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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Immigration Minister Refuses to Halt Deportation of Newfoundland Family

As you calmly drive your daily commute from work to home you notice a police checkpoint in the distance and begin to slow. Rolling to a stop you lower the driver’s window, nod to the officer approaching your vehicle, and reach for your license. Nothing to worry about, after all it's just a routine stop and these are the good guys right?

Suddenly you are told to step out of your vehicle and place your hands on the roof. You are quickly handcuffed and hustled into the back of a patrol car by uniformed officers. Speeding through the streets, these men whisk you away to a local police station where your nightmare truly begins.

Seated in a stark interrogation room, a confession for car theft is pushed before your face. You are told not to read it, but to sign it. You are also told by the authorities that they have your wife and children and if you don’t sign it, your family will suffer the consequences.

You sign the papers they put before you. What choice do you have?

Can this nightmare really be happening?

According to Alexi Portnoy that’s exactly what did happen. What’s more, he served 8 months in an Israeli prison on the charge. Now years later he, his wife and their four children who live in Marystown Newfoundland are being uprooted from their adopted home and deported from Canada because of it.

Now, because he signed that confession, it looks like Alexi Portnoy's wife and children are being made to suffer the consequences by authorities in this Country.

According to the Department of Immigration, Mr. Portnoy’s criminal record precludes him from obtaining Canadian citizenship even though he has been a model citizen since moving to Canada years ago.

On the surface, denying people with a criminal record a place in Canada would seem like the sensible thing to do, but like any policy, one size doesn’t fit all. Sometimes other factors need to be considered and this is where our current immigration system completely breaks down.

After being allowed to enter the country, Mr. Portnoy and his wife have settled down and had two children, for a total of four. They have become a part of the local community they now call home. Now, after years of waiting for the painfully slow wheels of government to review their case, the answer is not what they wanted to hear. Simply put, they do not want to leave and nobody who knows them want them to leave either.

When denied citizenship and on being confronted with his arrest record Mr. Portnoy outlined the nightmare scenario above. Is this really the way things happened? Perhaps it was, or perhaps it wasn’t. Even if you doubt Mr. Portnoy’s explanation of the circumstances surrounding his arrest, even if he did indeed steal a car in his younger days, does this single act give the Canadian government the right to make him, and more importantly his wife and children, pay the consequences?

According to the people of Marystown Newfoundland the answer is a resounding NO.

The people of the town have rallied around the Portnoy family and even the mayor of the community is doing everything possible to pressure government for an extension to the deportation order. The hope is that the family can gain a fair hearing in the case.

The family has now been given asylum in the basement of a local Catholic church and members of the community are helping them in any way they can.

Why is the town being so supportive? Why is this case tugging at the heartstrings of the local community?

According to all reports, the Portnoys have been law abiding and contributing members of local society for years. Alexi Portnoy has been a model citizen who has never broken the law in Canada and was gainfully employed until being forced to seek refuge from authorities. Two of their four children were born in Canada. These children are Canadian citizens, yet if the family is deported, they to will be forced to go to Israel.

What will happen to them if the family is deported? One of the children suffers from cystic fibrosis, what will happen to her? What kind of medical care will she receive?

Add to all of this the fact that the mayor of Marystown has now received a fax from Israel containing the results of a police background check on Alexi Portnoy. According to this document, Mr. Portnoy is now listed as having no criminal record in that country.

Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal MHA Bill Matthews has spoken with the Minister of Immigration and with the Deputy Prime Minister. According to Mr. Matthews, the Minister refuses to entertain the idea of invoking his Ministerial Discretion in the case. Doing so might allow this family the time they need to appeal the deportation ruling and perhaps find a way to remain in the Country. Ottawa is turning a deaf ear.

Ministerial Discretion is a mainstay of the Canadian democratic system. This power allows Ministers to overrule departmental decisions when they feel the decision is a mistake or if they feel a decision is unjust. This power is meant to ensure that government control remains in the hands of elected officials rather than unelected bureaucrats.

According to reports, the Minister is refusing to delay the deportation order even in light of the new evidence on Mr. Portnoy’s background.

Many have commented on what seems to be a rather uneven and contradictory approach in this case in light of the fact that at the same time government is refusing to make an exception for the Portnoys, they did exactly that for television diva Martha Stewart.

Stewart, who because of her criminal record had been denied access to attend a festival in Nova Scotia, had her ruling overturned last week as soon as it came to government attention. The decision was made and Ms. Stewart was informed that she would be allowed in the Country all in a matter of hours. Although she ultimately did not make the festival due to bad weather conditions in Maine, Ms. Stewart was granted the right to do so without even having to argue her case.

Is this a matter of one rule for the rich and one for the poor? If Alexi Portnoy and his family were media superstars would they be hiding in a church basement praying for asylum? Would they be wondering what their future held? Would they be wondering about the future of their sick child and what impact the current stress may be having on her illness, or would they be sipping champagne in an airport lounge on their way to some media event?

