Activist's deportation case adds to increased calls for oversight of border services

·4 min read
Abdelrahman Elmady, 38, faces deportation after the Canada Border Services Agency deemed him a national security threat over his ties to the Muslim Brotherhood when he lived in Egypt. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Abdelrahman Elmady, 38, faces deportation after the Canada Border Services Agency deemed him a national security threat over his ties to the Muslim Brotherhood when he lived in Egypt. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

An Egyptian human rights activist is fighting to stay in Vancouver, saying the political affiliations that forced him to seek asylum in Canada are now being used to justify his deportation.

In 2011, Abdelrahman Elmady joined other Egyptians in an uprising against the country's then president, Hosni Mubarak, over issues of increased police brutality, high unemployment and the lack of political freedoms.

Following Mubarak's resignation, the country held free elections in 2012, which saw the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), of which Elmady was a member, capture the popular vote.

The victory, however, was short lived. In 2013, a military coup overthrew the government and raided Muslim Brotherhood supporters, killing hundreds, before labelling the party a terrorist organization.

Elmady says, in the years that followed, Freedom and Justice Party members were "persecuted." He was working in Saudi Arabia for fear of his safety when Egyptian authorities started asking his family about him.

"If I go back to Egypt, I'm going to be in jail, tortured and detained ... maybe dead" said the 38-year-old.

Elmady, who has impaired hearing, points out his hearing aid. Documents show it took staff at the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre almost a week to replace its dead batteries when the CBSA held him in custody for two months.
Elmady, who has impaired hearing, points out his hearing aid. Documents show it took staff at the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre almost a week to replace its dead batteries when the CBSA held him in custody for two months.(Ben Nelms/CBC)

But while he believes Canada "values human rights," Elmady says the political ties that make him a potential target, resulted in him being profiled by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

In particular, he accuses one CBSA officer of presenting an Islamophobic and inaccurate document to the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), painting the Freedom and Justice Party as terrorist organization, and him as a national security threat.

Documents shared with CBC also show Elmady, who has a hearing disability, was subsequently detained by the IRB at a correctional facility for two months and went more than a week without his hearing aid as he waited for staff to provide replacement batteries.

CBC contacted the CBSA for comment, but the enforcement agency did not respond before deadline.

The case highlights the sweeping powers of the CBSA, which operates without independent oversight, despite recent federal attempts at reform. It also shows the effect those powers can have on asylum seekers like Elmady, who the IRB deemed inadmissible to Canada in October 2017, and who last week deemed he must be deported back to Egypt — decisions he's fighting in Federal Court.

Muslim Brotherhood not listed as a terrorist organization

Those familiar with Middle Eastern politics, meanwhile, say no Western country identifies the Muslim Brotherhood or FJP as terrorist organizations.

"There were two investigations of this issue ... the first was in Britain ... and then President Trump ... put forward the proposition to his own national security people that it might be a terrorist organization" said Robert Springborg, adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University's School of International Studies. "And the ruling came back 'No.' "

Springborg says Egypt convinced other Arab governments, as well as Russia, to endorse its view that the groups were terrorist organizations.

Canada does not currently list the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist entity.

Elmady's lawyer says the decision to deport him was based on a "rather serious error" and shows that Canada's inadmissibility rules are sometimes too broad.

"It sometimes catches individuals who, at first blush, wouldn't appear to have done anything wrong," said immigration and refugee lawyer Molly Joeck.

She says the CBSA can be inconsistent in how it treats people like Elmady because it mounts cases or provides documentation against some asylum seekers but not others.

Two attempts at reform

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, says it can be hard for those without secure immigration status to levy complaints against the CBSA, and that the agency should be subject to independent oversight.

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, says her organization frequently hears complaints about CBSA officers. It and other organizations say the CBSA should be subject to independent oversight.
Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, says her organization frequently hears complaints about CBSA officers. It and other organizations say the CBSA should be subject to independent oversight.(CBC)

To date, the federal Liberals have twice attempted legislation that would make the CBSA subject to the same civilian complaints process that applies to the RCMP. Both bills died in Parliament.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the minister "looks forward to tabling legislation that will strengthen oversight in our agencies and increase public trust" and is "committed to doing that work as quickly as possible."

With less than three weeks until he's supposed to leave, Elmady hopes a Canadian court will overturn the two IRB decisions against him.

"I know that Canadian people are different," he said "But what ... I faced is a bias and Islamophobic ... I believe that."