By TOM GODFREY
An 11-year old girl who faced deportation to her native St. Lucia has been allowed to remain in Canada with her mother as refugees to escape violent domestic abuse in their homeland, the Federal Court of Canada has ruled.
Judge James Russell was scathing in his remarks when he made his ruling by accusing the Government of St. Lucia of failing to protect women and children from cases of domestic violence, which he said is running rampant on the Caribbean island.
The mother and daughter arrived in Canada in December 2011 and the mother filed a refugee claim based on gender-related persecution in the form of physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetrated by her common law husband, who is the girl’s father.
The mother, whose name has been withheld since her daughter is a minor, was granted refugee status in August 2012 by an Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) due to domestic violence she faced at the hands of her former husband.
Her daughter, then 10, was refused refugee status because she had a close relationship with her father and was never assaulted by him, the board ruled.
The negative IRB decision against the child was appealed to the Federal Court that last month granted her a new hearing by another board to be screened as a refugee.
Toronto lawyer Jayson Thomas, who represented the family, said both mother and daughter are pleased by the court’s decision and managed to escape St. Lucia with their lives.
“This is a good decision for any child who has a parent who has suffered domestic abuse,” Thomas told Share. “The mother in this case suffered horrendous abuse and some of it was witnessed by the child.”
He said the precedent-setting case will help other children who suffered or witnessed similar abuse.
The court found the mother to be a credible witness who had called police in St. Lucia unsuccessfully for help during a number of assaults.
“The police failed to intervene despite many requests for help,” the decision said, adding the IRB determined the child was not a refugee or a person in need of protection, as she had not personally been subjected to violence or threats by her father.
Thomas argued that the child is a “minor female from St. Lucia and daughter of an abusive male that placed her at risk of gender-related persecution if she returned to the island.”
Russell wrote there is inadequate state protection for victims of domestic violence in St. Lucia and the board failed to consider whether the child would face such a risk if returned.
He said if the child was returned to St. Lucia she may have to witness further violence by her father and there is little chance he would let her return to Canada on her own.
“I don’t have anyone that I could send my daughter back to in St. Lucia right now,” the mother told immigration officials at a recent hearing.
“This raises the frightening prospect that the Applicant (the child) would have to live with her father, who has a demonstrated propensity for extreme domestic violence,” the judge said, adding the mother may have to return to St. Lucia with the child even though she faces risks there.
“The personal risks to the Applicant (the child) of further exposure to her father are, in my view, terrifying,” Russell wrote. “The Applicant has already been the victim of severe abuse at the hands of her father because she has been forced to witness the severe and degrading violence imposed upon her mother.”
A new child-friendly hearing for the child could start as early as next month, officials said.
Once they are accepted as refugees, the family can apply for permanent residency and eventually Canadian citizenship.