Interviewed by Felix
Above: Beverley Braham Thompson, her Canadian husband and their four- month-old son. Photo by Toronto Sun.
Can you share your experience leading up to receiving a deportation notice?
B: I had come on a visa but it had expired. I got an immigration consultant and he told me he would get my papers through a refugee claim but I didn’t know much about making a refugee claim. All he told me was that I was going to get a work permit and a health card and I was excited. But he tricked me; he didn’t give me all the information and made me lie on my refugee claim. Now I regret lying because I know I could have gotten status without lying. In the end the claim didn’t go through and he got a lawyer to appeal the decision but lost.
Eventually I was told to leave, but I didn’t go. Which led to a warrant for my arrest. I decided to go into hiding. I moved away from my address and stayed at various locations. The immigration consultant told me that he would do a humanitarian and compassionate claim for me. He told me that with a humanitarian and compassionate claim they could not deport me. This is not true. He made the arrangements to take me to CBSA (Canadian Border Services Agency) but when I got there, they detained me.
Now I realized, from what he was saying, and how the officers were acting, that it was a set up. At the time I didn’t know. Bert, my husband, called my immigration consultant but he went from asking for $1,500 to $2,000 to get me released. He was really bad and he just stopped talking to us after that point. Eventually I had a removal order and a date set for my deportation. I spent about two weeks in detention. I was pregnant at the time and was with a bunch of ladies. I got a new immigration consultant and I was released. He was really good.
Why was it important for you to stay in Canada?
B: I mean you come here for a better life. I came to Canada because I wanted to better my life. I wanted to establish myself, go back to school, to work. Jamaica is hard right now. I went to school there and there is nothing; no opportunities.
Canada is where I want to be so I decided I would stay no matter what.
What were the steps taken to try and stop your deportation?
B: The first thing we did was get good legal representation. I want to highlight to people that are going through this kind of situation that they need to be careful who they choose to represent them. There are a lot of people out there that will take your money and do nothing for you. They know your situation; you’re facing deportation and you’re vulnerable. They will take advantage of you and will take as much money as they can.
Good legal representation is expensive, but don’t be afraid to reach out to people to help you. I am so thankful that I had my cousin, my girlfriend and fiancée to help pay for my legal bills.
I am now married to a Canadian citizen and, at the time, I was pregnant with our son. We’re still married, but the Canadian government said that our marriage was not genuine. That was a huge part of the case they had against us. When I was in detention, I wasn’t married to my husband yet. When I was in front of the judge for a hearing, they asked my husband questions. The judge’s response to his questions was that my husband was more into the relationship than me. That he loved me more than I did him and for that reason it wasn’t genuine.
I decided to start reaching out to organizations because I knew what they were doing wasn’t fair, but I needed a platform. I needed a network. I reached out to Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLMTO) because I knew that they could help. I am so grateful for what they did for me.
Did you go public about your case? If so, what was that like? Is there anything you would suggest to others who may have to talk to the media?
B: I went public because of BLMTO. We held a big protest and a lot of media channels that showed up to interview me. Before the protest, I didn’t prepare. I didn’t know that it was going to be so big! I wasn’t even expecting media to show up; I was shocked.
I remember being in the plaza and asking where everyone was. I called my husband and he said “you need to see this”. I got there and was shocked. So many people cared about my story.
That’s when my story went international. Before this, many people had no idea these things were happening in Canada. People think that the Canadian government is always there to welcome you. I know the protest helped because afterwards the Minister gave me a stay of removal for three months. I had complications with my pregnancy, but before BLMTO got involved, the government didn’t want to do anything about it. They had already purchased my plane ticket.
I would encourage other in similar situations to go for it because when you don’t have people to speak up for you; you don’t get what you’re really looking for and you don’t get the support. When you have organizations come together and bring your story forward, it will benefit you.
Since my experience, I’ve seen articles in the Toronto Star and CBC News that they have made a lot of changes. For one; when I was in detention, they detained me with my son. I saw something in the news talking about how they no longer want to put mothers and their children in detention. They want to try and keep them in the community. Campaigns like mine help put pressure on the government to make necessary changes.
Did you have a support system throughout this process?
My husband, he was there with me right through, he never gave up. There were a few other people who knew about my situation who supported me. I mean you were one of my biggest supporters. You kept in touch with me. You met with lawyers. You did a lot for me when I couldn’t come forward anymore because I was in hiding. You would go to meetings and relay the information to me. I really appreciate you. Thank you.
