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Canadians detained in Syria: Woman faces agonizing choice

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When “Asiya” first heard that the Canadian government had agreed to repatriate women and children from detention camps in northeast Syria, she felt that safety was within grasp for her family — only to have those hopes dashed a few days later in a call with a federal official.

CTV News is using the pseudonym “Asiya” for the 36-year old woman out of concern for her safety inside the Al-Roj camp. Asiya is married to a man from Ottawa who was working in the Middle East and travelled to Syria as a religious scholar, she said. They have three children under the age of nine. Their oldest son has severe autism and requires brain surgery. The middle child has burns down the back of his body after falling into a kerosene heater. She says the burns are so painful, her son can’t sit and cries when he puts on clothes. Their youngest daughter was born in the camp, months after her father was thrown in prison.

Last Thursday, Asiya said she received a call from a Global Affairs official saying her children are eligible for repatriation but she is excluded from the deal because she is not a Canadian citizen.

On Jan. 19, Global Affairs reached an agreement to bring back 19 women and children who had initially sued in federal court for repatriation. A day later, a federal judge ordered Canada to bring back four men languishing in Syrian prisons. They were alleged to have ISIS links, but have never been charged. The government is still considering whether to abide by the order or appeal it.

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Neither Asiya nor her husband were part of those cases.

DEADLINE TO DECIDE

To get her children on the plane to Canada, Asiya said Global Affairs told her she must agree to relinquish custody. Asiya said the government gave her a deadline of one and a half weeks to decide.

“I have no choice. Either I lose them by not seeing them. Or I lose them here as the camp is full of young bodies,” said Asiya in a monitored phone call from the Al-Roj camp administration office.

According to Reprieve, a human rights legal advocacy group, Asiya is one of four mothers and 10 children caught in the same government-imposed dilemma.

“It’s one of the cruellest and inhumane policies we can imagine. It’s enforced family separation,” said Reprieve executive director Maya Foa in a video interview from London, England.

Global Affairs did not respond to CTV News’ request for comment on the case.

FATE OF FATHERS UNKNOWN

Foa said the Canadian fathers of these children are missing in Syria, perhaps killed during the civil war or held incommunicado in prisons. The children have never lived in Canada.

Foa said this is the government choosing to “rip these children from the one caregiver they know” to put them in the care of strangers and placing them at risk of “irreparable harm and trauma,” while leaving behind mothers who may not survive.

Foa has travelled to the camps at least 10 times to interview detainees on behalf of Reprieve and collect information to persuade governments to repatriate their nationals. There are more than 40,000 detainees from 57 countries in the camps. The majority of those living in the de facto open-air prisons are children, most under the age of 10.

According to Reprieve’s research, the majority of the women in the camps may have been trafficked.

“There are circumstances where women with particular vulnerablitieis are coerced or convinced into travel, not because they have ideological affiliation with ISIS, but because they have partners, fathers of their children,” said Foa. “The statistics in the U.K. show that 63 per cent meet the definition of potential victim of trafficking.”

Foa said she last interviewed Asiya in 2022 to prepare medical documents for her children to present to the Canadian government. Foa said the Middle East country where Asiya was born does not have a good human rights record. If Asiya and her children were to be repatriated to that country, Foa said there’s a possibility Asiya would disappear, be tortured or killed.

FOLLOWED HUSBAND TO SYRIA

In her interview with CTV News, Asiya said she was an engineer who worked in both New Jersey and Cairo. It was in Egypt where she met and married her Canadian husband in 2011. She said her husband is a religious scholar who travelled to Syria to research the Islamic State in 2015. Asiya said she followed him there with their children, to take care of him because she was worried about his health.

“He was getting sick. He was weak – he can’t even hold a camera. He has hepatitis and diabetes and genetic migraines. He can’t see at night.”

Asiya said that she has not seen her husband since 2019 after he was jailed by Kurdish forces and she and her children were placed in the camps.

CTV News has seen her husband’s birth certificate which lists his birthplace as Ottawa and shows that his parents once lived in the Vanier neighbourhood. She said her husband was previously held at the Ghwaryan prison, but does not know if he survived an attack on the prison by ISIS militants last January.

MORE LEGAL ACTION

As Asiya’s decision day approaches, more legal action is being pursued. Yoav Niv, a Calgary lawyer who argues cases in federal court, says he will be applying for a temporary resident permit to get the non-Canadian mothers to Canada.

Niv helped repatriate the first Canadian woman from a Syrian detention camp in 2021. He says Global Affairs’ decision to separate children from their mothers in these cases is morally wrong and violates United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Canada ratified in 1991.

“In this case there has to be an assessment whether separation of these mothers from their children is in the best interests of the child. It’s our position that it’s not, fundamentally,” said Niv.

Alexandra Bain, with the Canadian organization Families Against Violent Extremism (FAVE), is also in regular contact with Asiya and other Canadian families.

