It is bitterly cold out today, with low temperatures and high winds the chill factor is supposed to be -30C. Along with about 100 others I spent over an hour this morning standing in front of the local RCMP office bearing witness and hopefully providing some moral support in a tragic event. A young woman, a student at the local university is being deported.
Jane came to Canada from Bangladesh a few years ago to study computer science. She met another Bangladeshi student, fell in love, got pregnant and had a baby. At 7 weeks old that baby was rushed to hospital in distress, and very shortly after Jane and her boyfriend were arrested as suspects. While Jane was in custody her baby died. She never saw her baby again, she wasn't even allowed to see it before the baby was buried in an unmarked grave. She was held in prison for almost a year. This past year she was released but required to stay in the country to testify in an upcoming court case related to her baby's death. All her belongings and documents and money had disappeared while she was in prison.
The prison chaplain put Jane in touch with a local pastor who has taken Jane under her wing and tried to provide some support to her in desolated state. Jane has been trying to pick up the pieces of her life, re-registering for courses she needs to complete her degree, volunteering locally, and awaiting the trial. Meanwhile Canadian Border Services has determined that she should be deported, but this is at odds with the court's requirement that she stay in the country to testify in the upcoming trial.
So today, we were at the RCMP office awaiting the Border Services arrival to formally speak with Jane and determine her fate. We bore signs, "Friends of Jane" and "We Support Jane" while we waited. A local coffee shop invited us to drop by for free coffee and tea while we waited in that very bitter bitter cold. We were so bundled up that it was hard to recognize each other through the scarves and hoods and balaclavas. Cars driving by stopped to ask what was going on. The RCMP treated us kindly, they used their back door to come and go and we stayed clear of the exit from their parking lot.
Jane's lawyer accompanied her to the interview with the Border Services people. He came out with her when they were done to tell us how it went. He is the top immigration lawyer in the province and he had volunteered his services to Jane. He said that there are two kinds of deportation orders, a regular deportation order and an exclusion order. The exclusion order is the milder of the two and that was what was issued to Jane. She must leave but she can return after a year. However because of the pending court case the order is not enforceable, so she can stay and continue her school studies. In the meantime the lawyer said, there are several things we can do to have the exclusion order changed, and now there is time to do that. He said that community support was the most important thing, and we had already made an impression on the Border Services people. One of the first things they said to Jane was, We see that you have friends!
Jane expressed her tremendous gratitude to us, she said she couldn't believe the love and support she was receiving and it was hard for her to find words to express how grateful she was.
I try to put myself in her shoes and I think about how terribly awry one's life can go by making mistakes when one is young. I don't know the full details but it seems to me that she made some mistakes that have cost her dearly. I cannot imagine how it must have been for her to lose her infant daughter in the way that she did.
I've been singing in a local church choir the past couple of months, and every Sunday I wonder what the heck I am doing here. But this past Sunday a woman in the congregation got up to tell us Jane's story and invite us to support her the next morning at the RCMP office. I would not have known about this had I not been there. She also contacted several other church congregations in town and many of the people at the RCMP office this morning came because of that. Others were students who knew Jane from school, and others knew about it from a recent NDP meeting at which this woman spoke. This brings home to me the important role local churches can play in a community, to provide support and galvanize citizens to do the same.
Oh but it was cold cold cold out there!!!
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