When I saw the picture of a weeping Jamila Bibi in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix Tuesday, I thought of only one thing, and that is, how Canada looks from the air.
I’ve flown across this country probably more than the average bear, most recently this summer from Prince George, B.C., to Moncton, N.B., when the shooting of four Mounties overtook the trial I was covering.
Lucky me, in the course of doing my job, I’ve seen Canada in all four seasons from the air. The only constant is how marvelously empty the country is, most of it.
Yet Canada couldn’t wait to deport Ms. Bibi, an unsophisticated woman from a village in Pakistan, Tuesday morning from the airport in Saskatoon. She and her friend and ally, Sahana Yeasmin, at whose restaurant Ms. Bibi had been working, said a tearful goodbye.
Ms. Bibi had been faithfully checking in weekly for the past 22 months, just as she had been ordered to do, and it was at one of these recent check-ins that authorities abruptly decided to remove her, despite a United Nations order to put the proceeding on hold until it was properly investigated.
Her lawyer, Bashir Khan of Winnipeg, says she doesn’t know when she was born, but guesses she’s probably in her early 60s. He is enraged by her treatment, and so am I.
Ms. Bibi was sent back to a country where generally, women and girls are treated appallingly, where as the most recent report of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women notes, child and forced marriage, “karo-kari” (a local term that covers a wide variety of allegedly immoral female behaviour and which empowers family members to commit an honour killing), stove-burning and acid throwing, marriage to the Koran, and polygamy all persist.
Just this past May, a pregnant woman named Farzana Parveen was stoned to death, by members of her own family of course, outside a court in Lahore.
Ms. Bibi returns with a specific scarlet letter on her forehead: She had a falling out with her former husband that ended with her being accused, falsely she says but that would hardly matter, of adultery and prostitution. The husband has divorced her. Mr. Khan says that like Ms. Parveen, Ms. Bibi could be stoned to death or otherwise harmed. At best, she can spend the rest of her life in hiding from those who may mean her harm.
Monday, her last-ditch appeal to the Federal Court of Canada for an order staying her deportation was dismissed by Judge Marie-Josee Bedard, who wrote, in her brief decision, “the applicant has not convinced me that she will suffer irreparable harm if she is removed to Pakistan.”
Federal Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, who could have stepped in, did not.
According to Mr. Khan, Ms. Bibi fled to Canada in 2007 after the adultery accusation put her life in danger. Her bid for refugee status failed, and she was first ordered deported three years ago.
But that order was put on hold at the request of the UN high commissioner for human rights; Canada is a signatory to the convention against torture and other such treatment. (Mr. Khan says he has the documents to prove it, but we ran out of time on Tuesday for him to get them to me.)
The thing is, though the UN request to delay the deportation makes what happened here more egregious, I don’t care about it. And though I take Mr. Khan and Ms. Bibi at their word that the allegations against her are fraudulent, not to mention ludicrous, I don’t particularly care about that either. If a Pakistani woman has the courage to take a boyfriend, I say good on her. I also accept that her life may be in danger back in her home country, and I certainly hope it isn’t, but it’s not even that which galls me most.
What harm was she doing anyone, living her secure and simple life in Saskatoon, working in her friend’s restaurant, checking in every week just as she was supposed to do, getting by? Who was she hurting?
Even if the worst thing she faces in Pakistan is poverty and fear and the normal oppressive anti-woman air in that country, she had a better life here, and as a fifth-generation Canadian, I wanted that for her.
We can afford such kindnesses in this big, empty country.