Bain said Global Affairs has told 26 women and children that they will soon be on a plane home.

“My understanding is that they will be on an American military aircraft. It will take off one time, and the (non-Canadian) mothers have been told that if they haven’t made the decision since then they will be left behind,” said Bains.

More than 40 Canadians are currently in Kurdish-operated camps and prisons in Syria. Most of them are children, hoping for a way home — desperate for an end to their abandonment.

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They were turned away at the Canadian border. Now what? – CBC.ca

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Toddlers ran through aisles filled with snacks and candies. Adults slumped in chairs. Multiple cellphones were plugged into a single wall socket. Backpacks and suitcases were scattered among the two rows of tables in a corner of this small-town bus stop and gas station. 

After they were turned away at the Canadian border and spent three days in detention, the roughly 15 asylum seekers at the Mountain Mart No. 109 in the town of Plattsburgh, N.Y., south of Montreal, on Tuesday afternoon were trying to figure out what to do. 

They had tried to get into the country at the popular unofficial crossing on Roxham Road in the hours after a new border deal between Canada and the U.S. came into effect late last week. 

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Alan Rivas, a Peruvian man who was hoping to reunite with his girlfriend who’s been living in Montreal for two years, said he’d spent $4,000 on making it this far.

“I’m trying to think about what to do now.” 

A sense of solidarity emerged as people recognized each other from various parts of their time stuck on the border, along with a sense of resignation and deep disappointment.

“Disappointing and heartbreaking,” said a man from Central Africa, whom CBC agreed not to identify because he fears it could affect his asylum claim process in the United States.

A man waves at the camera, a Greyhound bus in the background.
Alan Rivas, who is from Peru, was trying to reunite with his partner in Montreal, but was hours too late attempting to cross into Canada at Roxham Road after strict new border rules came into effect at midnight Saturday. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

He had shared a cab ride with a man from Chad, who fled to the U.S. after the government of his country led a violent crackdown on opponents last fall. 

“It’s unfair. We are not home and we suffer. We’re looking for a better life,” the man from Central Africa said.

The man from Chad looked up and said: “No, looking for protection is not having a better life. I had a life.”

The Chadian was not let into Canada despite his wife and child being Canadian citizens, he said. Having a family member with legal status in Canada is one of the few exemptions to the strict new rules that make it nearly impossible to claim asylum at the Canada-U.S. border. His wife and child fled to a nearby country after the crackdown in Chad, but he explained that his wife’s family is still in Canada.

Other exemptions include being an unaccompanied minor and having a work permit or other official document allowing a person to be in Canada. 

“They made me sign a paper without giving me time to read it. They didn’t explain anything,” said the man, whom CBC also agreed not to name because he fears for his family’s safety in an African country near Chad.

The Canada-U.S. deal was implemented swiftly before the weekend, leaving local governments and organizations little time to respond and turned-away asylum seekers struggling to find food, shelter and rides.

A man's hands over a brown Canadian government envelope. A tag with the number 18 on it and a plastic bracelet with numbers.
A man from Chad, who was detained at the Canada-U.S. border for three days, shows the number he was given while waiting to be released back into the United States. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

The man from Central Africa was trying to round up enough money to pay for a $200 bus ticket to Houston, where he would stay with a friend. The man from Chad gave him the $40 he was missing.

The Central African said he had spent his savings on coming to Canada. His hope was to live here until obtaining residency, and then arranging for his family to come to meet him. 

“I know a guy in Houston who hasn’t seen his family in 10 years. He still doesn’t have status,” he said.

A young Haitian mother cradled her baby as her toddler made friends with another child. Her family had paid an acquaintance in New Jersey $300 per adult to get to Roxham Road before midnight Friday, but the driver got lost and they arrived at 12:03 a.m.

Steven, a 24-year-old Venezuelan who attempted to cross into Canada at Roxham early Saturday morning, mingled with the people he’d met in detention. Then he tried to call his mom.

A woman leans her head on a younger man. Both standing outside a gas station.
Carmen Salazar, left, and Steven met in detention at the Canadian border this week. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

“She doesn’t know,” said Steven, who didn’t want his last name used in this story because of fears it could affect his U.S. asylum claim. “I know I seem happy but I am sad.”

Carmen Salazar, 45, also from Venezuela, watched him from another table.

“It’s hard, really hard,” she said.

The group of asylum seekers at the Mountain Mart had found comfort in finding each other. They all boarded a bus leaving Plattsburgh at 7:45 p.m. Tuesday. Its main destination was New York City. 

Others haven’t been so lucky finding a way out of Plattsburgh.

The night before, a woman who was seen at Roxham Road early Saturday, sat alone at the bus stop crying.

