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A Toronto couple and their four young children will be deported to an uncertain future in Poland as early as Saturday, largely because of a bureaucratic error involving an unpaid $50 fee.

The father, Pawel Sklarzyk, mistakenly shortchanged immigration authorities $50 last year when he applied to stay in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

The proper fee was $1,200.

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The federal Department of Citizenship and Immigration cashed his $1,150 cheque, then lost any record of the application, the Sklarzyks' lawyer, Ronald Poulton, said yesterday.

Mr. Sklarzyk wasn't told until two months ago, when immigration officials suddenly began deportation proceedings, that there was no record of his application. Shocked, he applied again.

It was too late.

Mr. Poulton said immigration officials have adamantly refused to wait for a ruling on the application -- something they routinely do in most cases -- since they do not view the process as having been under way. The family's last hope evaporated on Monday, when Judge Romain Pitt of the Ontario Court said the law prevents him from reviewing a recent Federal Court of Canada ruling that permitted the deportation.

"There was no suggestion that the Sklarzyks constituted a threat to Canadian society or were even undesirable residents in any respect whatsoever," Judge Pitt noted in his ruling this week.

In apparent frustration, he pointed out that immigration officials have the power to defer deportation orders if they are likely to result in considerable heartbreak and dislocation.

"What is left to be decided must surely be a mystery to the applicants," Judge Pitt observed. He also said the Sklarzyk family appears to be a victim of an "administrative foul-up" by immigration authorities.

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"In fact, it is clear that Pawel Sklarzyk has paid the application fees twice and not received a refund," Judge Pitt said.

Pawel and Beata Sklarzyk arrived on a visitor's visa in 1994, and stayed after being refused an extension. Mr. Sklarzyk started a small company caulking and washing windows.

Initially, the couple pursued a refugee claim. It was disallowed last August, four months after they launched their application to remain on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. A few months afterward, immigration officials began deportation proceedings.

The couple's two youngest children, Jeremy, 4, and Matylda, 2, were born in Canada and are Canadian citizens. The two eldest, Mateusz, 11, and Dominik, 15, have received almost all their education here.

"Once they are gone, it is forever," Mr. Poulton said. "The parents are in deep shock. It won't really hit the children until they are on the airplane to Poland. They have been shielded all along and told it would be okay. But we are now three days away from it not being okay."

He said the Sklarzyks would have stood an excellent chance of winning their application, given their blemish-free record of conduct and the welfare of their children.

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Mr. Poulton focused his legal fight on a series of recent court rulings emphasizing that the best interests of children must be of paramount concern in deportation and immigration hearings.

An immigration spokeswoman, Giovanna Gatti, said yesterday that while she lacked specific information on the case, justice has evidently been served in that the family appealed their deportation. They simply lost, she said.

Judge Pitt took a less cut-and-dried view in his ruling. He noted that even ex-boxer Eddie Melo, who hobnobbed with mobsters and who was shot to death last month, was shown mercy by immigration officials a couple of years ago.

Judge Pitt said that Mr. Melo's family was permitted to stay in Canada while his "humanitarian and compassionate grounds" application was processed because of the potential harm to his children.

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