Family deported to Libya will not have to pay removal fees after father tortured

·National Affairs Contributor
Adam and Omar Benhmuda are pictured on the petition sponsored by their school friends and neighbours earlier this year. (Photo courtesy Benhmuda family) (Benhmuda Family)

Governments everywhere are loathe to admit their mistakes but sometimes the recalcitrance reaches head-shaking levels of pettiness.

That's the case with the Benhmuda family, who were deported to Libya five years ago, where husband Adel Benhmuda was quickly arrested and tortured. After finally winning in court the right to return to Canada, the impoverished family was slapped with a $6,800 bill to cover Ottawa's costs for the original deportation.

Ottawa finally did the right thing this week and waived the fee, opening the way for the Benhmudas, including two Canadian-born sons, to return to Toronto.

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander made the decision on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, spokesman Kevin Menard told CBC News via email.

“In this extraordinary case, the [Citizenship and Immigration Canada] fee has been waived,” Menard said.

It has been a long, hard journey for the Benhmuda family, who fled Libya in 2000 and came to Canada as refugees. Adel Benhmuda claimed he was being harassed and beaten by Libyan police who were looking for information about his brother, part an a group opposing dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

However, the Immigration and Refugee Board turned down the refugee claim as not credible. After losing a final appeal in 2008, the family was deported a few weeks later despite the fact two of their four children were born in Canada.

[ Related: Canadian sues Ottawa, former foreign minister to erase “terrorist” label ]

On their return to Libya, Adel Benhmuda was promptly arrested and imprisoned for several months, where he underwent torture.

"They used to hit me," he told CBC News in an interview last year. "A kind of rope and wood stick. They wrapped my feet up and starting hitting them. That was several times a week."

The family was able to flee the country in 2010, winding up in Malta, where they lived in a shipping container in a refugee camp before finding a small apartment. Unable to find work, they lived on the margins.

The UN High Commission for Refugees subsequently declared them to be legitimate refugees and asked Canada to take them back, CBC News said. Then-immigration minister Jason Kenny promised the family would receive "every humanitarian consideration."

But Lauren Beaulieu, the Canadian visa officer in Rome handling their application, had other ideas. He rejected their bid to return, falsely alleging the family had been on welfare while in Canada and probably would be again. In fact, Benhmuda worked as an optical technician and his employer was holding open his job until he could return, CBC News said.

A Federal Court judge ruled in October 2012 that the vias officer had displayed bias against the family.

"Officer Beaulieu additionally ignored the fact that the family was relying on circumstances that had not been considered by [the refugee review process], including the incarceration and torture of Mr. Benhmuda by the Libyan authorities," Justice Mary Gleason found.

"The analysis also fails to discuss the applicants' request for [humanitarian] consideration, the situation in Malta, the family’s ties to Canada and the children's best interests."

Gleason ordered that the application be reprocessed at another location and Kenny's spokesman said at the time the department would comply. It was sent to the Canadian Embassy in Paris, where the family's bid to return was approved earlier this year.

But after months of additional bureaucratic red tape, the family was told last month they could only return if they anted up the cost of their original deportation.

That sparked an immediate public backlash, including an online petition that drew thousands of signatures in just a couple of days, as well as offers to pay the fee if the government held firm. But Alexander's decision this week removes that final obstacle.

“I spoke with the family very early this morning [Thursday] when I got the email from Paris. Of course they were very, very delighted and relieved,” their lawyer, Andrew Brouwer, told CBC News.

“They have been riding a roller-coaster for the past three or four years but this last roadblock, after so many barriers, to be hit with this new demand to be paid by the end of December?

“We were just very pleased that the minister has done the right thing and decided to waive the fees. It was really unconscionable to be asking them to pay this in the first place.”

[ Related: Refugee claimants still collecting welfare even after being deported ]

Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) removed almost 19,000 people from the country last year, including 1,258 whose refugee claims were rejected. According to the agency's web site, people who've been removed because of a deportation order are permanently barred from returning unless they get written permission from the CBSA.

If a deportee is granted readmission, the government can demand repayment of the deportation cost, CBC News said, though it's not clear how often this happens.

“In a case where someone has been deported to torture, asking them to repay the cost of that deportation to torture, that is what shocked us,” Brouwer said. “Really it is Canadian officials who put this family at risk. We can’t demand that they repay that cost.”

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