Haitian families overwhelmed by anxiety, frustration as deportation dates shift

Frantz André advocates on behalf of Haitian asylum seekers in Montreal. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

By Verity Stevenson & Benjamin Shingler, CBC News, Dec. 10, 2018

Much of what Endy Labaty, his wife and daughter have accumulated in the two years they've spent in Canada is now stuffed in suitcases all over their Montreal apartment.

The family has spent the two years since they claimed asylum in Canada building a life here. They got good jobs, found a small but comfortable apartment, put their two-year-old daughter in daycare.

They came here after Labaty's wife was kidnapped for ransom and his family members were targeted by robbers in Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital. She did not want to be named for fear of reprisals in Haiti.

They hoped to escape the violence and harassment they faced, and start anew in Montreal. They crossed into Canada at the Ontario-U.S. border in November 2016, after having spent time in Miami.

Last January, their asylum claims were rejected. The written decision says Labaty and his wife didn't provide enough evidence to show the acts against them in Haiti were not random.

"We never even fathomed being asked to leave," Labaty said at his Montreal North home Monday.

In November of this year, they were given a deportation date, with three weeks notice — Nov. 28. The afternoon before, the Canada Border Services Agency called to say their removal was postponed indefinitely.

They moved back in — cancelled their apartment sublet, took the furniture back and called the bank to say they'd keep the lease on their car.

Last Wednesday, Labaty got a call summoning the family to the CBSA's downtown Montreal offices on Friday. 

The dread was immediate, he said. At the appointment, they were told they had less than a week left in Canada. Their new deportation date is this Wednesday.

His wife burst into tears in the car on the way home.

"It was — I don't know — awful. I don't know what word I could use to express not only my stress, but also my frustration," Labaty said in an interview.

Sitting beside him on their white sofa, Labaty's wife put her hands over her mouth and shook her head as he spoke.

Labaty said their daughter has been acting out at daycare since the news of their removal.

"She doesn't understand, but she can feel it, she sees how we're reacting. She can see our stress," he said.


Uncertain situation

The Labaty family isn't the only Haitian family facing shifting deportation dates.

Frantz André, who is part of an advocacy group for Haitian asylum seekers and is helping the Labaty family, has been calling for a long-term moratorium on deportations to Haiti since riots erupted over the summer.

In November, protests over fuel price hikes flared up and turned violent. At least six people were killed.

While there's no formal moratorium on deportations to Haiti, the federal government halted them in the middle of last month due to "the potential of a large protest and possible violence on Nov. 17 and 18."

A spokesperson for the CBSA said at the time the "removals will be carried out as soon as possible, with the exact date to be determined on a case by case basis."

On Monday, the CBSA said it is mindful of the effect postponing and rescheduling deportations has on people, but that it "is required under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to enforce removal orders as soon as possible."

But André says that has only led to families feeling jerked around, adding to the stress and uncertainty of their situations.

"It's not right," he said.

"That lady was kidnapped and now she's going to be exposed to the possibility of being kidnapped again. [Haiti] is not the place they want to raise their child, who's going to be three years old."


'We're not really living'

Jean Gefter and his family have also been through a month of turmoil.

Gefter was at Trudeau airport last month, about to board a flight to Haiti with his wife and four children, when he got a call from a federal official telling him he could stay.

A week later, they again prepared to leave, only to be told the moratorium was still in place.

The uncertainty is taking a toll, he said, especially on his children, the oldest of which is nine.

"We're not really living," he said in a phone interview. "We're existing. But not really living."

The family crossed at Roxham Road in July 2017. Gefter said he and his wife have jobs in Montreal he works as a security guard, and his children are in school. But their status has been uncertain.

They were living in Orlando before making the trip north. Gefter said he doesn't know what they will do or where they will stay if they are forced to return to Haiti. He is scheduled to deported again Wednesday.

"We have no one there," he said.


Lawyer filing emergency request

The Labatys' lawyer, Sabine Venturelli, has filed a last-minute request for a temporary suspension of removals.

The couple's daughter was born in the United States and has the right to appeal the rejection of her asylum claim — something the consultant the family was previously dealing with overlooked.

The hope is that, if the daughter is granted asylum in an appeal, the whole family would be given the right to stay.

"I think it's terrible because [Haiti is] a country with a lot of problems and we have no need to send them back so fast," Venturelli said over the phone.


Verity Stevenson is a reporter with CBC in Montreal. She has previously worked for the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star in Toronto, and the Telegraph-Journal in Saint John.


Posted Dec. 27, 2018