Feds halt deportation of B.C.-based climate activist

Feds halt activist deportation

A B.C.-based climate activist scheduled to be deported over the weekend has had his removal stayed after federal politicians intervened in his case. 

Zain Haq, 23, was scheduled to be deported to his native Pakistan on April 22, while being nearly a year into a spousal sponsorship application with his B.C.-born wife. Haq, who co-founded the group Save Old Growth, caught the attention of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) in 2022 while protesting and speaking to the press about Canada’s climate policy.

A last-ditch effort to appeal his deportation was denied by a federal judge last week. On Friday, two days before he was scheduled to go to the airport, Haq received a call from the office of Vancouver Quadra MP Joyce Murray, who represents his riding. Their message: stay close to your phone. When the call came in, it was the CBSA officer tasked with his case. 

“All I heard is I’m not getting deported Sunday,” said Haq. “It feels really good. I’m really grateful. I’m really happy to be with my wife.”

Haq pled guilty to mischief charges after being arrested 10 times since joining an Extinction Rebellion protest on the Burrard Bridge in 2019. But according to his lawyer Randall Cohn, by the time those charges were heard, CBSA had already begun to carry out Haq's removal based on school attendance.

Cohn said the border agency failed to communicate with the university and carry out a full investigation, a procedural shortcut he worried could intimidate other international students and create a “chilling effect” on their free speech.

A lot of questions remain unanswered. The ministers of immigration and public safety both have the authority to stay Haq’s removal from the country — one through a humanitarian exemption and the other through ministerial direction to CBSA. 

“We assume the minister was listening and paying attention to the timing and decided to step in…” Cohn said. “But we don’t even really know what the mechanism was for cancelling it. We don’t even know what the implications are for his short, medium and long-term stay in Canada.”

A spokesperson from the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship said their office does not comment on individual cases due to privacy legislation. Calls to Murray's office went unanswered.

Whoever made the decision in Ottawa, Cohn said it sends a positive message that Canada is committed to working with young people to create institutional solutions to big societal challenges like climate change. 

Cohn said he hopes the rationale for staying Haq’s deportation shows “Canada doesn’t want to be in the business of deporting activists.” 

“We were worried that if this deportation was followed through on, it could lead to similar things for other people,” Haq said. “And that it would be used as a reason to detain them and expedite their removal. I think it’s a good message.”

Cohn added: “Hopefully, it will encourage people to speak out.”

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