The Fuh-Cham family lost its fight to remain in Canada and has been deported to Cameroon. Photo by Alan Hustak

Catholic family loses deporation battle

By  Alan Hustak, Catholic Register Special
  • October 18, 2014

MONTREAL - A Catholic family from Cameroon has been deported after losing an emotional appeal to remain in Canada where two of their children were born. They were put on a plane Oct. 11 to Yaounde, the capital of the West African nation. 

A tribal chief who converted to Catholicism, Hilary Fuh- Cham, along with his wife Yvette and eldest daughter, Casey, fled Cameroon seven years ago to escape tribal obligations. 

Two of their children, Telcy, five, and Andy, four, are travelling on Canadian passports. 

After Citizenship and Immigration Canada had twice turned down the family’s claim for refugee status, they initiated an appeal in federal court to remain in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. That appeal was rejected on Oct. 9. 

“I am shocked. I am very disappointed. I don’t believe this could happen in a country like Canada,” Hilary Fuh-Cham said shortly before boarding the plane with his family. 

“I don’t know where I am going, or what I am going to do when I get there. My immediate concern is for the safety of my wife and children. My daughter, Casey, is suffering so badly. I don’t believe this is happening to us.” 

Fuh-Cham, the son of a tribal chieftain, was converted to Christianity by a family friend when he was a teenager. He was baptized a Roman Catholic before he returned to his village of Weh, in a remote part of Cameroon. Rather than become chief when his father died, Fuh-Cham left the country because he opposed some traditional tribal practices, particularly female circumcision. 

He claimed his life is in grave danger because he is viewed as a traitor to his people. 

The family’s parish, St. Jean de Brebeuf, mounted a high-profile campaign to have the Stephen Harper government reverse the decision on humanitarian grounds. Petitions were sent to the ministers responsible and the issue was raised by the NDP in the House of Commons. A statement from their MP Hélène LeBlanc deplored the decision. 

“I am dismayed by the decision of Citizenship and Immigration Canada to deport a well-established family with a strong humanitarian case and worry about the numerous deportations cases affecting families in LaSalle-Émard,’’ her office wrote. 

The parish priest was similarly saddened but not surprised. 

“It is the process. When you deal with a system such as ours, the government doesn’t want to deal with real issues, with people issues, human issues” said Fr. Gerard Martineau. “We will try to help the Fuh-Chams get back to Canada as soon as possible. We are in touch with bishops in Cameroon and have called on them to protect them until we can get them back here.” 

In rejecting the application to stay the deportation order, Federal Court Judge Simon Noel expressed skepticism of Fuh- Cham’s claims. Noel agreed that while Fuh-Cham might not be able to go back to his home village, nothing prevents him from living and working in other parts of the country. He could also ask for police protection in Cameroon if he seriously felt he and his family were in danger, the judge ruled. 

Noel pointed out that since the Fuh-Chams left Cameroon, none of their family members still there have been harassed. He added that no new compelling evidence had been presented to the court that would allow reconsideration of the previous deportation orders. 

“We have an immigration system in Canada, and a good one,” Noel said. “My decision has to be in accordance with the rule of law.” 

The Fuh-Chams had been working and the family was active in St. Jean Brebeuf parish, where Hilary started an African choir. 

“He told no one his story until recently, because he feared that people were looking for him. Even his mother didn’t know where he was,” said Fr. John Walsh, who welcomed the Fuh-Chams to the parish seven years ago. “He is an outstanding citizen, and the courts didn’t take into account his Canadian children or his contributions to the community. From my perspective, I believe his girls could be kidnapped and be subject to genital mutilation and that his son could be indoctrinated into pagan, tribal practices.” 

Lawyer Stewart Istvanffy also fears for his clients’ safety. 

“People in the Cameroons are against him. He is still being looked for. He will have to go into hiding. There are those who will want to kill him. Africa is not an easy or a forgiving place to live.” 

(Hustak is a freelance writer in Montreal.) 

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