'It's not a fair law' Iranian refugee from North York facing deportation fears persecution
Feminist film producer Mahshid Ahangarani Farahani is facing deportation back to Iran as her refugee and permanent resident statuses have been ceased due to changes in Canada's immigration laws that she says she was unaware of.
Published Sunday, May 28, 2023 12:07PM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, May 28, 2023 12:22PM EDT
Feminist film producer Mahshid Ahangarani Farahani came to Canada from Iran to study almost 20 years ago. Shortly thereafter, she applied for and was granted refugee status due to the deteriorating political situation in her homeland and the fears she had of being persecuted for having opposed the regime.
Now, after almost two decades of living peacefully in Canada, the long-time North York resident is unexpectedly facing deportation back to Iran, where her films are banned and a warrant is out for her arrest, says her immigration lawyer Hana Marku.
Her deportation may not be imminent - Canada has paused removal orders to Iran as that country is experiencing a humanitarian crisis – but the threat hangs over her just the same.
“I’m definitely on the (government’s) radar. … I’m fully expecting (that) once I return I will be arrested and who knows what could happen next,” Farahani told CP24.com during an interview late last week.
“In Iran, when you go behind bars you don’t know what will happen the next day … and nobody is responsible. … Humans have no value for the Iranian government. People get killed (there) easily.”
Farahani attended and spoke at rallies in downtown Toronto opposing Iran’s human rights abuses last summer.
She said that she’s worried that the potential danger she could face if returned to Iran could be used as leverage to force her filmmaker mother, Manijeh, and sister, Pegah, an actor, who both fled the country in 2020, to return and face persecution themselves.
“We are frightened that just by her sheer family association that Mahshid will be a target, that’s she’ll be sent to prison and there’s nothing that the Canadian government can do for her,” her lawyer Marku said.
TRAVELS TO IRAN COULD BE AT CENTRE OF DEPORTATION
Farahani’s lawyers have suggested that the issues she is now facing with her status in Canada have to do with her travels back to Iran over the last two decades.
Recognized as a refugee in 2005 and granted permanent residency here three years later, Farahani has visited her homeland several times since coming to Canada.
She returned to work on films that criticize the Iranian regime. She went to Iran on other occasions to take care of her ailing mom and support her sister through her legal challenges, which included time spent in the notorious Evin prison. Another time, she went back after her family’s property and their filmmaking equipment were allegedly seized by the Iranian government, Marku said.
“There was always a reason why I returned to Iran and I never had any intention to live (there),” said Farahani, who said it is her “dream” to become a Canadian citizen.
“There’s no opportunity for any people there. Nobody can live there. Everyone wants to leave.”
According to Canada’s law of cessation, which is part of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, refugees who are permanent residents who return to their country of origin can have all of their statuses revoked if the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) deems that their actions demonstrate that they are no longer afraid of their country of origin and are seeking protection from the country that that persecuted them. An investigation could be warranted if a refugee with permanent resident status applies for a passport from their country of origin and travels there, Marku noted.
CP24.com contacted Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada for comment on Farahani’s situation and was told that they do not comment on specific cases “due to privacy laws.”
Spokesperson Michelle Carbert did, however, provide a general statement related to the cessation of refugee and permanent resident statuses for those who return to their country of origin.
Carbert said that while Canada “offers refugee protection to individuals with a well-founded fear of persecution or who would be in danger if they had to go back to their country of nationality (or, if stateless, the country where they used to live),” anyone who obtains “protected person status” in this country can lose their refugee status and, if applicable, their permanent residency, if their voluntary return to their country of alleged persecution “amounts to reavailment or re-establishment in that country … against which they made their claim for refugee protection.”
She also noted that a person’s refugee and/or permanent resident statuses can be “vacated” if they obtained them by “directly or indirectly misrepresenting or withholding material facts relating to a relevant matter.”
Carbert said that protected persons in Canada can apply for a refugee travel document if they want to travel outside of the country, but it does not apply for travel to where they experienced “alleged persecution.”
Before 2012, permanent residents who are refugees who travelled back to their country of origin could face the loss of their refugee status, however, they were still able to remain permanent residents in Canada.
The federal Conservatives instituted several amendments to the immigration and refugee system in 2012, which resulted in the potential loss of all immigration statuses for refugees with permanent residency who travel to their country of origin.
Farahani, who last visited Iran in 2019 and had her passport confiscated for more than a year by the Iranian government, told CP24.com that said she did not know that the law had changed, adding she would not have gone back there after 2012 if she knew that she’d face such consequences.
She also said that she was never advised by border patrol that her post-2012 travels to Iran violated Canada’s updated immigration laws. Farahani now faces a one-year bar from making any kind of application to stay in the country.
“It’s not a fair law,” said Farahani.
DISPUTE DATES BACK TO 2019
Farahani was first notified by Canadian Border Services Agency that they had requested a hearing before the Immigration and Refugee Board to remove her statuses back in 2019. She also learned at that time that border services had been quietly monitoring her trips to Iran for more than a decade and had launched an investigation.
In March, board member Janet Walker ruled that Farahani’s travels to Iran “demonstrate that she did not have an ongoing fear of persecution in Iran, and that she was entrusting the defence of her interests to the Iranian authorities,” according to lawyers notes of the hearing reviewed by CP24.
Walker also called Farahani’s trips “entirely unnecessary and non-urgent,” adding the harsh treatment she faced from Iranian authorities “demonstrates why the Respondent should not have returned to Iran, rather than supporting her decision to return.”
“I’m essentially stuck in Canada. I can’t work, access services, or healthcare like any other permanent resident. … My life is in limbo,” said Farahani, who has completed her studies to become an immigration consultant, but is unable to apply for certification as her Canadian immigration status has been ceased.
“Mahshid is someone who frankly is a credit to Canada,” Marku said, adding despite her client’s fears of being harmed or jailed she travelled back home to support her family and advocate for women’s rights.
“Aren’t those values that we as a country uphold? … There are compelling reasons sometimes to return to a place where you’re in danger.”
At this time, there is no right of appeal for an immigration status cessation. The only recourse for those facing the revocation of their refugee/permanent resident status is to apply for a federal judicial review where a federal court judge will look at the IRB’s decision and determine if it was reasonable and/or correct in law. If that is deemed to not be the case, the decision will be set aside and another hearing will be scheduled.
Farahani’s immigration lawyers, Damey Lee and Marku, have initiated a judicial review process for their client.
They say that the IRB should have taken into consideration her lack of knowledge of the cessation law and the “subjective intent” she had in returning to Iran.
The Department of Justice has yet to submit its written arguments in response to their application.
In the meantime, Farahani has opted to go public with her story because she hopes it will help change Canada’s immigration law.
“I know I’m not alone in my experience,” she said.
“Lots of people from Iran came (here to be safe) and Canada is letting them down.”
A charter challenge is currently underway before a federal court to look at if it is constitutional to remove permanent resident status from people in Farahani’s situation. Essentially, the charter challenge is examining if Canada’s immigration laws create two classes of permanent residents: those who come here through economic programs or family sponsorship and face no consequences if they return to their country of origin, and those who obtained permanent residency following a refugee claim and face the potential loss of their status if they travel to their country of origin.