Refugee claimant who cared for elderly in Quebec care home during pandemic fights deportation

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Mamadou Konaté has been in Quebec since early February 2016 and worked in long-term care homes at the height of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Canada wants to send him back to Ivory Coast. (Valeria Cori-Manocchio/CBC - image credit)
Mamadou Konaté has been in Quebec since early February 2016 and worked in long-term care homes at the height of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Canada wants to send him back to Ivory Coast. (Valeria Cori-Manocchio/CBC - image credit)

As more flights to foreign countries resume, a refugee claimant who toiled in three long-term care homes at the height of the pandemic worries his deportation could be imminent.

Mamadou Konaté tended to and cleaned the rooms of elderly patients in the Montreal area who had tested positive for COVID-19. He caught the disease in late April 2020 while doing so.

But even though the province brokered a deal with the federal government to guarantee residency for many of the asylum seekers who laboured in Quebec's beleaguered long-term care homes, Konaté faces deportation as soon as flights to Ivory Coast are once again allowed.

"We migrants helped this country stay afloat … haven't we paid enough during this pandemic? Many of us were among the victims of COVID-19," Konaté told a crowd gathered in front of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's riding office on Crémazie Boulevard in Montreal Tuesday morning.

"We are good for work, but never enough to obtain dignity."

Konaté was arrested last year after he and his lawyer tried to apply for residency and a stay of deportation on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

He was released from an immigration detention centre in the fall on $7,000 bail with conditions that forbid him from working.

Before all that, Konaté had gone underground. His first refugee application was found "inadmissible" because of an obscure section of Canada's Immigration Act that states anyone who participated in the overthrowing of a government cannot seek residency in Canada.

'A model immigrant'

"He's been targeted by Article 34 of the law in a really unjust fashion," Konaté's lawyer, Stewart Istvanffy, said at the protest.

"He's a model immigrant. He belongs in this country, but they made him inadmissible because of his involvement in the civil war in Côte d'Ivoire 20 years ago and it's just profoundly unfair."

Istvanffy called the section of the Immigration Act a "really weird law that makes a lot of people inadmissible."

Last fall, he told CBC News, "It's basically the clause under which we would make Nelson Mandela inadmissible."

Jean-Claude Taliana/CBC
Jean-Claude Taliana/CBC

"Anybody who joins the resistance against the Nazis would be inadmissible to Canada under this clause of our law. It's a crazy clause. In a democratic country, we shouldn't have it, but it's there in the law."

Konaté arrived in Quebec more than five years ago and worked several essential jobs in remote parts of the province, including felling trees for Hydro-Québec and sorting trash in waste management centres before taking on work at long-term care homes last spring.

Despite all the work Konaté has done in the province, he is not eligible to apply for Quebec's permanent residency program for asylum seekers who worked in health-care during the pandemic because of his inadmissibility under the federal Immigration Act.

Even if the Canadian law hadn't excluded him, his chances would have been slim. Many point out that Quebec's parameters are too narrow, leaving out many who were on the front lines during the first wave.

Jean-Claude Taliana/CBC
Jean-Claude Taliana/CBC

Frantz André, who advocates for and assists asylum seekers in their applications for residency, said he knew of only a few people who had been accepted by the program.

"In some ways, it's criminal to have so many people who have contributed to saving lives, who should be eligible, and are unfortunately being denied," said André, who was also at the gathering for Konaté outside Trudeau's office.

Quebec's Immigration Ministry said Tuesday it has finalized 1,013 of the 1,355 applications to the program, leading to 2,057 Quebec selection certificates being handed out.

The selection certificate is part of an agreement the Quebec government has with Ottawa, giving it a say in who gets permanent residency in the province — a decision ultimately left up to the federal government. It's unclear whether the 342 applications left over have been rejected or simply not processed yet.

Of Konaté's case, a spokesperson for the Quebec Immigration Ministry, Flore Bouchon, said, "Quebec does not have the power to intervene in a person's case or to prevent removal orders against them."

Bouchon said the government is "sensitive" to his situation but won't comment further to avoid confidentiality issues.

CBC News also reached out to the federal Ministry of Immigration and Refugees but has not yet received a response.

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