Montreal Gazette, Feb. 22, 2017 - Despite pleas from family, friends, and politicians for a last-minute reprieve to allow her to stay in Canada, an Iranian woman was instead taken into custody Tuesday, ahead of her deportation next week.
Roghayeh Azizi Mirmahaleh, 60, a political dissident, has been detained at the Laval Immigration Centre, said her daughter Sahar Bahrami, a post-doctoral student at McGill University.
“I’m so concerned about her — she can’t stand it,” Bahrami said, breathless. “Her health is in danger.”
Mirmahaleh has diabetes and high blood pressure, among other ailments, and did not bring her medication with her, Bahrami said. She had gone to a scheduled meeting with the CBSA, to answer questions about her deportation Feb 28. But she was whisked off without warning, Bahrami said.
“They didn’t even let me see her before they took her to prison.”
Mirmahaleh’s lawyer, Stéphanie Valois, who was at the meeting with the CBSA, said the agency was asking her client the same questions it asked last week and then arrested her because they thought there was a possibility she might not report to immigration authorities for her deportation.
“She said she was still hoping a decision would be made to stop the deportation,” Valois said. “She told them she can’t understand that Canada doesn’t see what would happen to her. And she was detained.”
Canadian immigration officials acknowledge that Mirmahaleh was imprisoned for three years in Iran in the 1980s, when her daughter was a toddler, because of her support of the political dissent group Mujahedin-E-Khalq (MEK). They also acknowledge that her husband was executed by the Iranian authorities in 1988 because of his involvement with MEK.
When Mirmahaleh’s claim for refugee status was rejected in 2015, Valois asked for a pre-removal risk assessment, to determine the risk of imprisonment, torture or death should she be deported to Iran.
Without conducting an interview, and despite Mirmahaleh’s involvement in protests in Canada against the Iranian regime’s human rights abuses, an immigration officer concluded there was no such risk.
“The applicant has not sufficiently demonstrated that authorities in Iran are aware of her involvement in political demonstrations in Canada … nor has the applicant sufficiently demonstrated that this level of political activism outside of Iran would result in her detention or mistreatment” (in Iran).
Québec solidary MNA Amir Khadir, who was born in Iran, has called on the federal government to halt her deportation.
“If the federal government does not intervene promptly to grant Canadian protection, (Mirmahaleh) is likely to be arrested and possibly executed in Iran,” Khadir said on Monday.
Valois is hoping either Public Security Minister Ralph Goodale or Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen uses their discretion to stop the deportation.
“A case like this is shocking for any Canadian,” Valois said, adding that Mirmahaleh’s entire involvement with MEK consisted in handing out pamphlets about human rights in Iran. “I’ve sent the whole file to journalists — there’s nothing to hide.”
As a last resort, Valois has requested a stay of deportation, so that a federal court judge can review the risks of returning Mirmahaleh to Iran, where a Concordia professor, Homa Hoodfar, was imprisoned for several months last year, and where a Canadian-Iranian photojournalist, Zahra Kazemi, was tortured to death in 2003.
“All the doors are closing but in fact, if she returns she is in danger and someone has to look at that and take responsibility,” Valois said.
The CBSA would not confirm Mirmahaleh’s detention, or comment on the case because of confidentiality reasons. Scott Bardsley, a spokesperson for Goodale, would not comment on her case specifically either. But in an email response to questions he said:
“The decision to remove someone from Canada is not taken lightly … Once individuals have exhausted all legal avenues of appeal/due process, they are expected to respect our laws and leave Canada or be removed.”