursday, Abdul-Qaadir got a letter from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) that said she doesn't "meet the requirements for immigration to Canada."

She applied for permanent residency as an athletic director at the London Muslim Mosque, but her duties — including developing, managing and supervising the school's physical education and athletic programs, as well as being the head coach for the basketball, volleyball and cross-country teams — are "inconsistent with the actions" of an athletic director.

"I am not satisfied that your stated duties is sufficient to indicate that your role involves plan, organize, direct, control and evaluate the operations of comprehensive fitness programs at this organization. I am also not satisfied that you performed a substantial number of the main duties for this [job classification]," IRCC wrote in her letter.

Abdul-Qaadir said she doesn't know if she and her husband will fight the refusal.

 Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photographer
Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photographer

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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