Legal Action Spurs Evacuation of Canadian Resident’s Spouse from Gaza

Palestinians check lists with the names of people allowed to cross to Egypt from the Gaza Strip in Rafah, Monday, Nov. 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

A Vancouver lawyer’s lawsuit prompts Canadian authorities to evacuate a Palestinian woman from the war-torn Gaza Strip to reunite with her husband in Canada

The ongoing conflict in Gaza has seen a new development involving Canadian authorities and the families of Canadian permanent residents. A Palestinian woman, initially denied evacuation from Gaza, was finally allowed to leave and join her husband in Canada following a lawsuit filed by a Vancouver-based immigration lawyer, Randall Cohn, CBC News reports.

The situation unfolded when Global Affairs Canada (GAC) announced plans on October 11 to evacuate individuals from Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank. Contradicting this, a representative from the Emergency Watch and Response Centre (EWRC) denied the registration of the woman, stating that evacuation flights were reserved for non-citizens or non-permanent residents only if accompanied by an immediate family member who is a citizen or permanent resident.

Cohn, representing the husband, a Canadian permanent resident residing in Vancouver, contested this decision. He highlighted a discrepancy between the policy stated in GAC’s media release and the actual practice. “They were basically adding an additional requirement that they had to be with their person, and that wasn’t the way that it was described in the news release,” Cohn said.

Randall Cohn, a lawyer representing a Canadian permanent resident whose wife was in Gaza, says there may be a problem with how Canada selects evacuees, especially considering not everyone has access to a lawyer. (Justine Boulin/CBC)

After his initial plea to GAC was met with silence, Cohn filed a lawsuit at the Federal Court of Canada seeking a judicial review of the refusal. This legal action seemed to catalyze a change, as the woman was subsequently added to the evacuation list. She safely arrived in Canada on November 7, part of the first group of 75 Canadians and family members evacuated from Gaza.

This incident raises questions about the selection process for evacuees by GAC. Cohn expressed his concern for those without legal representation, saying, “I’m glad to know that I can help my client, but I’m troubled to know that I had to help my client.”

In a similar case, Ahmad Abualjedian, another Canadian permanent resident, faced initial denial for evacuation assistance for his wife and newborn baby from Gaza. However, they were eventually added to the list and successfully evacuated following a CBC news segment about their plight.

A GAC spokesperson stated they were “not aware of any lawsuits or media coverage” influencing the evacuation list. They clarified that the official policy does not require Gaza evacuees to be accompanied by a citizen or permanent resident.

The war in Gaza, sparked by a Hamas attack on Israelis on October 7, has led to severe humanitarian crises, including constant bombing and a full blockade. The situation compelled Canada to evacuate its citizens and their families, with 356 people crossing the Rafah border into Egypt as of the latest GAC update.

Thousands of displaced Palesntinians travelled along the road from the north of the Gaza Strip toward the south following a deadly strike at Al-Shifa Hospital on Friday. ‘The situation has become really bad. If the hospital is hit, what safe places are left? Where do we go?’ said Ahmed Al-Shaikh Khalil, who was fleeing with his mother.

However, Cohn pointed out the disparity in evacuation efforts. While Israeli evacuees were flown to Athens on sponsored flights, those from Gaza had to arrange their travel from Cairo at their own expense. GAC offers financial assistance in the form of private fund transfers and emergency loans for those unable to afford flights.

The conflict has also forced Canadian citizens and permanent residents to make harrowing decisions, as current regulations do not allow the evacuation of extended family members like parents and siblings. Mohammed Sharif Alghusain, a Canadian evacuee, had to leave his parents and sister in Gaza. “I’m saving my daughters, but I’m leaving my parents behind,” Alghusain shared with CBC’s Rosemary Barton Live.

The Canadian Minister of International Development, Ahmed Hussen, acknowledged the need for ongoing reflection on the evacuation policy, hinting at possible expansions to include more family members.