Immigrants like Grace Gitau are much-needed in post-COVID Canada. Why deport them?

By Wambui Essie >>>

Oh Canada, here we go again. Our on-off-and-on-again dance is on. We, the African Canadian and Kenyan Canadian communities do this dance every now and then. But let it go on record that this is not a dance we enjoy, yet it is one that we must perform. We show up the African way. We root as a community, we shore up support in the form of finances, petitions, prayers, and moral support.

Once more, one of our valuable community members has been threatened with deportation back to Kenya. Her name is Grace Gitau (fondly known as GG), a former resident of Mississauga who in 2022 moved to the London North Centre Constituency of Ontario. She’s expected to leave in a few weeks.

Grace came to Canada in 2018, and our community is protesting her removal. A petition against her deportation has been signed by thousands .

In the last few years, many people have been deported, including back to Africa. Most go quietly, dejected, demotivated, discouraged, and disappointed in the country that they chose to live in, but that didn’t choose them back. This one-sided, unrequited love for Canada has left others depressed and resigned to their eventual, similar fate.

But when someone is grounded, visible and active in our community, we occasionally push back. We question their deportation and seek answers. We are neither ignorant nor naïve. We understand that Canada has an immigration policy that determines who gets admitted into this beautiful country as well as who stays. And yet, we cannot help but wonder why Canada continually seeks new immigrants only to deport wholesome, outstanding individuals and families who have done everything right to establish themselves here. We are also painfully aware of disparities in who gets deported, but I digress.   

The dangerous circumstances that led Grace to seek asylum in Canada remain and may have in fact exacerbated recently. It is also notable that the legal process for her case exposes both systemic and communication failures that allowed for legal underrepresentation and representation by people who weren’t well acquainted with her unique case. Thankfully, she has now retained new legal counsel and we will leave the legalese to them. What we ask as a community is for Canada to allow Grace to remain in the country while the legal process plays out. Our preferred outcome is that she’s granted the legal right to remain permanently in Canada.

Canada welcomed a historic number of newcomers in 2022 according to Statistics Canada, reaching 431,645 and representing the largest number of people ever welcomed in a year in Canadian history. The last time Canada welcomed such large numbers of newcomers was in the early 1900s during mass emigration from Europe pre-WWI. There’s enough room for those already here.

Immigration has helped shape Canada into the country it is today – one that is prosperous, diverse, and welcoming to those in need. Admittedly, newcomers enrich and better our communities, create jobs, are caregivers, and support local businesses. Furthermore, throughout the pandemic, newcomers stepped up and were on the front lines, working in key sectors like health care, transportation, and manufacturing. They helped Canada to overcome challenges in critical industries and sectors of the economy over those two years. Grace was one of those we came to know as essential workers during the pandemic.

And in the post-COVID years, immigration is a key part of the solution as the Government of Canada focuses on addressing the acute labour market shortages the country is facing. That is why the removal of yet another productive member of society, who particularly works in an industry that needs workers is mind-boggling. Grace is that immigrant that we not only think that Canada needs, but that it should be seeking to admit. She is well-adapted to Canadian life and is a hard worker, compassionate, driven and ambitious.

It is only now that we are coming to grips with how much the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the lives of Canadians. The ongoing economic hardships, changes to our daily routines and separation from loved ones, among other stresses, have been linked to the worsening of mental health and an increase in substance use among many people according to the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction.

In the five years that she has lived in Canada, Grace has gone on to graduate and work in community harm reduction and overdose prevention. Part of her job involves responding to medical overdose emergencies by providing reversal medication and aftercare to people experiencing medical distress. In addition, outside of her work hours, many testify to Grace’s work with various marginalized communities and including drug-free homeless individuals, with who she emphasizes the importance of maintaining a clean and healthy lifestyle.

More recently, Grace has been hosting newly arrived asylum seekers who have been thrust into the overcrowded shelter situation happening in the GTA and across other regions in southern Ontario. She is a valuable member of several business, social, community, and religious organizations where her selfless dedication and contribution have led many to rally against her removal from Canada.   

Canada prides itself in providing security, safety, reuniting families, and being a place that provides numerous opportunities for immigrants to start or reset their life. There have been open-door policies and new immigration pathways created for Ukrainians, Afghans and Iraqis fleeing war and persecution from their countries. Why don’t we see the same for those from Africa? Instead of being offered solace, why do we see increased deportations back to persecution and harm? The psychosocial consequences for immigrants who are forced to return to places where they may have faced violence and trauma prior to their immigration should haunt us all.

Canada should be in the business of resettling and helping root the much-needed immigrants, not uprooting and destabilizing those who choose to be here, who give all they can, work hard to be financially independent, pay their taxes, and daily contribute generously to the betterment of Canada.

We cannot overemphasize the health and economic toll of these removals on individuals, families and communities. Grace Gitau deserves a chance to continue enriching Canada and the lives of Canadians.


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