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Woman faces deportation 18 years after arriving to Canada as a child
TORONTO -- A 30-year-old woman, who was brought to Toronto when she was a little girl, is facing deportation to France after federal officials learned she was living in Canada without immigration status for 18 years.
Laura Emmanuelle Souchet, a samba dancer who now owns her own cleaning business, said she came to Canada with her mother at the age of 12 to take care of her grandmother, who suffered a severe stroke.
She told CTV News Toronto that in 2002, an immigration consultant told them if they wanted to stay in Canada, they would need to apply as refugees, a notion that even puzzled Souchet as a young girl seeing as France was a safe country.
The advice was given to the family at a time when immigration consultants were not regulated in Canada. The Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada began regulating immigration consultants in 2011.
But the family trusted the consultant to know the Canadian system better than they did, and they handed over their payment, Souchet said. When the application was rejected and a deportation order was issued, the consultant advised them to go under the federal government's radar and wait for amnesty.
“I was hoping [it would work out], but I realized she was feeding me a dream that wasn’t a reality,” Souchet said on Thursday. “She was charming and convincing as if she had our best interest at heart … I was later told that she’s known for doing this kind of stuff.”
For 18 years since then, Souchet said she has lived in fear, scared that at any moment officers with the Canada Border Services Agency would come to her home, and tear her away from her friends and the life she built here in Canada.
She said that even in situations when she has felt afraid for her safety, she has not contacted police due to her fear.
“It was like living with a ton of bricks on your shoulder for 18 years,” she said.
This past November, she decided that she needed to find help. She contacted a well-known Toronto lawyer, Graciela Flores Mendez, who took up her case, and helped her apply for permanent residency on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
Her application listed her address, and she said that last week officers with CBSA came to her home, detained her for two days and then on Wednesday gave her a deportation order for Saturday.
“I feel like my biggest fear has come true, I was trying to do the right thing and it might cost me my life in Canada,” she said. “Imagine living here since 12 and then someone coming and telling you that you have to leave, ripping you from your country, Canada is my country, in France I have nothing.”
Mendez, a lawyer with Jackman Nazami and Associates in Toronto, said a judge will hear her client’s case on Friday in federal court at 9:30 a.m.
Mendez said they will try to have the deportation suspended so a decision can be made on the humanitarian and compassionate application.
“It’s a very tragic case and stands against everything Canada is supposed to stand for ... she is making what is supposed to be the so-called proper way to do things and is being punished for it,” she said.
CTV News Toronto reached out to CBSA for comment, but has not received a response yet.
Souchet completed public school in Toronto, but when she was accepted into university, she was unable to attend because she did not have a SIN card and other ID necessary to study at the institution.
She said at the age of 18, she started a cleaning business and paid taxes to the Canadian government using an individual tax number, which allows non-residents to contribute to the Canada Revenue Agency.
“I wanted to do the right thing, I wanted to give back,” Souchet said. “My only dream ever since I was a child, my only wish was to become a Canadian citizen, who I am as a person is Canadian.”
She said resettling in France would be very difficult because of her lack of formal French education and employment experience there.
She said images of the immigration consultant still haunt her some days, the blond-haired woman sitting behind a desk. “It’s a memory I could never get out of my mind,” she said.