A family of five in Trois-Rivières, Que., is bracing themselves for a Federal Court ruling Wednesday that will determine if they will be allowed to stay or if they are to be split up and deported to separate, far-flung continents within hours.
The court is expected to rule on whether to allow the deportation of Arlyn Huilar and her two eldest children to the Philippines, and her husband, David Ajibade, and their six-year-old son to Ajibade’s native Nigeria.
Huilar and Ajibade met on a matchmaking website and were married in Nigeria in 2009. Their mixed-race children were met with racism and hostility in the Philippines, then narrowly avoided a kidnapping in Nigeria, said their lawyer, Sabrina Kosseim.
Their hope of finding a safe haven in Canada ended when the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) ordered the family deported — to two different continents.
“Emotionally, it’s just killing all of us,” Ajibade said over the phone Wednesday. “This was the first time we felt at home.”
Kosseim requested that her clients’ deportation be deferred until they receive a document from the Philippines proving the youngest child has citizenship there, so that the six-year-old would not be separated from his older siblings.
When the CBSA denied that request, she turned to the Federal Court, seeking a stay of deportation.
Kosseim asked the judge to suspend the family’s removal from Canada, pending the outcome of their request for permanent residency on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, which could take months.
“I’ve never seen a situation where CBSA is about to split up brothers and sisters. I’ve never seen that,” Kosseim said.
The family’s eldest child, Kaela, 11, has been profoundly affected by the prospect of seeing her family torn apart.
“She used to be happy and lively, and when she heard about it, there was a great change in her,” said Huilar. “She had to go through some therapy sessions.”
A love story, but no safe haven
In the first years of their relationship, the couple travelled back and forth between their home countries to see each other. Ajibade, who studied electrical engineering, worked at a bank in fraud detection, and Huilar was a teacher in the Philippines.
But when Kaela was born in the Philippines in 2011, the couple said she faced racism and discrimination there, so she and her mother joined Ajibade in Nigeria, where their second child, Bradley, was born in 2013.
There, too, the family faced problems. In a country wracked by civil strife, the Ajibade-Huilars were perceived as foreigners. They say they were extorted by police officers and regularly harassed, and Kaela and Bradley narrowly avoided being kidnapped after leaving school one day.
They fled to the United States, where their third child Carlsen was born in 2017.
Kosseim said the family didn’t know they had a deadline to file for asylum in the U.S. until they consulted a lawyer there seven or eight months after arriving and discovered the six months they had to do so had expired.
The couple decided the only place they had a chance of obtaining asylum was in Canada, so they crossed into Quebec at Roxham Road in May 2019.
They applied for asylum two weeks later, but their claim was rejected in February 2022. They appealed but were again rejected last July.
According to a summary filed in court by Kosseim, the Immigration and Refugee Board recognized that the Ajibade-Huilars had faced discrimination but did not find they faced “persecution within the meaning of the refugee definition.”
Ajibade said he understands the family’s situation is complicated by the fact he and Huilar are from different countries. He said while their love story has created hardships, it is also what has gotten them through those hardships.
“It’s like from a storybook or Hollywood,” he said. “We met and we kind of just clicked, and we just saw the vision from there.”
Since arriving in Quebec, the family has settled in Trois-Rivières, 150 kilometres northeast of Montreal,where Huilar and Ajibade first found work at an Olymel meat-processing plant. They have since found better paying jobs: Huilar works in data entry at an aviation firm. and Ajibade works nights and weekends as a foreman.
On Tuesday evening, Ajibade attended workplace training, in the hope of taking on a more senior role.
“I am trying to keep my head in my work, as a distraction,” he said.
The children go to the same school and are already fluent in French. All have made friends in the small city.
“The community here is amazing,” Ajibade said. “They have shown us what true love is about.”
‘Best interest of child’ considered: CBSA
If the Federal Court decision is not in the family’s favour, Kosseim said she will consider asking the federal immigration minister, Sean Fraser, to intervene — or the United Nations Human Rights Committee.
In response to a request for comment from CBC News, a CBSA spokesperson wrote in an email that the agency “considers the best interest of the child in carrying out its mandated duties.”
“Canada seeks to balance its UN obligations while adhering to legislative requirements when administering cases involving minor children,” the email said.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said the department could not comment on individual cases.
“We understand that these sort of situations are incredibly difficult and do empathize with the families,” it said in a statement.