David Berger, a former MP who served as Canada's ambassador to Israel, has taken up the case of Shazia Khalid, the Pakistani physician who was raped and threatened with death in her home country.
Dr. Khalid, 32, was forced into exile in London in March, along with her husband, but maintains she had always intended to seek asylum in Canada, where her relatives live.
Canada was one of the first countries to include gender-based persecution in its refugee determination process, and should come to the aid of the high-profile victim of violence, said Mr. Berger, a former Quebec Liberal MP (Westmount-St. Henri) who was posted to Israel as ambassador in 1995.
"The U.K. may not be the safest place for her," said Mr. Berger, a lawyer who has taken Dr. Khalid's case pro bono.
"It appears for some time Dr. Khalid has indicated she wanted to come to Canada and this is the country where she would be the happiest."
Dr. Khalid's sister-in-law, an electrical engineer living in Mississauga, has also pledged to offer emotional and practical support and help Dr. Khalid and her husband resettle here.
"She's still in trauma, still very scared, still cannot sleep at night and they are all alone [in London] In Canada, I can give them moral support. I want them to start their lives again," said Samira Shah, who immigrated to Canada three years ago from Pakistan.
Canadian immigration officials have rejected Dr. Khalid's asylum request because she is already in a safe third country.
She is seeking a ministerial permit from Immigration Minister Joe Volpe to immigrate to Canada on humanitarian grounds. He was unavailable for comment yesterday.
In London, Dr. Khalid has no relatives except her husband, and is forced to move from one refugee shelter to another in fear that Pakistani agents may make good on their threat to retaliate against her and her family if they persist in publicizing the rape.
She is undergoing psychiatric treatment for insomnia and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress.
"I was told [by the Pakistani government]I had to leave Pakistan because my life was at risk and that I had to go to the U.K. and then I would get a visa to come to Canada. But this turned out not to be true," said Dr. Khalid in a telephone interview from London, with her husband, Aman Khalid, acting as interpreter. "We were tricked."
Dr. Khalid, a family physician, was raped Jan. 2 by a masked intruder as she slept in the field hospital where she was working for the state petroleum company in a remote part of the province of Baluchistan.
When she tried to report the attack to police, she was placed under 24-hour house arrest in Karachi.
She was told that a gang of five armed tribal members from Baluchistan were intent on retribution and that her life was in imminent danger.
Her husband's grandfather, the family patriarch, said she had brought shame on the family and ordered she be divorced or killed in a so-called honour killing.
Her husband, a petroleum engineer who was out of the country when the attack occurred, chose to stand by her in a move that has divided the family.
The Khalids could not submit their own asylum application in Karachi and were forced to rely on two agents for the Pakistan government who they say promised, but apparently failed, to deliver their file to Canada's High Commission in Islamabad.
When the Khalids arrived in London in March, Canadian immigration officials told them they had no asylum application on file, and they could not open one because the couple had already landed in a safe haven.
"I felt all the doors to our future close," Dr. Khalid said. She and her husband were forced to leave their 18-year-old adopted son behind.
Mr. Berger said it is possible Dr. Khalid could qualify as a regular immigrant to Canada, but noted that such applications take "anywhere from six months to five years" to process.