Interviewed by Olwen Fowlie
Can you share your experience leading up to receiving a deportation notice?
K: Deportation is not great; deportation is not nice. Imagine after years living in this country you get deported. You have to leave everything behind and go. Some people leave children, some people leave families… I don’t wish it on anyone. I was in the country for 10 years before I received my notice. It was stressful, I lost sleep and I couldn’t eat. I felt like I had no morale.
A lot of people sell their houses to come to Canada. They sell their cars or they leave their jobs – they leave everything. Everything to go to the new life. How can you go back?
Why was it important for you to stay in Canada?
K: I left Algeria in 1996 during the civil war and went to the US to find safety. It was not easy in the U.S, but after many years I started to work, I started to study and I had my business. In 2001 after the (cannot hear what was said), everything changed for me because I had no status. They US government wanted to put me in jail and eventually return me to Algeria.
In 2003, two years later, I left the U.S. and to Canada. However, in 2005 I received a deportation notice.
What were the steps taken to try and stop your deportation?
K: Alone I had no power; however, I was volunteering with community organizations. That year there was a march from advertises from Montreal to Ottawa. It was a seven-day march to ask the government to grant status for all. I decided to go with them and I met a lot of nice people. After I received my notice, the people I had met at the march offered to help me. They called the government and asked them to stop my deportation.
Were they part of an organization?
K: Yes, a lot of organizations. Solidarity Across Borders/Solidarité Sans Frontières was the main organization supporting me. After sending letter to the government asking them to grant me status and receiving no answer, they asked me what I thought about seeking sanctuary in a church.
Before that point had you gone public with your case?
K: Not yet. We were just going to meetings at that point and not talking to the media. I did eventually go public when I was accepted to take sanctuary at a church near my house. Getting sanctuary was not a simple process, but I was glad I could stay in my neighbourhood and Father MacDonald, who took me in, was an amazing man.
Did you know him previous to this?
K: No. I’m Muslim and he is Catholic, and so we never met before. I had just one meeting with him and he accepted me.
What made you decide to go into sanctuary?
K: I am blind and have diabetes. Staying in a jail is a very difficult thing some someone with my health conditions. My choice was to either go to jail or stay in a church and I preferred the church.
How did you choose this church and how did they decide to accept you?
K: I chose it because it was my neighbour church. They accepted me with condition that I support myself – they would only provide me with a room to stay.
Did you have much interaction with the people at the church?
K: No, I was upstairs and the administration was down stairs. Sometimes I would have discussions with them; they were always nice – very nice people. They respected me and I respected them.
Did CBSA ever bother you while you were in sanctuary?
K: No, never. They never knocked on my door. They never bothered me. They never tried. There were even a few times I was on the balcony and no one bothered me.
How did you access healthcare and other services while in sanctuary?
K: I had a lot of doctors and nurses involved in my case. They volunteered their time to help me. A pharmacy I didn’t know offered to give me medications – I was very spoiled. I had a social worker and even a music teacher come to me. His name was Bob, he was American, and he taught me how to play the piano and the flute and I eventually launched two albums from the church.
How were you able to get status while in sanctuary?
K: I stayed in the church starting in January of 2005 and in 2009 I began to be in contact with immigration officers. Eventually Quebec granted me status. I was very happy at that moment. Imagine that – now I am a citizen, after so many years. I had two lawyers; (names inaudible) and over 250 organizations supporting me.
Can you talk a little bit about your experience talking with the media?
K: The media was 90% sympathetic with me. They were not my friends, but they were sympathetic. I had no problems speaking with the media, but in the beginning it was stressful.
Did you have some help from people?
K: Yes, I had help from friends but after a while I started to do it all by myself.
Do you have any suggestions for someone who has to deal with the media?
K: You have to know they are not your friend. The media is there to question you and they want an article. Uou have to be short – short and sweet. Don’t go very deep, it won’t help you.
What advice would you give to those considering going into sanctuary?
K: Sanctuary is not a first choice. You have steps to take. Call immigration and talk to your lawyer to see what options are available. You have to be ready to be in sanctuary; if you have health problems, I advise you to not go to sanctuary. If you are healthy and your case is strong; go for it. It’s not easy to get accepted into the church. Additionally, you can’t have any problems with the police. If you have had problems with them, they can take you from the church. Overall, don’t think it will be easy.