May 26, 2015
Deported Roma family wins legal battle for second chance
By: Nicholas Keung
The Federal Court of Canada has thrown a lifeline to a deported Roma refugee family, whose former lawyer was suspended by the law society for professional misconduct.
In a recent ruling, the court ordered Immigration Minister Chris Alexander to reopen the case of Jozsef Pusuma, his wife Timea Daroczi and their daughter Viktoria, who were forced to leave Canada in December after they spent three years in sanctuary in a Toronto church.
Immigration officials must now reconsider the humanitarian application and risk assessment of the family.
“I agree with the applicants that there are numerous problems with the immigration officer’s analysis of the applicants’ H&C application and that the decision cannot stand,” wrote Justice Anne L. Mactavish in her 28-page decision, referring to the refusal to grant the family permanent residency on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
“The officer carrying out the assessment of the applicants’ PRRA (pre-removal risk assessment) application was the same officer who decided the applicants’ H&C application, and . . . many of the errors that I have already identified . . . were also present” in the PRRA that concluded the family would not be at risk if deported back to Hungary.
Although the court fell short of ordering the federal government to bring the family back to Canada from their current hiding place in Europe, the decision opens the door for their future return.
Pusuma, a onetime researcher for Viktoria Mohacsi, a prominent Roma and member of the European Parliament, arrived in Toronto with his family from Hungary in 2009. Their asylum case, prepared by lawyer Viktor Hohots, was heard in 2010 and later denied by the Immigration and Refugee Board.
Their subsequent applications for permanent residence on humanitarian grounds and PRRA were denied by immigration officials, who later also refused to reopen their case despite learning that the now disgraced lawyer faced disciplinary proceedings.
This month, a Law Society of Upper Canada disciplinary panel suspended him for five months and barred him from practicing refugee law for two years. He was ordered to complete a practice review and pay $15,000 in legal fees.
The family’s current lawyer, Andrew Brouwer, praised the court ruling.
“It’s a very strong decision. Justice Mactavish found unequivocally that the Pusuma family was denied a fair hearing of their refugee claim because of the professional misconduct of their previous lawyer,” Brouwer said.
“Citizenship and Immigration Canada had unjustly refused their requests for humanitarian and compassionate consideration and for PRRA, including by failing to give proper consideration to the danger they face in Hungary and the best interests of their daughter.”
The government had argued that Hohots’ misconduct did not taint the assessment of the Pusumas’s humanitarian case but the judge chided immigration, saying it was “apparent” officials relied heavily on the original asylum decision when assessing the risks faced by the family in Hungary.
The immigration department said all official decisions are made based on the merits of an individual case and refused to comment further, saying the case is now being reassessed. Immigration officials are prevented from appealing the court decision because the judge did not certify any questions.
“This family has already suffered such injustice, first in Hungary at the hands of the right-wing extremists, and then in Canada at the hands of their previous lawyer and Canadian government officials,” Brouwer said.
“It’s time to make things right. Let’s hope Minister Alexander does the right thing this time.”
With files from Rachel Mendleson