Will Canada be held responsible for Jamila Bibi's death?
This is not the story of a helpless woman who fled from her country, Pakistan, because of accusations of adultery and attempts on her life. It’s not about how 65-year-old Jamila Bibi just could not put her trust in the legal system in Pakistan.
This is the story of how even after she escaped certain, violent, retribution for allegedly committing adultery, her narrative was lost in the complexity of laws which first protected her and then threw her back to the wolves.
Jamila Bibi sought asylum in Canada in 2007 because her life was in danger after her husband accused her of adultery. She was deported to Pakistan on Tuesday because under the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, Jamila was not under any “obvious” threat back home.
Mutilating women, stoning them to death, or any number of methods of honour killings are nothing new in villages or even cities in Pakistan. According to Dr Muazzam Nasrullah, a public health specialist teaching at Emory and West Virginia University, US, “As many as 500 women and girls are killed for ‘honour’ in Pakistan each year, making it one of the most dangerous countries for women.”
Even though there are direct laws against honour killings, the figure keeps increasing every year. From suspecting an affair, seeking revenge for adultery, to handling property disputes by levelling false accusations, motives behind such deaths are plenty while the truth is seldom present.
In Jamila Bibi’s case, it was said to be a land dispute which led to accusations of adultery. Imagine a 65-year-old woman living in a village committing adultery? Isn’t it a bit of a stretch?
But let’s just consider for a second the accusations were true. Does she not have the right to be tried in a court of law? Does she not have the right to a second chance? A chance Canada did give her until this Tuesday, when they sealed her fate by deporting her.
Leaving threats to her life back in Pakistan, Jamila Bibi used to work in the kitchen of a small restaurant in Saskatoon, and was contributing to the Canadian economy, however meagre the amount. She was safe, at peace and there legally. There are numerous illegal immigrants residing in Canada. And many should be dealt with harshly because of their dishonest claims and antics. Surely no one will mourn their deportation.
In hindsight, this decision of the government makes little sense, especially when both the Office of the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights and Amnesty International had appealed for further review and consideration of her case before the final deportation.
There are many critics of the Harper government in Canada, primarily for his stringent laws on immigration. This incident further breathes fire into the opposition. But, Citizenship and Immigration Minister, Chris Alexander, continues to label the system as “fair and generous”.
Justice Marie-Josee Bedard said,
“The applicant has not presented evidence before this court that could support a finding that she will face risks if she is [relocated] to Pakistan that have not already been assessed on two occasions (by immigration officials).”
What evidence are they talking about? Did they expect Jamila Bibi to pull some strings even though they know she does not come from privilege back in her village? Or do they expect her accusers to now shower her with petals at the airport?
What makes this action of the Canadian government different from the numerous acts of brutality in Pakistan? We all nod our heads and shrug our shoulders when people like Jamila Bibi don’t get their rights in Pakistan, but what do we do when it comes to humanitarian establishments like Canada?
Is Canada to be held accountable if Jamila Bibi is killed in Pakistan, a country which has a continuing history of honour killings?
No one condones or justifies passing on the blame to a third-party. But in this case, Canada chose to get involved. Canada willingly gave Jamila Bibi refuge so now they cannot turn a deaf ear to her pleas. You can’t save a person from fire by drowning her in an ocean.
This is not a plea to let guilty people off the hook or to make undue exceptions in the law. However, her appeals should have been given more time and consideration. Was that too much to handle for the Canadian government?
In a letter to the UN, Jamila wrote:
“I know my life would be in danger if I am sent back and I would rather have a peaceful death here than be killed for something that I did not do.”
Who is to say she does not deserve a peaceful death?