MAN ACCUSED OF WITCHCRAFT WINS LAST MINUTE STAY OF DEPORTATION
A Toronto resident of Nigerian origin who faces accusations of practicing witchcraft has won a temporary stay of the plans by Canadian Immigration authorities to deport him from Canada on January 30, 2005. The Canadian Federal Court put brakes on the deportation efforts by Canadian officials, after the man’s lawyer, Kingsley Jesuorobo, successfully convinced The Honourable Justice Campbell of the Federal Court that his client’s case deserves a reassessment in light of news from Nigeria that persons accused of practicing witchcraft face terrible ordeals, including deaths. Although Mr. Jesuorobo refused to release the man’s name, citing “solicitor/client privilege” and fearing a “backlash of ostracism against my client from members of his community here in Canada who may still be holding on to the unfounded beliefs that witches and persons perceived to be witches are harmful and are therefore to be avoided and/or feared”. Documents he made available show that the man was under an Immigration deportation order and was originally scheduled to be deported to Nigeria on January 30, 2005.
Nigeria and many African countries* have gained notoriety for witch-killing incidents. In November 2004, Nigerian newspapers reported that 27 persons accused of practicing witchcraft were murdered in Ozalla, Edo State of Nigeria, and senior police officers, including an Assistant Inspector General of Police and a former state administrator (governor) were implicated. The BBC News has also reported incidents such as the killing of persons perceived as witches from the north to the south of Nigeria. In one of its articles on the issue dated April 29, 1999, the BBC News reported that “[a]lthough Christianity is firmly rooted in the Delta, belief in witchcraft is also widespread. In Akassa, several women who were accused of being witches and casting evil spells on the community have been tortured and killed in recent weeks”.
Mr. Jesuorobo succeeded despite facing stiff resistance from the Canadian government lawyers who opposed his application. Lawyer Marcel Larouche of Department of Justice had unsuccessfully argued before the court that Mr. Jesuorobo’s application should be dismissed because Mr. Jesuorobo’s client, who first entered Canada in 2001, had unsuccessfully tried and exhausted many avenues, including refugee claim, Humanitarian and Compassionate (H&C) ground, Spousal (marriage) Sponsorship and Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA).
However, the unrelenting Mr. Jesuorobo countered that since the last review of his client’s case occurred in 2003, and since there has been a new development regarding his client, a fresh review of the case was warranted pursuant to a provision of Canadian Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and Regulations. The “new development” being that the client has recently been accused of practicing witchcraft to the detriment of his relatives. The court agreed with Mr. Jesuorobo. Mr. Jesuorobo pointed out that before applying to the Federal Court, he had “requested Canadian officials to voluntarily delay my client’s deportation in light of new circumstances, but they perfunctorily refused citing their obligation to remove persons under deportation order immediately. Mr. Jesuorobo stressed that his client’s fears are two-pronged: “Firstly, my client fears the invasion of his freedom of religion. As a Christian, he does not want to subscribe to the act of swearing before deities and gods and the drinking of concoctions which characterize the so-called witch verification exercises. Secondly, my client fears the physical maltreatment to which an accused is subjected during the process as well as the probable death that often results from the consumption the concoctions which invariably prove to be poisonous.
Asked about what message he has for people who might be in similar situation, Mr. Jesuorobo, who is one of the leading Immigration lawyers in Canada, said: “They should have confidence in the Canadian legal process. It works! Do not lose hope. Get a competent lawyer to represent you. Even though it is a monumental task, you may very well have a chance against all odds”. He jokingly added: “I may have to change my practice motto from ‘Fearless Advocacy Is Our Hallmark’ to ‘Against All Odds’.
PRESS RELEASE FROM THE LAW OFFICE OF KINGSLEY JESUOROBO & ASSOCIATES
* Comment by the Rights in Exile Programme: there are also cases where people are accused of witchcraft in Nepal, India, Papua New Guinea and many other countries.