Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Dozens Join Hunger Strike in Support of Pregnant Ottawa Syrian Refugee Fighting Deportation

For Immediate Release
Rural Refugee Rights Network
(613) 267-3998

Dozens Join Hunger Strike in Support of Pregnant Ottawa Syrian Refugee Fighting Deportation

Almost three dozen people across the country will launch a chain-fast hunger strike on Friday, May 20 in support of Ottawa's Dima Siam, a pregnant, stateless Palestinian Syrian refugee who is fighting a deportation order to Syria. They are demanding that the federal government grant her the same permanent resident status now enjoyed by over 25,000 recent Syrian arrivals.

        "Until the start of Ramadan in June, many of us will be fasting for one or more days to demand that Immigration Minister John McCallum intervene in this case and do the right thing by granting her status, ending the fear and nightmares her family experience on a daily basis with this limbo they live under," says fast organizer Matthew Behrens of the Rural Refugee Rights Network. A petition launched by Behrens in support of Dima Siam has gathered almost 22,000 signatures, yet the Liberal government continues to delay action on the file. (See petition at

        "We are doing this because we heard Dima was so desperate that she herself was about to start a hunger strike," continues Behrens. "That's how desperate she and thousands of others who live in a stateless limbo in this country are feeling. Every single hour of every single day. How do they begin to move forward with their lives never knowing what will happen to them? The limbo just makes worse the trauma they already experienced living in the Alyarmouk Camp south of Damascus, from which they came to Canada in late 2012."

        Amnesty International has written in support of Ms Siam, noting, "As a Syrian woman Dima Siam faces a wide range of serious human rights abuses in Syria,” adding, “anyone fleeing Syria should be considered in need of international protection.”

Dima Siam's three Canadian children: "Our Mum is Our Sun Who Lights Our Days"
    Dima Siam's oldest child also made a personal plea to the Prime Minister on his mother's birthday,

        Dima Siam is married to a Canadian citizen and they have three Canadian children who are worried that they might lose their mother. The children are experiencing anxiety and behavioural issues at school and, when at home, never play alone in a room for fear that if they are not with their mother, she may be scooped up by immigration authorities and deported to the war zone of Syria.

        Ms Siam, a teacher, currently has a Humanitarian & Compassionate (H&C) Application before the Liberal government, but she has been informed that it may not even be examined until nine months from now, after the baby is born, because they are demanding an Xray for her health check.  Ms Diam has passed all other requirements for landed status in Canada. While public pressure has brought about waiving the first stage of the H&C process, and the Minister has offered (but not delivered) a temporary resident permit (without which Dima cannot access OHIP during her pregnancy), the family is exhausted from three years of applications, thousands in fees, and no guarantee that the latest application will be approved without immediate ministerial intervention.

        Despite these frustrations, the family takes some heart from the mass of support they have received from people across the country. "Your solidarity feels like a remedy to my broken heart," Siam wrote in a statement to supporters.  "It gives some hope to see there is still humanity left in Canada."

        Siam's problems all stem from a minor 2013 paperwork error on her original sponsorship application; the delay in seeking landed status was exacerbated by the feds wrongly issuing her an application for a pre-removal risk assessment, which they then, one year later, refused to act upon because they said they couldn't.

        "We have been sent to the hospital emergency room from panic attacks, we are depressed, this is ruining our family," says Mohammad Al-Rayyan, a systems engineer who is scratching his head about the difficulties that have befallen his family. "The Trudeau government has done good things welcoming Syria refugees. When they sent the latest people overseas to get more refugees, we asked if they would come to Nepean on their way out of town, interview Dima, and make a decision right then and there, like they do in Jordan or Lebanon. No response. And so we wait."

        To arrange an interview with the family or for more information, call (613) 267-3998 or email

Those taking part in the chain fast:

Friday, May 20, Michelle Chamberlain, Peterborough, ON, Brenda Dolling, Caledon, Ontario, Mary Ann Higgs, Kingston, ON, Fahad Alam, Naseer,
Saturday, May 21, Mary Cowper-Smith, PEI, Caitlin, Tracy Carnahan, Friya Bastani, Mississauga, ON
Sunday, May 22, Murray Lumley, Toronto, ON, B. Machado,
Monday, May 23, Myriam Faraj, Joanna Badran, Eric Unger, Winnipeg, MB
Tuesday, May 24, Kheft Kaligari, Winnipeg, MB, Ora Waldman
Wednesday, May 25,  Heather Barclay,
Thursday, May 26, Nora Azfam,
Friday, May 27, Mary Ann Higgs, Kingston, ON, Amenda Walton, St. Catharines, ON
Saturday, May 28, Matthew Behrens, Perth, ON
Sunday, May 29, Kim Jackson,
Monday, May 30, Dwyer Sullivan, Kitchener, Ontario, Anna Malla, Toronto, ON, Eric Unger, Winnipeg, MB
Tuesday, May 31, Matthew Behrens, Perth, ON
Tuesday, May 31, Màire Ní Bhroin                   
Wednesday, June 1, Judith Mills
Thrsday, June 2, Marcia Perryman and Mary McBride, Belleville, ON
Friday, June 3, Mary Ann Higgs, Kingston, ON
Saturday, June 4
Sunday, June 5, Christine Rhodes
Monday, June 6, Fatema Nakhuda, Toronto, ON, Karen Madsen, Eric Unger, Winnipeg, MB

