In one of the most heavily promoted deportations in recent years, the Harper government is bidding a noisy farewell to a Palestinian whom it says Ottawa first began proceedings to remove more than a quarter century ago.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney held a news conference on Parliament Hill Monday to send off Mahmoud Mohammad Issa Mohammad, a former member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who, together with another man, stormed an Israeli airliner in 1968, killing one passenger.
“We’re sending the message that we will no longer be treated like suckers by terrorists like Mr. Mohammad,” Mr. Kenney announced.
The Conservatives made a big deal of removing Mr. Mohammad, a 69-year-old who suffers from coronary disease, diabetes, and a host of other illnesses, because they feel he represents the easygoing-to-a fault immigration-and-refugee system they’ve relegated to the dustbin.
He “represents just how broken Canada’s immigration system had become under previous governments,” Mr. Kenney said, citing “a comedy of errors with delays … endless appeals” that allowed Mr. Mohammad to “make a mockery of Canada’s generosity and our fair immigration system for two and a half decades.”
The federal government wasn’t taking any chances with the deportation that delivered the Palestinian to Lebanon on May 11.
As a precaution, so it couldn’t be accused of harming him in the removal process, Ottawa chartered a flight with medical equipment to fly Mr. Mohammad to Lebanon. Mr. Mohammad has travel documents for that country because of his marriage to a Lebanese national, Mr. Kenney said.
The Immigration Minister said Monday that under changes the Tories have made to the refugee system, “someone like [Mr.] Mohammad would not be able to wait for years for a decision on his refugee claim.”
Under the new system introduced by the Harper government, he said, Mr. Mohammad’s refugee claim would be decided in a matter of weeks “and rather than getting endless years of appeals, he would have one appeal and then be subject to removal” afterward.
Shimon Fogel, chief executive officer of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, lauded the Harper government for deporting the Palestinian.
“It is a relief that, although long delayed, justice was ultimately not denied in this case,” Mr. Fogel said.
Toronto immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman said this deportation is an example of the Harper government’s strong pro-Israel policy at work.
“Clearly … this government, with its particular viewpoint on the situation in the Middle East is far more interested in deporting somebody with Mr. Mohammad’s background as opposed to former governments [that] might have more concerns about it.”
Mr. Waldman said the Mohammad case is also a reflection of changed priorities in Canada.
“There were long periods of time where the government of Canada didn’t express any interest in deporting people like Mr. Mohammad.”
Barbara Jackman, Mr. Mohammad’s lawyer, has argued her client will not be able to afford treatment for his conditions in Lebanon because he is stateless and not a Lebanese citizen. He himself has written that he is at risk of assassination by Israeli agents in retribution for the 1968 attack on the El Al plane.
She said Mr. Kenney is misleading Canadians by saying saying her client used “numerous and repetitive appeals and loopholes” to stay in Canada for 26 years.
Ottawa began proceedings to remove him in 1988 and Mr. Mohammad was first found to be inadmissible the year after, she said.
Mr. Kenney said Mr. Mohammad came to Canada under false pretenses. “He lied about his identity. He lied about not having a criminal past. He lied about not having ties to terrorist organizations,” the minister said.
The Palestinian made a refugee claim and when he lost because of his prior conviction, he took this to court. Immigration officials decided to seek a second deportation order on terrorism grounds – so Mr. Mohammad was ordered removed a second time in 1999.
He was offered an opportunity in 2002 to apply for an assessment of the risks he faces if deported. In 2003, Ottawa said he was safe to be removed to Lebanon. He challenged that decision and it was overturned, according to his lawyer.
In 2007, a Canadian government risk assessment officer found Mr. Mohammad to be at risk of torture if he was deported, Ms. Jackman said.
“That’s supposed to go for a decision with Minister Kenney’s delegate and they don’t do anything until the end of 2012,” the lawyer said.
“It’s not a broken system. It’s that they didn’t do anything. There’s no explanation why they sat on it for all those years,” Ms. Jackman said.
In 2012, a government official acting for the minister decided Mr. Mohammad was not at risk if he was removed to Lebanon. His lawyers are still fighting this in Federal Court and lost a bid to keep their client in Canada until his appeal is decided.
Ottawa informed the Palestinian that it was ready to deport him at the end of April but he required heart surgery in early May – an angioplasty – and was released on May 8. His lawyers were unable to persuade a court to let him stay until he had more fully recovered – and federal government officials began removal proceedings on May 10, flying him to Lebanon on May 11.