3 nights in a motel and no plan

Across the street, in a small motel, a 34-year-old Haitian man and his pregnant girlfriend had one night left out of three that had been paid for by local emergency housing services. But they had no plan and only $41 to their name.

“We’re here. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but we’re going to look for ways to be able to live. What I’m looking for — nothing more — is a place to rest and a place to work. Nothing else,” said the man, sitting in the lobby of the motel. CBC is not naming him because of fears it could affect his American asylum claim.

The couple had intended to stay in the U.S. after crossing the Mexican border, but the woman became pregnant and developed constant pains. In the U.S., they had to stay with separate family members far from each other and the man worried about his wife and being able to afford medical bills, so they decided to try to get to Canada, having heard it was easier to find work and that health-care was more affordable, he said.

Steven, 24, and his 21-year-old friend, both from Venezuela, wait for the bus to New York City at the Mountain Mart bus stop and gas station Plattsburgh, NY on Tuesday.
Steven, 24, and his 21-year-old friend, both from Venezuela, wait for a bus to New York City at the Mountain Mart bus stop and gas station Plattsburgh on Tuesday. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

In an interview with Radio-Canada Monday, a man from another Central African country struggled to hold back tears.

He said the confusion after being taken in at Roxham Road by RCMP officers was hurtful because it wasn’t clear if he’d be accepted into Canada or not. When they called his name, he was filled with hope, only to be told he was being sent to U.S. Border Patrol. 

“I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know where to go. I don’t have anyone who will take me in,” he said. 

The response from U.S. Border Patrol appears to be uneven. Some asylum seekers CBC spoke with had taxis called for them, having to pay another $70 to get to the Mountain Mart. One woman was found on the side of the service road by the border and given a ride by a social science researcher and documentary photographer met by CBC.

The man interviewed by Radio-Canada was part of a group who were given a ride to the gas station by a Greyhound bus heading back to New York from Montreal. 

CBC reached out to U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Monday, asking what happens to asylum seekers rejected by Canada, but did not receive a response.

Luggage sits outside the Mountain Mart bus stop and gas station in the town of Plattsburgh, NY.
Luggage sits outside the Mountain Mart bus stop and gas station in Plattsburgh Tuesday as a group of asylum seekers turned back at the Canadian border wait for a bus to New York City. (Dave St-Amant/CBC)

Although in favour of some kind of change to reduce traffic at Roxham Road, one local official wants help from the federal governments to deal with the fallout. 

Michael Cashman, supervisor for the Town of Plattsburgh, says Canada and the U.S. to come up with a response to help asylum seekers get to where they want to go in the U.S. 

He isn’t against the move to restrict access to Canada at Roxham Road.

“There had to be a change,” he said, noting residents had been asking for one, but compared the way it was done to turning off a light switch before entering a room: “You’re going to bump into some furniture.”

The area is rural and has its share of struggles with transportation and housing, Cashman said. 

“There isn’t a robust infrastructure to be able to take on this humanitarian crisis as it develops.” 

On Monday and Tuesday, buses coming from New York carried only a few asylum seekers hoping to cross the border. Most knew about the new rules, believing their cases would fit some of the exemptions. Others still did not know.

By Tuesday, cab drivers were no longer ferrying people to Roxham Road, taking them to the official border crossing at Champlain, N.Y., and Lacolle, Que., instead.

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What is the grocery rebate in federal budget 2023? Key questions, answered

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Canada’s economy might be recovering from the pandemic, but many Canadians are still struggling with the cost of living, thanks, in part, to the impacts of global inflation.

To help offset rising living expenses, the Government of Canada has built some benefit increases and fee reductions into its 2023 budget. Among these measures is a new grocery rebate in the form of a one-time payment for middle- and low-income Canadians that is designed to offset food inflation.

“Our more vulnerable friends and neighbours are still suffering from higher prices,” Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland said after tabling the budget on March 28. “That’s why our budget contains targeted, temporary relief from the effects of inflation for those who need it.”

Here’s what we know about the rebate.

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HOW WILL THE GROCERY REBATE WORK?

According to the budget, the benefit will be rolled out through the GST/HST rebate system, once a bill implementing it passes in the House of Commons. This move essentially re-ups and re-brands the recent GST rebate boost.

While no specific date for the payments has been announced, upcoming GST/HST credit payment dates for 2023 include April 5, July 5 and Oct. 5. Because the rebate is automatically rolled into the GST/HST credit, eligible Canadians shouldn’t need to do anything besides file their tax return in order to receive the payment.

WHO GETS THE GROCERY REBATE IN CANADA?

The Grocery Rebate is earmarked for 11 million low- to modest-income Canadians. It will provide eligible couples with two children with up to $467, single Canadians without children with up to $234 and seniors with $225 on average.

The budget doesn’t pinpoint any eligibility brackets based on income, but outlines hypothetical scenarios where a couple earning $38,000 per year and an individual earning $32,000 both received the maximum rebate.

