The Ottawa Citizen by Michelle Stewart 8 August 2013
It has been nearly a month since Harper’s cabinet shuffle and it is time for the new ministers to take leadership roles in their posts. Minister Chris Alexander needs to step out of Jason Kenney’s shadow and bring about much needed changes in the ministry of citizenship and immigration. He can start with the case of two young students who have been hiding in church basements for the past year.
On June 19, 2012, two University of Regina students — Victoria Ordu and Favour Amadi — sought sanctuary in a Regina-area church to avoid deportation for working two weeks at Walmart. They have been hiding in local churches for more than 400 days.
Although Canadian Border Services Agency had discretion throughout their investigation and could have pursued other sanctions, Ordu and Amadi were ordered deported. For the past year, these two young women have endured fear and seclusion. Their only hope is to finish their last year of classes and return home to Nigeria with their degrees.
Although both had applied for and obtained work permits, those permits only authorized work on campus, not off. Their mistake was to take their permits off campus. Current legislation forces foreign students to jump through additional bureaucratic hoops to seek separate work permits for off-campus employment.
But there is good news: Citizenship and Immigration Canada proposed changes to the International Student Program in December 2012 that would allow eligible students to have one work permit that will cover on- and off-campus employment. These changes are scheduled to come into effect this year and are welcomed in Saskatchewan where, the unemployment rate is currently 3.3 per cent.
This change will assist thousands of international students who, like their Canadian peers, often need to work to offset their living costs. In the spirit of this streamlining, pending deportations for minor infractions like Ordu and Amadi’s must be rescinded to allow the students to return to class.
The support for these two young women is unprecedented: at the provincial level, ministers from the Saskatchewan Party government and members of the NDP opposition have spoken in support of the two women. Indeed, the Minister of Justice, Gordon Wyant, characterized the offence as “trivial.” Alongside this political support, local and national unions have taken up the case.
The president of the University of Regina has called for a compassionate resolution for Ordu and Amadi. Students, faculty, community members, federal politicians and organizations have also expressed support of the students. All sides are asking for one thing: let them stay.
As a professor who works daily with international students, I applaud the effort to streamline the bureaucracy and to allow students to secure employment when they study in Canada.
Saskatchewan, with its low unemployment rate, can ill afford to put up barriers to people who want to work. As someone who teaches in the field of social justice, I know we can do better. These students deserve a second chance to finish their degrees and to return home with an education that will assist them and their families.
Critics argue that students who violate the terms of their visas should be deported. However, given that these students have served over 400 days in sanctuary for a minor violation that will soon no longer be an offence, what purpose would deportation serve?
As Canada is increasingly a destination spot for international students, we want to send a strong message about the importance of education, but also of compassion.
As the summer comes to a close and the hallways begin to fill at the University of Regina, Minister Chris Alexander has the power to intervene and allow us to welcome Ordu and Amadi back to campus for Sept. 3. In his previous posts, Alexander worked on projects dedicated to the rights of women and access to education.
He has the opportunity to bring these same commitments to his new post.
Choosing to not intervene only reinforces the message that the federal cabinet shuffle was nothing more than a political game. And when we think about the lives of two young women, the time for games is over.