When governments make policy errors, it can have a detrimental impact on society. Thankfully, policy can be changed. However, when policy affects a family’s life, it can have a devastating effect.
Last year, I wrote about the Pusuma family. The Pusumas came to Canada as refugee claimants from Hungary. They are of Roma and Jewish origin. Because they’re human rights activists, they were targeted and harassed based both on their ethnicity and their human rights work. They and their then-one-year-old-daughter were brutally attacked by Hungarian neo-Nazis.
At any other time, Canada would have welcomed them as refugees fleeing persecution. But under the present government, they were labelled phony refugees, taken advantage of by an unscrupulous refugee lawyer whose carelessness led to a rejection by the Immigration and Refugee Board. The same recklessness in legal appeals also led to failure. As a last resort, the Pusumas went into sanctuary in a Toronto church basement.
As the months turned to years, the Pusumas became disillusioned. Lack of freedom and forced sanctuary can do that to you. Despite entreaties to government officials, including the minister of immigration, there was no mercy. Our once-proud record of Canadian compassion for those less fortunate has been turned on its head. At one time, a case like this would have elicited understanding and, in all likelihood, a temporary visa to remain in the country, pending the resolution of allegations of professional misconduct against their lawyer, Victor Hohots. But the Harper government would not bend, so the Pusumas left Canada and returned to Hungary, where they remain in hiding.
On March 2, Hohots admitted to allegations of misconduct before a disciplinary panel of the Law Society of Upper Canada. There were 13 complainants, all Roma refugees (including the Pusuma family), all of whom charged that it was his misconduct that led to findings of inadmissibility. Sadly, almost all 13 claimants have been deported.
This is not just a story of legal misconduct. For Canadians, it’s a story of government cruelty and mercilessness.
Throughout this entire ordeal, instead of giving any credence to the fact that 13 refugee claimants may have had honourable cases against Hohots, the government chose to demonize them. Referring to them as “bogus,” ministers of the Crown appeared more like bullies than heroes and consistently refused to even consider the merits of their cases.
In the end, as reported in the Toronto Star, Hohots admitted everything, from not providing adequate legal advice to writing inaccurate and incomplete claims. He acknowledged doing little of the needed work, pawning it off on an interpreter in his office and an immigration consultant.
Regarding the Pusuma family specifically, the Star noted that a letter of reference from Victoria Mohacsi a one-time prominent Roma member of the European Parliament, was not submitted by Hohots to the immigration tribunal. As well, Hohots admitted that a documentary film giving substance to the Pusumas’ claim was neither translated nor brought before the tribunal.
Hohots also agreed he had no notes of any substance pertaining to the few meetings he had with the Pusuma family. He robbed the Pusumas of any further legal recourse,
Much of this information was known to the government, yet it still refused to show compassion.
Many Canadians supported the family. Churches, synagogues and 43,000 Canadians signed a petition asking for sympathy – all ignored by the Harper government. And most sad in my view was the unconscionable silence from mainstream leaders in our own Jewish community.
It’s too late for the Pusumas, whose lives have been irreversibly shattered. It’s not too late, however, to take back our dignity and compassion. As we approach a federal election, please go to the website of the Jewish Refugee Action Network and ask all federal candidates to sign the pledge of change toward refugee compassion. It’s a start to reclaiming our Canada.