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Grant Syrian Refugee and Ottawa Resident Dima Siam Permanent Residency in Canada

Please sign this petition to allow a stateless Syrian refugee permanent residency in Canada:

Dima Siam, left, with her husband Mohammad and their three children, is fighting deportation from Canada to Syria because of a simple paperwork error. We are seeking the same status for Dima Siam as was recently granted to 25,000 other Syrian refugees welcomed to Canada: permanent residency.

(Below is the text of the petition)
To: John McCallum, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada; Arif Virani, Parliamentary Secretary to Mr. McCallum; Jenny Kwan, NDP Critic for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship

We are asking you to grant immediate Permanent Resident status to Dima Siam, a stateless Syrian Palestinian who lives in Ottawa with her husband and three children, all of whom are Canadian citizens.

Since January 29, 2015, Dima Siam, a teacher with university degrees in education and biology, has lived under the threat of deportation from Canada to Syria, the very war zone from which Canada has recently received 25,000 refugees. Amnesty International writes: “As a Syrian woman Dima Siam faces a wide range of serious human rights abuses in Syria,” adding, “anyone fleeing Syria should be considered in need of international protection.”

You can provide Dima Siam with that protection by exercising your discretion under Section 25.1 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and granting her the same Permanent Resident status enjoyed by over 25,000 Syrians recently welcomed to Canada. You have shown compassion and common sense in resolving cases like Dima Siam’s that were left over from the previous government, and we trust you will do so once more upon considering the facts of this case.

Needless to say, the threat of deportation to Syria, where Dima Siam would be at risk from all sides of the conflict, is psychological torture. It has resulted in depression, family stress – especially for the young children, who fear they too will be deported and who won’t stay in a room unless one of their parents is constantly with them – emergency room visits via ambulance, and a range of other afflictions due to a life of constant fear and uncertainty.

While a letter outlining the chronology of this case has been sent to your office, we wish to point out to you that Dima Siam finds herself in limbo because of a simple paperwork error, an honest misinterpretation of one checkbox on her sponsorship form, which was filled out by her husband, Mohammad. When Dima and Mohammad were called in to see an Immigration officer more than 20 MONTHS after it was submitted, they were informed their application could only proceed if they repaid a modest amount of social assistance that the family had received when the application was submitted.

 Despite meeting the Immigration Officer’s requirement of paying back the social assistance, on January 29, 2015, Dima Siam’s sponsorship application was rejected, and she then received a letter with this ominous demand: “You are currently in Canada without status and you must leave immediately.”

Needless to say, they were devastated. How could Canada send anyone back to Syria based on a checkbox error? What’s worse, in February, 2015, the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) called Dima Siam in to fill out a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA), which the family took great pains to produce and submit. After waiting almost an additional stressful year for a decision (one in which the stress resulted in emergency room hospital visits), they were told the CBSA would NOT review the PRRA application because it was issued to the family in error. When the government makes a mistake that results in an additional year of excruciating limbo and thousands in expenses, the only ones who pay the price are Dima Siam and her family.

Canadian courts and tribunals have long recognized that there will be instances where the strict, inflexible application of the rules in an individual case would be unjust and harsh, and the case of Dima Siam is certainly one of them (see, for example, Hajariwala v M.E.I., [1988] F.C.J. No. 1021, where the Federal Court of Canada recognized “The purpose of the [immigration] statute is to permit immigration, not prevent it.” See also Baker v. MCI [1999] S.C.J. No. 39, at para. 53-74, where the Supreme Court of Canada declared: “immigration officers are expected to make the decision that a reasonable person would make, with special consideration of humanitarian values such as keeping connections between family members and avoiding hardship by sending people to places where they no longer have connections.”)

While we are pleased to welcome 25,000 Syrian refuges to this country, we believe that Canada must also immediately end the limbo faced by Dima Siam and hundreds of other Syrian refugees facing deportation FROM Canada back TO Syria. They should be granted permanent resident status leading to citizenship so they can properly access health care, educational opportunities, and employment.

