When he came to Canada to study, Adnan Farooq never imagined a bureaucratic snafu would lead to him being handcuffed, strip-searched and subsequently detained for more than two days in jail, sharing a cell with a man who told him he had “butchered” a person with a machete.
Farooq, who came to Winnipeg from Pakistan in 2006 on a study visa, was legally required to leave the country Oct. 12.
On Sept. 24, the 26-year-old former University of Winnipeg student was arrested at the local Canadian Border Service Agency offices after requesting extra time to purchase a plane ticket home.
He was detained at the Winnipeg Remand Centre.
“I was so afraid that I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t do anything,” said Farooq, who was working for the university’s media services department up until his departure from Canada this past Friday.
“When I talked to the (Remand Centre) guards, they were surprised I was actually locked up because I’d asked for more time to pay for a plane ticket.”
After moving to Winnipeg on a three-year study visa, Farooq pursued a degree in business administration at the U of W, but financial problems forced him to stop his studies.
Since he was permitted by Immigration Canada to be employed on campus, Farooq supported himself by working for the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association and, later, the university itself.
When his visa status expired in July 2009, Farooq stayed in the city until he was contacted by the CBSA a few months later. Citing violent political turmoil in Pakistan, he applied for a pre-removal risk assessment, which was denied.
This September, Farooq said he was ordered to leave the country before October.
With mounting bills to pay, student debt and employment commitments, he appeared at the CBSA office on Sept. 24 with a proposed travel itinerary for early 2013 - a time-frame that would allow him to afford his plane ticket to Pakistan and honour his work responsibilities.
Upon this request, Farooq was handcuffed on the spot and taken to the Remand Centre, where he said he was strip-searched and detained for the next two days in close proximity to two allegedly violent individuals - one of whom he said he understood to be an alleged murderer.
On Sept. 26, Farooq was released on bail and given a paid plane ticket out of the country.
“I was just amazed,” he said. “It wasn’t at all the kind of thing I would have expected to happen here.”
According to Lisa White, a spokesperson for the CBSA, Farooq was arrested on grounds he had demonstrated unwillingness to comply with a removal order.
The CBSA can arrest individuals because they pose a danger to the public or are deemed unlikely to appear before officials when called upon, White said.
“Once (a visiting immigrant) has exhausted the avenues available to them (to extend their stay), we expect them to respect our laws and leave Canada,” said White.
“If they don’t, we begin the process of enforcing a removal order.”
Paul Hesse, a Winnipeg lawyer and past chair of the immigration section of the Manitoba Bar Association, said Farooq’s incarceration under the circumstances represents a “sledgehammer approach” to a non-dangerous issue.
“There are other ways of dealing with cases like this,” he said, calling Farooq’s detainment an overreaction.
Hesse stressed the seriousness of Canada’s immigration laws, and said Farooq could have avoided his incarceration if he had planned ahead and complied more punctually with dates set by the CBSA.
However, Hesse believes officials should have used more discretion with respect to Farooq’s risk assessment.
“Canada has rules, and rules should be respected,” he said. “But there’s no reason we should be putting people in harm’s way who don’t threaten anyone else’s safety.”
White maintains that Farooq’s arrest and incarceration were standard practice.
“Our immigration laws are very clear,” she said. “We have the authority under the Immigration Act to effect these types of arrests. It’s mandated by law.”
Still, Farooq said he plans to return to Canada from Pakistan after a one-year period, during which he is required to wait to reapply for another visa.
“There’s really nothing for me back in Pakistan,” he said.
“I love Canada - I know it’s the right place for me.”
Published in Volume 67, Number 7 of The Uniter (October 17, 2012)