Faisal Arif, a policy analyst in the federal government of Canada, is working towards a single goal for the past decade. He wants to bring his parents from Bangladesh to Ottawa.
Faisal is a Canadian citizen with Bangladeshi roots, who lives there with his wife and two kids.
According to a report by the Canada’s CBC News, Faisal first applied to sponsor his father and mother in 2007. However, a section of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act has been preventing his father Taufiqul Arif, who is now 65 years old, from entering Canada.
Faisal’s father may be regarded as a hero in Bangladesh, but Canada has branded him a security threat.
Taufiqul Arif and his wife Farida both had a rich professional career. They worked as consultants for the United Nations, World Health Organisation and several other prominent aid agencies. Taufiqul, who has master’s degrees in both economics and engineering, has helped develop safe drinking water systems in rural villages. Meanwhile, Farida helped women in need to secure micro credit, and has represented Bangladesh at the UN.
Canadian authorities have denied entry to the couple despite their strong credentials.
Student leader during 1971 Liberation War
Documents that Faisal Arif obtained through access to information revealed that his parents have been flagged by the Canada Border Services Agency, because of his father’s involvement with the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh.
Taufiqul Arif, then a 19-year-old student leader, joined the struggle for freedom against the Pakistani junta’s oppression. Faisal, in an interview with the CBC News, supported his father saying that he stood up for what was right. He added that his father responded the call of the then [Bangladeshi] government in 1971, when it urged its people to come and join the Liberation War.
Taufiqul, in his initial interview with a Canadian immigration agent on November, 2014, proudly identified himself a freedom fighter and openly admitted to providing small arms training and teaching light guerilla warfare to villagers.
He also presented a certificate of valour he received from the newly formed Bangladeshi government after independence. The events that occurred in 1971, and Taufiqul’s involvement in them, may be preventing the couple form calling Canada their new home.
No evidence of war crimes
In an interview to CBC News, Toronto immigration lawyer Joel Sandaluk pointed out that there is no indication of Taufiqul personally committing any war crimes or crimes against humanity.
Earlier, CBC had asked the lawyer to review the 300 pages of documents linked to Taufiqul Arif’s case.
Sandaluk added that it appears Canadian immigration officials only looked at the retired engineer’s activities during the nine-month Liberation War, and ignored the 30-plus years of development and humanitarian work Taufiqul pursued after Bangladesh gained independence.
According to the Section 34 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, an applicant can be denied entry to Canada for engaging in or instigating the subversion by force of any government.
However, some immigration lawyers feel that the provision is being applied too broadly in some cases.
Mandela also would have been denied entry
Even participation in a peaceful protest or a non-violent act of civil disobedience could be interpreted as subverting a government, said Jamie Liew, an associate professor of immigration law at the University of Ottawa.
This particular section of the Canadian law does not distinguish between a democracy and a dictatorship. This omission can entrap activists or revolutionaries who later turn out to have been fighting for the greater good.
Elaborating on the issue, Liew termed Nelson Mandela as a perfect example. He is an honorary Canadian Citizen, but under any other circumstance, if he were to apply to Canada under this provision, he would be found inadmissible.
However, Canada Border Services Agency screeners, while checking documents related to Taufiqul Arif’s case, have noted that there were reasonable grounds to believe he engages, has engaged or will engage in acts of subversion.
The officials also quoted a BBC report in one of the files, regarding “alleged atrocities” committed by Bangali separatists in 1971, and had concluded that it is possible Taufiqul participated in revenge killings.
Ruled inadmissible by Canada
In an attempt to address the concerns of Canadian authorities, Taufiqul Arif has submitted police security checks from other countries where he has lived and worked, including Thailand and Malaysia.
But, the move was not enough to convince the country’s immigration officials that he would not pose a security threat.
Canada ruled Taufiqul and Farida inadmissible in February, 2016, which will also prevent the couple from appealing to the Immigration and Refugee Board.
Following the rule, Faisal Arif hired Ottawa immigration lawyer Rezaur Rahman to present his father’s case before the Federal Court of Canada, but was denied a hearing.
Rahman, who is also from Bangladesh, pointed out that he is aware of other former Bangladeshi freedom fighters who are now Canadian citizens.
Rahman added that Canada was one of the first countries to recognize Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan in 1972, under the then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.
Local MP vouches for the couple
Faisal Arif contacted his local Member of Parliament, Pierre Poilievre, after being denied a federal court hearing.
Supporting the cause, the Conservative MP wrote a letter vouching for Faisal’s character, and for his ability to support his parents.
Addressing the issue, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen told CBC that while he can’t discuss specific cases for reasons of privacy, admissibility decisions are made by highly-trained and experienced Canada Border Services Agency officers.
At this point, Faisal has only one option left to bring his parents to Canada. He must secure an exemption from the minister of public safety, which would remove the label of security risk from the couple’s immigration application.
As the fiasco dragged on for a decade, Faisal admitted that the lengthy process has plunged him into depression. Even if his parents are granted an exemption by the minister, they will still have to re-apply to immigrate to Canada. And there are no guarantees that their application will be accepted.
Since December 2012, Canada Border Services Agency has received 80 applications for what the agency calls ministerial relief, but during that same period, relief was granted in only nine cases.
Arif remains optimistic, telling CBC that he knows the procedures, has followed the rules that need to be followed and he will keep doing it because he believes in his government.
Arif, with a firm voice, added that he believes in being hopeful, because hope is all he has left.
This article first appeared on Dhaka Tribune.