A positive first step will be the immediate resolution of the Dima Siam case, allowing her and her family to lift the weight of fear and terror that hangs over their heads with Canada’s threat to deport her to Syria based on an honest paperwork error.

We look forward to reading you have granted Dima Siam permanent residency and that your government will consider a similar solution for hundreds of other Syrians facing similar challenges.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Help Santa Claus Reunite 4-Year-old Daksh Sood with his Ottawa Parents

Help Santa Claus Reunite 4-Year-old Daksh Sood with his Ottawa Parents


This holiday season, please help one Ottawa couple who have been struggling for three years to be reunited with their now 4-year-old boy, Daksh Sood. Under the Harper government, Daksh, then aged 1, was barred from Canada because of a simple, honest paperwork error. The Canadian visa office in India has twice refused to handle the case for ridiculous reasons (including a suggestion that Daksh, at 4 years old, apply to come here as a skilled worker!) Media stories on the case are listed at the bottom of this email.

The new Liberal government has promised to make family reunification a priority. This case is as good a place to start as any. Depriving a young boy of his parents goes against the stated purposes of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Daksh's parents, Bhavna Bajaj and Aman Sood, are hoping for the kind of Christmas present that not even Santa Claus can deliver: a temporary resident permit (TRP) to be issued to Daksh no later than December 26. (Right now, Daksh's father, Aman, is in India until that date, and hoping that when he returns, Daksh will be with him.)

1. Sign and share on facebook and twitter the petition at

2. Email Immigration Minister John McCallum and Parliamentary Secretary Arif Virani, as well as Prime Minister Trudeau  at, and cc asking that they grant a temporary resident permit (TRP) for 4-year-old Daksh Sood no later than December 26. Explain that Daksh's father has been visiting this month, and is ready to bring him home. Explain why this is just the right thing to do.

3. Call Immigration Minister John McCallum's office at 613-996-3374 and Parliamentary Secrtary Arif Virani at 613-992-2936 and tell them that you are requesting that the Minister issue a special Christmas present: a temporary resident permit (TRP) for Daksh Sood. Please be polite as staff there are very nice. Please let us know at what the reaction has been.

4. If you are in Ottawa, join Santa Claus and the elves on Tuesday, December 22 at 11:45 am at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's office at Elgin and Wellington as they deliver over 11,000 signatures on petitions calling for Daksh Sood to be brought to Canada.

I have known and worked with this hard-working Ottawa couple for a year, and can speak directly to the sadness and emptiness they carry with them: all of their dreams are based on a life together in Canada, and that dream will not be fulfilled until their son is reunited with them in Ottawa.

Thanks for your help!

Matthew Behrens
The Rural Refugee Rights Network

More at: <


Friday, April 24, 2015

We are also responsible for the tragic deaths of refugees in the Mediterranean

A recent Op Ed submitted by Toronto refugee lawyers Geraldine Sadoway and Andrew Brouwer:

We Canadians like to think of ourselves as generous and humanitarian, complying with our obligations and commitments under international law to protect refugees. In 1986, the Canadian people were awarded the Nansen medal for our assistance to refugees – the only time the medal has been awarded to an entire people. Yet even as we were opening our hearts and homes to the Vietnamese and Cambodian “boat people” following the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, our government was looking for ways to keep refugees from reaching Canada. For example in 1979 Canada imposed a visa requirement for Chile to ensure that the steady stream of refugees from Pinochet’s dictatorship would be cut off.

Quietly and systematically, in collaboration with European, Australian and U.S. allies, Canada has been closing every possible avenue of access for refugees. By doing so, we drive them into the hands of smugglers who are reaping profits at the expense of the lives of desperate people.

When we learn of the origin of the latest drowning victims, it is clear that they are refugees. They are Syrians, Iraqis, Somalis, Afghans, Eritreans, Libyans – fleeing from the horrific civil strife and brutal repression in their homelands. If they reached our refugee hearing rooms, most would be recognized as refugees and granted protection. And for that very reason, the federal government’s focus has been on keeping people from getting here in the first place.

