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Government postpones deportation of pregnant woman almost forced onto flight despite health risk
Farhana Sultana, a pregnant woman who is facing deportation despite health risks, is shown in this photo with her husband, son and baby daughter. (Supplied)
TORONTO -- The federal government is postponing the deportation of a pregnant woman suffering from cardiac issues after she was scheduled to be on a flight to Bangladesh earlier this month despite doctors warning it’s unsafe for her to travel.
Earlier this month, the Canada Border Services Agency scheduled a flight for Scarborough, Ont. woman Farhana Sultana to leave the country on Jan. 10 after her permanent residency application on humanitarian and compassionate grounds was rejected in November.
Sultana had told CTV News Toronto that her previous pregnancies were affected by her heart condition, and was simply begging the government to let her stay until the baby is born to ensure no harm is caused to her child or herself.
The day of the flight earlier this month, Sultana, who is living in Scarborough with her husband and three children, was taken to hospital by ambulance after she complained of chest pain, and severe heart palpitations, and was unable to board the flight.
The CBSA scheduled a meeting with her husband, Firoj Shah, at Toronto Pearson International Airport for Monday to determine the next steps for the family after the flight was missed.
Just after the meeting, Shah told CTV News Toronto that officers told him the deportation is delayed due to Sultana's health condition. He said he is assuming that means until after the baby is born. Her due date is March 1.
“It’s a relief to just know that they will wait,” he said. “I was crying the whole time; I didn’t want to ask too many questions because I was scared.”
The family is now asked to report to CBSA on the first Wednesday of every month with information about Sultana’s health.
In a statement to CTV News Toronto, the CBSA confirmed the family's removal will not take place until the baby is born.
“I feel very big relief,” Sultana told CTV News Toronto on Monday after her husband phoned her about the news from the airport. “I was worried about my health and my baby, all of this was worsening my health condition, and I felt so scared.”
A doctor, who specializes in high risk pregnancies, had previously written to the CBSA that Sultana is under her care for investigation of cardiac issues in pregnancy, but the federal agency booked her ticket for Jan. 10 anyway.
"Given the late gestation and the severity of her symptoms, travel would not be advisable," Dr. Stacy Costa wrote in a letter dated Nov. 7. "I do not think she is safe for travel and I do not recommend any long distance travel at this time."
Sultana’s family doctor and her midwife also wrote letters to CBSA warning that she was not medically fit for travel due to her heart condition.
The Government of Canada website itself recommends that the safest time for travel for pregnant woman is between 18 and 24 weeks, and asks them to consult their own health care provider if they decide to travel later.
Sultana said she is now about 34 weeks pregnant and in her third trimester of pregnancy.
After reviewing the letters and Sultana's health records, the CBSA told CTV News Toronto that its own medical expert found Sultana medically fit for travel.
"Strictly from the medical fitness for air travel perspective and based on the medical documentation available for review … Ms. Sultana is deemed medically fit to be repatriated her country of origin," the doctor stated in the decision.
Sultana said the decision was made despite the fact that the doctor never saw her in person, never carried out any sort of examination and did not wait for the results of her 48-hour holter monitor test, which tracked her heart rhythm.
A spokesperson for CBSA said previously the agency is unable to comment on specific cases due to privacy concerns. CTV News Toronto contacted CBSA Monday about the update to the case, but has not yet received a response.
Sultana said she has scheduled an appointment with Dr. Costa Tuesday to look into what happened on the day she was scheduled to fly, and to make sure everything is okay with the baby and her own health.
She said the entire ordeal has been very stressful for health and pregnancy. She said she was previously told that if she refused to comply with the deportation, she and her husband could face imprisonment.
Sultana said she and her husband left Bangladesh and moved to Canada in 2014 seeking a better life. She said they were looking for better living standards and jobs and for better services and healthcare for their son who has autism, she said.
The couple's daughters, who are three years old and fifteen months old, were both born in Canada.
On Oct. 4, the immigration officer looking over their case denied their permanent residency application on humanitarian and compassionate grounds saying that with some struggle the family could reintegrate in Bangladesh and eventually find jobs and services for their son.
Sultana's husband said he is employed with the Fred Victor Centre in an accounting analyst position. The organization, which supports homeless and low-income residents in Toronto, wrote a letter to the immigration minister advocating for the family’s stay.
The CBSA has scheduled their first monthly meeting with the family for Feb. 5. At the point, Sultana will be around 36 weeks pregnant.
Most airlines will not allow a pregnant woman to fly after 36 weeks unless she has a doctor’s note allowing her to do so.