Beloved Ontario chef set to be deported after spending nearly a decade in Canada
An image of John Mulwa, a Hamilton-based chef facing deportation orders. (Courtesy of John Mulwa)
Published Wednesday, January 11, 2023 3:02PM EST
John Mulwa has called Canada home for nearly a decade.
Since arriving eight years ago, Mulwa has been a pillar of the Kenyan community in Hamilton, Ont. – he’s worked as a chef for the Mohawk Students' Association at Mohawk College, organizes an annual barbeque for the city’s Kenyan diaspora using vegetables he grows in his garden, and runs a catering business that provides meals to Hamilton’s unhoused communities.
Yet, Mulwa has a little over two weeks left in the city he’s called home since 2014 – on Jan. 28, he will be deported back to Kenya, a country he fled because he felt his life was in danger.
“I just want to stay here. I just want to work. I just wanted to support my community,” Mulwa told CTV News Toronto in an interview. “The people [of Hamilton] mean a lot to me.”
Without his community and uprooted from the place he now calls home, Mulwa fears what waits for him back in Kenya.
“I'm only strong when I'm here,” he said. “If I go back home now, [..] I'll be killed.”
Mulwa says while he was initially granted protected person refugee status in 2014, he was later denied following a hearing. Since then, he's appealed the decision four times, he says, but has been repeatedly denied.
In a statement to CTV News Toronto, the federal Ministry of Immigration said it cannot comment on individual cases due to privacy legislation, but that all eligible asylum claimants receive an “independent and fair assessment” on the merits of their claim.
“Every individual facing removal is entitled to due process, but once all avenues to appeal are exhausted, they are removed from Canada in accordance with Canadian law.”
‘FLEEING FOR MY LIFE’
Mulwa’s initial decision to leave Kenya was not an easy one, he says.
Land conflicts between local tribes pushed him from town to town – “fleeing for my life” – because he says he felt unsafe.
“I lost my house – it was burned – I lost my family, and that made me flee because there were people [being] killed,” Mulwa said.
Mulwa was working as a traveling chef with Celebrity Cruises at the time, and while he used to go home every few months, the conflicts pushed him to decide not to return.
“So I decided to seek refuge here, I came to Canada through Vancouver," he explained.
Despite arriving in British Columbia, Mulwa says he heard that Ontario boasted a large Kenyan community, and when he landed in Toronto he was recommended to go to Hamilton.
The transition, at first, wasn’t easy. Mulwa initially lived in a shelter while waiting to be connected with legal aid and to make a claim for protected person refugee status.
“I was just going through so much being here, with no communication with family,” he said. “It was a disaster, but then I decided to connect with people [..] That is why I got so involved with the community and with the people around me – not just [the] African community – but other communities, like my church.”
Mulwa’s impact on his community throughout his years in Hamilton has not gone unnoticed, as a petition to keep him here has been made on Change.org.
“Removing him from Canada would deprive this country one of the most productive and conscientious members,” the petition reads. “Please support this good man.”
Mario Bellissimo LL.B. C.S., immigration lawyer and founder of Bellissimo Law Group PC, told CTV News Toronto applying for permanent residency in Canada through the humanitarian and compassionate grounds stream would look at Mulwa’s case on a more holistic approach.
“It doesn’t look at risk factors, it looks at the hardship if you return," he said. "Are there any children that are directly affected by this decision to remove you? How’s your establishment? Have you done well with financial management?”
Mulwa says he has applied for compassionate grounds, has received confirmation of the application, and waiting to hear back.
"But we cannot base off of that," he says.
Bellissimo says if the CBSA tells Mulwa they are not stopping his removal, Mulwa may have one last legal option -- taking the matter to federal court and trying to obtain a stay of removal order, although this would only prove a temporary solution.
When asked what's next, Mulwa said he isn't sure.
"What's gonna happen next? Now maybe the government will listen and say, 'Maybe this person [deserves] another chance because people seem to like him maybe. And actually, when we did my humanitarian, they send me confirmation that they have received we are going to wait for the decision, but we cannot base on that."
In the meantime, Mulwa says to stay in Canada would mean “life.”
“It’s like if you’re driving your car and you know in the next 20 minutes your car will kill you. You’re not going to drive that car,” he said.
“That’s the same thing [..] I’m not saying Kenya is the problem. The problem is the people there who are waiting for me.”
Mulwa says he has a plane ticket already for Jan. 28 to leave at 10 a.m.