BLMTO got the media to pay attention to your case which led to the grant the stay, but it didn’t stop the deportation. What made you decide not to show up for your removal?
While everything was happening, I had submitted a spousal sponsorship application. I decided that I would go underground while my spousal sponsorship was being processed.
M: How did you stay safe while CBSA was looking for you after the warrant was issued?
B: The first advice I’ll give you, based on what I did to stay safe, is if you don’t want to leave then move away from your address because they will come to check your address. When you get a deportation date and you don’t show up the airport for it they issue a warrant for your arrest. Some people may tell you that they might forget warrant. This is not true. They will issue that warrant. So, if you’re not planning to go; leave the day before and find somewhere to hide. Do not tell people where you’re going because you cannot trust many people fully. CBSA does not have the resources to track you down, however, change your number. Because they have your number and they will call you. Change your address, change your telephone number. Move away from the audience because it’s hard for them to really see you on the street.
I had access to the internet when I got another phone and I used an app called Text Now to get a phone number that wasn’t registered to any phone company so it was harder to track. When I called my husband, I would call from a blocked number so they couldn’t track it.
Did you change your appearance at all?
B: I didn’t change my appearance. Keeping where I was a secret from everyone was the most important thing to do. When I first moved, I stayed inside for about a month just to stay safe. At the time I was really worried. Overtime I became more relaxed about it but they did try to find me. They called my friends. They showed up at my husbands work and they went to my friends’ house. But luckily my friend didn’t know where I was. I didn’t tell her because if I had told her she would have cracked.
For six months my husband didn’t come around me. We had a middleman and my husband used to give him stuff to bring for the baby. The whole time this was happening I had my baby with me.
What about employment?
B: If you’re working somewhere and you need to keep working then change jobs as well. They went where I was working. They went there looking for me and there was another girl there without documents. She lived in the apartment upstairs from the restaurant. They searched her, took her passport and told her to come to 6900 Airport Road. She ended up getting deported.
The best thing is to try and avoid trouble. Try and avoid areas you know the police will be profiling. The best thing is to stay indoors. If you have to go to work just go to work and come back.
I used to put myself in the mindset of acting like a citizen; like I belonged here. At one point I was doing customer service for the TTC and sometimes the police would be around and we would talk. I would say to myself “if you guys ever knew I had a warrant”, but they didn’t know and I just had to act normal because sometimes we can give ourselves away with our actions.
What was it like to be restricted to where you were staying? What did you do to stay busy?
I’m church person, so every Sunday I would go to church. I’m not a party girl; I don’t go to the club. So that aspect wasn’t an issue but I would still go to small things. BBQ’s and things like that. For the most part I would stay in as I much as I could. I would go to work and then come home and I stayed home. I tried to keep out of the public eye as much as I could even though I knew that no one could find me. The didn’t have time to look for, but prevention is better than cure so I kept things low key.
For others who might be on deportation notice, what are the things that you would like to share that might be useful for them?
The first thing that I would tell people is that it’s okay to just not leave. They make you feel like it is the worst thing in the world to do, but if you feel like it’s right for you to stay then go for it!
Another thing I will tell people, is that if you want to take the risk of dragging things out there are so options. When they reject your claim, CBSA will usually send you a letter to let you know and let you know of the date you need to go to Airport Road to report and sign in. These are usually the first steps to getting deported. Eventually, if you don’t respond, they will call you. You can always pretend that you never received the letter.
Even when people are in hiding and have a claim, the fact that you are in hiding doesn’t affect the claim. They have to process your application. That’s one thing that kept me going. My lawyer said to not let CBSA know where I was. They have to process the paper. CBSA and CIC (Citizen and Immigration Canada) have nothing to do with each other in terms of looking at your documents. This is what kept me going.
Generally, I would say that when you are going through something like this, you just can’t give up. I’m a praying girl. Reading my bible and praying is the first thing I do when I wake up and the last thing I do at night. I would always tell myself don’t give up, don’t give up, fight on, fight on, fight on. You will overcome.
Like I said, when I was in hiding, I had a sponsorship application in. I knew it could only take 26 months to process the claim. Because I had a timeline, I would tell myself that eventually I would know either way and I just had to get through it. Now it’s approved and I am just waiting to get my permanent residency. The biggest thing is to stay smart. Be smart, have back up plans. If I can get my document after all of this so can you.