On Friday, Sept. 23, Canada deported Paola Ortiz, the mom of two Canadian citizen kids, aged 2 and 4, to Mexico, a country she fled in 2006 to escape sexual abuse and domestic violence at the hands of her then-financé, a federal Mexican police officer.
Since last week, Paola’s case has gathered widespread support, particularly across Quebec, where she had been granted residency. More than 25 groups answered a call from immigrant rights group Solidarity Across Borders (SAB), and joined forces in calling on federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Public Security Minister Vic Toews to intervene to stop the deportation of the Montreal mom. The Fédération des femmes du Québec (FFQ) issued a statement pointing out that it was “totally delusional” to think Paola “would be protected by the Mexican police authorities once she is returned to Mexico.” The deportation was also denounced publicly by Québec Solidaire and by a near-unanimous vote by the Parti Québecois (the official opposition party in the Quebec parliament), with the péquiste spokesperson on immigration opposing the deportation as inhumane. The immigration critic also denounced the ruling Quebec Liberal’s silence on the issue and urged the provincial government to “intervene energetically” on the issue.
In the federal House of Commons, the Bloc Québécois called for federal intervention and the Member of Parliament representing Paola’s riding in Pointe St. Charles, Montreal, the NDP’s Tyrone Benston, also joined more than 200 of Paola’s neighbours and community members in calling on Kenney to stop the deportation.
Quebec’s former immigration minister, André Boulerice, publicly denounced the silence of the Quebec Liberals, as well as the role of the Harper administration (an “espèce de Tea Party,” as he called the federal authorities responsible for allowing the deportation to go forward).
In the context of this fast-growing opposition to Paola’s expulsion, it seemed possible to hope that sanity might prevail in Canadian immigration, and the Montreal mom be allowed to stay. Particularly given that less than two years ago, a Mexican woman who’d been refused asylum and deported by Canada was murdered by the assailants she’d tried to escape in her efforts to flee to Canada. And on Sept. 22, a family that had sought asylum but been rejected by Canada returned to the country, after their deportation was overturned, drawing attention to the fact that decisions in refugee cases can be flawed.
Paola was originally slated to be deported on Tuesday, Sept. 20. Following orders from Canadian immigration authorities, she presented herself at Trudeau airport, with her luggage. But her deportation was narrowly averted when airport medical staff intervened. Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression in the wake of the domestic violence she survived, Paola suddenly began shaking, and had difficulty breathing as she waited for Canadian Boarder Services Agency (CBSA) agents to march her onto a Mexico-bound plane. She was hospitalized later that morning, but Canadian authorities instructed her to present herself to Immigration Canada to receive a new deportation date.
On Wednesday morning, Paola’s friends and supporters gathered outside the towering grey building at 1010 Rue St. Antoine West that houses the Citizenship and Immigration Canada offices in downtown Montreal, in a show of support as she presented herself to the immigration authorities.
“There’s no guarantee she’ll come out,” a cop patrolling the demonstration on the sidewalk outside told Paola’s supporters, explaining that this was what Immigration security personnel had told the Montreal police. Paola had recently been incarcerated for a week in an immigrant detention centre in Laval, so it was conceivable that immigration authorities would simply throw her back into a cell at the immigrant jail to await her deportation.
When Paola stepped out of the federal building around noon, her supporters breathed a collective sigh of relief. Until they learned that Canada had ordered her deported in less than 48 hours.
On the night of Thursday, September 22, a vigil was held blocks from the federal immigration offices. Dozens of Paola’s friends and supporters turned out for the all-night event, which was organized by Dignidad Migrante. Attendees included the former immigration minister André Boulerice, as well as the péquiste immigration spokesperson Yves-François Blanchet.
In the centre of the gathering, a sign, lit up by a ring of candles that also formed a heart, proclaimed “Basta de deportaciones” (Stop Deportations!).
The following morning at 5:30 am, several of the supporters who’d kept the vigil, as well as a handful of the journalists who’d been doggedly following Paola’s story, congregated in front of the grey building on Rue St. Antoine.
Canada’s unsuccessful earlier efforts to deport Paola had become a major news story in the Montreal media, with TV, radio and print journalists turning up at Trudeau airport along with Paola’s friends and supporters. This time, though, Paola was to be deported in secret. She had been ordered to appear on Friday not at the airport, where she would again be able to be with her friends, family and supporters, and speak to media, but at the immigration offices at 1010 Rue St. Antoine. A journalist familiar with deportation proceedings predicted that the authorities would transport her directly to an RCMP security gate at Trudeau airport, keeping her out of any public spaces in the airport where she would have access to media.
At 6 am on September 23, two white men wearing white uniforms appeared at the glass doors of the office building at 1010 St. Antoine. Her friends asked if someone could accompany her for support. Without even looking up, the men in uniform brusquely refused. “No,” one of them said firmly, as the glass doors slammed shut behind Paola.
Half a dozen local journalists, along with her friends and supporters, were left to stare at the closed glass doors from the sidewalk, as Paola was whisked into the bowels of the grey building.
She had had to leave behind her two young children--one of whom is autistic, and the other of whom has hearing difficulties. She worried about her kids’ safety (as well as her own) in Mexico, and also wanted the youngsters to continue receiving the special medical services they depend on in Canada, which would not be accessible to them in her home country.
“What did she tell her kids?” one journalist asked, several minutes after Paola disappeared with the men in uniform.
But the question might be better directed at Canada.
How on earth will we explain to those two young Canadian kids why our government has robbed them of their mother?
Follow Isabel Macdonald on twitter at @IsabelMacdo