Since the rebate will be rolled into the GST/HST credit, the eligibility criteria for that credit might offer some insight into who will be eligible for the maximum Grocery Rebate amounts.

The GST benefit is reduced as income rises. It’s phased out entirely once income reaches just over $49,000 for a single person, $50,000 for a couple without children and more than $60,000 for a couple with four children.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO FEED A FAMILY OF 4 IN CANADA?

The average family of four will spend up to $16,288.41 on food this year, according to the latest Canada’s Food Price Report, published by the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University.

“For a family of four, their food bill will increase by about $1,100 this year,” the lab’s director, Sylvain Charlebois, told CTV News Calgary on Tuesday.

The cost of staple grocery items based on March 2023 prices listed on Fortinos.ca. (CTV’s Your Morning)

The most substantial increases will be in the cost of vegetables, dairy and meat, according to the report. Food inflation has softened somewhat in recent weeks, Charlebois said, but even with that softening and the extra cash in their pockets from the grocery rebate, Canadians aren’t out of the woods yet.

“We are expecting things to be a little more manageable for households probably in the summer, (but) not before then,” he said. “We are expecting to finish the year with a food inflation rate of about four to five per cent. It’s still high, but it’s better than 10 per cent.”

HOW CAN I SAVE MONEY ON GROCERIES IN CANADA?

As finance commentator Pattie Lovett-Reid pointed out during an interview on CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday, a maximum grocery rebate of $467 for a family of four doesn’t even offset half of the additional $1,100 families can expect to spend on groceries in 2023.

“It’s a small amount that will help a family of four,” she said. “But, is it enough? No, it’s not, we’ve got to get inflation down.”

With their spending power significantly weakened, a growing number of consumers are looking for new ways to save on their grocery bills.

According to a March 22 report published by the Agri-Food Analytics Lab, in partnership with Angus Reid, some of the methods Canadians are using to save money at the grocery store include reading weekly flyers, using coupons, taking advantage of volume discounting and using food rescue apps such as Too Good To Go and the Second Harvest Food Rescue App.

– With files from Senior Digital Parliamentary Reporter Rachel Aiello 

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International selling Pop Reggae artist, D Howell Drops New Single “Man Dem”

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D Howell Drops New Single

D HOWELL 

                                     Drops 

                                “MAN DEM” 

                                 By way of Spanish Town

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Toronto, On – International selling Pop/ Reggae artist, D Howell drops his new single, “Man Dem “available now, on all major music platforms.  The release featuring Ding Dong & Nicky B follows a long list of hit music from the talented pop-reggae artist.  Howell’s single, ’Wine Bounce” with Jamaican born reggae artist Dominant ft. Nick B was picked up by Universal Music, solidifying Howell’s career with the likes of Sean Paul, Elephant Man and Sarani. The artist contributes his Jamaican roots to the success of his brand.  Keeping his early beginnings in Spanish Town, Jamacia close to his heart, “Man Dem” (meaning multiple men) was created.  The single is inspired by the multicultural people of Toronto with special consideration to the immigrants from Jamaica. Their specific style of talking is heard on every street corner in Toronto.  The new generation have made it their own, a way of bringing and keeping their heritage alive.  Howell’s music speaks to that, making the heritage & the music one.  The highly anticipated release of “Man Dem” will take you home to Spanish Town.   

DJ, producer and artist, D Howell knows what it takes to make hit singles.  It’s not just talent that makes a single a hit, but the chemistry & respect for your fellow artists.  Knowing what works and what doesn’t between artists is key.   Mixing different instruments, sounds and styles to create his always evolving pop reggae sound has made Howell an in-demand producer and artist.  From the super hit ‘Jumanji’ to a lineup of multi-selling collaborations featuring his unique reggae influenceHowell makes it work.  Collaborations with Karl Wolf (Fall in Love”), Danny Fernandes (Party”) and the man himself, Sean Paul (Time to Party”).  Howell writes for and brings together a wide range of artists from different genres into his studio to create a combination of sounds that works on the music charts today. D Howell brings the love, nurture & music of his early beginnings to his seat at the industry table.  “Man Dem” takes you on that journey…  

 

Listen to Man Dem” 

https://open.spotify.com/album/7nW1yToUEz2I2OUdZ9jVso?si=DxAcnCwbTNOwkQvwhaFvUA 

 

Follow D Howell: 

https://soundcloud.com/realdhowell/nicky-b-man-dem-clean  

https://www.instagram.com/realdhowell/

https://www.youtube.com/@diamienrecords

https://twitter.com/realdhowell  

Media Inquiries: 

 Sasha Stoltz Publicity: 

 Sasha Stoltz | Sasha@sashastoltzpublicity.com | 416.579.4804   

 https://www.sashastoltzpublicity.com

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