How is it done?
  •  By imposing a visa requirement on anyone coming from a country that has any situation of civil unrest or human rights violations and then refusing to issue visas: this forces refugee claimants into the hands of smugglers who transport them by “irregular means” and may furnish them with fake visas
  •  By enlisting the aid of carriers – airlines and shipping lines - training them how to spot false documentation and fining them very heavily for permitting passengers to travel without satisfactory documentation, regardless of whether they are fleeing for their lives 
  • By “pushing the border out” through the multiple border strategy – ensuring that there are at least seven different border control points before a refugee reaches Canada
  • By closing our only land border so that refugees travelling via the United States are ineligible to seek refugee status in Canada – the so-called “Safe Third Country Agreement
  • By changing the laws against smuggling so that they include people who assist refugees to reach Canada for purely humanitarian reasons - so the only option for the refugee is to go with the mercenary smugglers
  • By severely penalizing refugees who come by “irregular means” – imprisoning them and denying them the opportunity to bring their family to Canada even if they are granted protection.
In 1951, after the Second World War, the countries of the United Nations adopted the Refugee Convention, recognizing the right of every person to seek refuge from persecution and the obligation of all countries to share in providing protection for refugees. We pledged that “never again” would we be responsible for closing our doors to the desperate and the persecuted, sending people to their deaths or leaving them to perish, as we had done before and during the Second World War. But these methods of interdiction, preventing refugees from reaching our border, violate the spirit and the purpose of that Convention.

We have become a part of “Fortress Europe” and we share Europe’s responsibility for the increasing reliance of refugees on smugglers to reach countries of refuge, and the human tragedies that are happening in the Mediterranean “moat” around Fortress Europe.

To ease the pressure of the current emergency situation, we must respond positively to the urgent call by UN Special Rapporteur Francois Crépeau to join with the countries of Europe in a comprehensive plan to take one million refugees from Syria over the next five years. And we must re-think our refugee-interdiction policies and develop safe, fast, and legal ways for refugees and their families to secure protection in Canada.
Geraldine Sadoway and Andrew Brouwer, Refugee Lawyers, Toronto

Monday, January 26, 2015

Canada Bars 3-year-old from living in Canada with his parents: Sign petition!

(Please share and forward widely, thanks!)


The Government of Canada has been clear: 3-year-old Daksh can never live in Canada with his parents.

We disagree. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child disagrees. Canada's own immigration law disagrees.

We hope you do too.

Over the holiday season, we met with an Ottawa couple who were heartbroken that they could not be with their 3.5-year-old son Daksh. The Canadian government has told his parents, Bhavna and Aman, that Daksh can never come to Canada.  He has been separated from them and forced to live in India because of human error and apparently inflexible governmental reading of immigration regulations that could be remedied with the stroke of the Immigration Minister's pen. You may be familiar with the Ottawa Citizen story on the case at

You can help reunite Daksh with his family be signing this online petition:

Chris Alexander, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, declared on February 3, 2014,  "Our government understands the importance of spending time with family and loved ones and we committed to improving the immigration system so that families can be reunited more quickly."  He reiterated this point on December 19, 2014 by saying "Canada has  one of the most generous family reunification programs in the world and we are taking action to reduce backlogs and improve processing times—so that families are reunited with their loved ones more quickly.”
Family reunification is a primary objective of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and a noble goal, but unfortunately, that spirit of generosity has not extended to the hard-working Ottawa couple Bhavna Bajaj and Aman Sood, permanent residents who have been told by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), that they can never bring their 3-1/2-year-old son, Daksh, to Canada to live with them. The reason for this conclusion is simple: having received poor advice from an immigration consultant, they did not fill in the proper paperwork when they originally came to Canada as skilled workers in 2013. It was a simple, honest mistake, for which they have been punished for over two years by not being allowed to raise their baby boy here in Canada.

Aman Sood and his son, Daksh (above) and Aman, Daksh, and Bhavna Bajaj. The Ottawa couple  hope pictures like these will soon be taken again and that Canada will overturn the decision to bar their 3-year-old son from joining them in Ottawa, Canada.

Human beings make errors, honest mistakes, and people should not be punished for them, especially when no harm was intended or done, and one of the individuals concerned is so young and needs to be with his parents. We know that even Immigration Canada makes mistakes. Indeed, the Toronto Star reported on January 5, 2015 that "CIC employees often fail to use correct form letters or provide accurate timelines," errors which "could not only cost individual applicants a chance to live and work in Canada but affect the efficiency of the system and create unnecessary backlogs."

Bhavna and Aman cry every night for missing their son Daksh during some of his most important formative years. They do not seek to deceive or cheat the immigration system, and it's been very difficult for them to go public about their private lives, but it is something they are willing to do in order to reunite their family and to enjoy the embrace of their little boy in their Ottawa home.

Please sign the petition at urging that Chris Alexander exercise his discretionary power under section 25 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to allow Daksh to be reunited with his parents in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

Please share this appeal widely on email, on facebook and other media platforms you may have access to.

Thank you!

Rural Refugee Rights Network
(613) 267-3998,

"The child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding." – UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

"Applications by a child or his or her parents to enter or leave a State Party for the purpose of family reunification shall be dealt with by States Parties in a positive, humane and expeditious manner." – UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

"to see that families are reunited in Canada" (3d) Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, Canada, under "Objectives" of the Act

"Childhood is entitled to special care and assistance”, Universal Declaration of Human Rights