Would the Minister of Immigration or the Prime Minister himself be so quick to dismiss this case if it was happening to a high profile family in Ottawa or Toronto rather than a working class one in small town Newfoundland? Many are pondering these questions and wondering what the country has come to when our leaders can take the international stage and speak of our nation's great record of human rights, compassion for the down trodden and care for the underprivileged while allowing a poor hard working family to be kicked out of the country they love.

The Portnoys, the town of Marystown and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador are not asking the government of Canada to immediately grant citizenship in this case. They are simply asking for more time. Time that would allow this family to plead its case and for the due process of law to take its course, due process that to date has been denied the Portnoy family.

4 comments:

Kevin Strowbridge said...

Myles,

Great commentary. I feel for this family, and I hope they are granted the time they need to make an appeal.

I am originally from NFLD. I am now an American citizen. It took me nearly 10 years to gain my citizenship in the US. It was a long, hard battle with many set-backs. So, I can relate somewhat to what this family is going through.

I wrote an article on this topic a few weeks ago that I invite your visitors to read: http://www.offdarock.com/opinionCove/Message.asp?ThreadID=20

In short, I pose the question as to why the NFLD government doesn't get this worked up whenever a NFLD-born family has to leave.

Outmigration is a serious problem in NFLD. If the NFLD government actually did something about it, the problem may become part of our history, rather than snubbing our future (government’s projection of the loss of another 41,198 Newfoundlanders over the next 14 years, bringing the total loss since 1991 to 105,573 Newfoundlanders).

I wish the Portnoys all the best. Good luck.

NL-ExPatriate said...

http://www.supporttheportnoyfamily.ca/

This family has already passed the 10 year sponsorship requirement.

Anonymous said...

4 kids and another one on the way...it's time you followed due process of the law and leave this country. I have worked all my life to support my family and I truly feel you will be a purdent on our society and you should be deported to your own country and follow the laws of OUR LAND.

Portnoy Family said...

Press Release
Portnoy Action Committee
P.O. Box 368, Marystown
Newfoundland and Labrador
AOE 2MO
Email: portnoyactioncommittee@hotmail.com
Webpage: www.supporttheportnoyfamily.com
Contact Persons (Committee Co-Chairs):

STOP, LOOK & LISTEN:

Basic advice aimed towards children apply to Portnoy’s bid to stay in Canada:

February 19, 2006

Immigration lawyer, Lee Cohen, upon meeting with the Portnoy family in Marystown and local support committee, insists that the family will win this battle for the privilege to stay in Canada.

The Portnoy Support Committee is preparing to launch a Petition Campaign with the theme STOP LOOK and LISTEN. Ms. Joanne Mallay-Jones explains the message is: “STOP the deportation order. LOOK at the best interests of the children involved and LISTEN to the local community when we state we want this family to stay! We are asking the new government to review this case on its own merits. This is the essence of this humanitarian and compassionate application and is the nucleus of this struggle. The petition campaign will occur in a number of facets: through schools, churches, community service groups, online petitions and the public as well as federal and provincial politicians are urged to weigh in positively on the issue”.

Ms. Mallay - Jones also explained that, “contact made by Mr. Cohen, prior to the announcing of the new Conservative Cabinet, with local Canadian Border Services Agency officer states unequivocally that Angela Portnoy will be arrested if she leaves sanctuary for any reason. This is contrary to earlier statements made by local MP Bill Matthews. Ms. Mallay -Jones acknowledges that the family was fearful of accepting this statement from Mr. Matthews when the comments were made, as we had nothing in writing at any level to support this. By deciding to maintain this deportation order, a serious oversight of the previous Liberal Immigration Minister, the family especially Angela is subjected to a cruel “cat and mouse game” with the federal government and this bullying behavior has to come to a stop!

“Accountability has been an issue in the past; we are hoping that our experiences in the past will prove useful in dealing with the new government. Official contact will be made shortly to see how the new Immigration Minister will handle this case. The mountain of evidence why this family should stay is impossible to ignore. This will be done through legal representation and through the campaign soon to be underway”.

“The family and committee are hopeful that the New Minister of Immigration will see the irony and total lack of logic in continuing this deportation order when a New H & C document is on the books. It would make complete sense to allow this family to return to their home in Marystown until the decision concerning the H & C is completed. Loyola Hearn has spoken publicly on this issue in the last number of weeks and we are hopeful that means there is room for discussion on this issue with the new Immigration Minister Monte Solberg”.

Ms. Mallay-Jones notes that many continue to ask how they can help with the family, legal and committee efforts, the family is most grateful for all support they continue to receive. Financial, and pledges of support is needed anyone wishing to; download petitions, sign online petition guestbook, or make a donation or participate/organize a special event, visit the website for contact information www.supporttheportnoyfamily.ca or email portnoyactioncommitte@hotmail.com.

In closing, Ms. Mallay-Jones explains that, “the next few weeks will be spent organizing and executing this campaign locally and federally. Of course the new government is still settling in and through the family’s legal representation and the public campaign we hope that this issue will not go unnoticed and may resolved positively for all involved sooner rather than later”. Newfoundlanders are quite use to struggles and hardship, maybe that combined with our own sense of Immigration history is what makes many relate so well to this family. This is not going away and as more people are becoming aware of the case, it is growing exponentially.