Jane Gomes receives a hug from her lawyer, Lee Cohen, after receiving the news she will be allowed to remain in Canada. – Wendy Elliott, www.kingscountynews.ca
By Wendy Elliott
Thirteen months after a letter writing campaign began to keep a 25-year-old Acadia University student in Canada, Jane Gomes feels like she has her life back.
The Bangladeshi computer science student learned March 21 that she will be allowed to remain in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
“I’m so relieved. It’ s a ‘yes’,” she said in an exclusive interview with the Kings County Advertiser after hearing the decision.
Gomes and her lawyer Lee Cohen met with immigration officials in Wolfville to get the news.
“The war’s over as far as I’m concerned,” the veteran immigration lawyer said. He indicated Gomes’ case had been under a Pre-removal Risk Assessment.
The assessment lists the reasons Gomes has been allowed to remain in Canada. Chief among was the negative climate toward women and Christians in Bangladesh.
Deporting Gomes would have put her life at risk due to cultural and religious taboos in Bangladesh, her mentor Judith Tod has declared. Three of Gomes’ family members wrote letters to verify the danger.
Gomes has been in the news for the past few years after her seven-week-old daughter died in 2009. Her former partner was later found guilty of manslaughter for abusing the baby.
A group of 16 mature Wolfville women, who call themselves the Friends of Jane, have rallied around Gomes and supported her efforts to remain in this country for almost three years.
Gomes graduated from Acadia last spring and has prospects in Canada. In the decision handed down last week, it was noted that she had “lost her child, suffered trauma in Canada, deserved time to grieve and start the healing process.”
Furthermore, the decision was based on the support, “if not of the entire Wolfville city, at least of the Acadia University community.” Gomes is currently working on a Masters program in computer science.
Cohen suggested she can now look forward to permanent resident status.
Gomes’ support group, her lawyer suggested, was central to the decision.
“I don’t have words to express how important the case the Friends were,” he said. They offered financial support, lobbied and researched violence against women in Bangladesh.
Where the story began
Gomes’ existence changed forever on July 13, 2009, when her infant daughter Aurora stopped breathing. The young mother was arrested and left in solitary for 12 days. She was denied a court-approved opportunity to see her deceased daughter.
In April 2010, after pleading guilty to failing to provide the necessities of life, she was released on a bond posted by Rev. Judith Tod of Wolfville. Gomes later received a conditional discharge, which means that after she served six months of probation, she would have no criminal record.
After nine months in jail, all of her possessions, including all photos of her baby, had disappeared. The petite, quiet young woman went back to university.
That fall, however, Gomes and a group of friends arranged for a small stone marker to be placed on Aurora's grave. Rev. Barry Morrison conducted a graveside service.
In January 2011, she received an order of removal from the Canada Border Services Agency. On a frigid winter day, 75 supporters stood vigil with her outside the Wolfville RCMP detachment. A number of elderly Wolfville Baptist Church members, where Gomes attends services, were on hand.
Tod said it was decided to organize the vigil because "we wanted the Canadian Border Service to see that Jane is not alone - that decent people care and support her."
She got a reprieve as her testimony was needed against her former partner, Ashiqur Rahman, who was later found guilty of manslaughter in the death of Aurora. Canada Citizenship and Immigration granted Gomes a study permit, but without status. This meant she could be deported at any time when the Department of Justice no longer had a need for her. She was unable to work to help support herself and focused on her studies.
Gomes received legal advice and counselling for free. Acadia University gave her a bursary. Meanwhile, the Friends of Jane group raised funds toward costly international student expenses. The Wolfville Area Inter Church Council received donations on her behalf and paid her tuition.
Cohen, a recognized specialist in immigration and human rights matters, says Canada has never been less hospitable to refugees like Jane Gomes.
“It’s very hard to overstate the importance of this decision,” he says.
Following Gomes’ hearing last week, he said the number of refugee cases approved has dropped precipitously.
These days, Cohen said, the federal government is redesigning and refining, gearing new immigration to English- or French-speakers with both education and money.
That dynamic, he noted, flies in the face of Canadian history.
A new target of immigration officials is marriages between Canadians and others. Cohen stated that an atmosphere involving fear and a kind of ‘boogie man’ mentality has been created, not unlike the American model.
Gomes’ case was unusual in its successful conclusion and support group. In his work, he said, most people fall through the cracks.
“Others should have this, they’re the people no one ever hears about,” he said.
Cohen has been practicing law in Canada since 1981. His practice is dedicated exclusively to matters related to immigration, refugees and human rights.
Cohen founded the Halifax Refugee Clinic, a non-profit organization providing pro bono representation for eligible refugees seeking political asylum in Canada. He believes an immigration centre at Acadia University could be a beneficial move.
A look back
July 13, 2009 - A seven-week-old baby, Aurora Breakthrough, stops breathing in an apartment on Gottingen Street in Halifax.
July 24, 2009 - The infant girl's parents are arrested and taken into custody after the IWK Health Centre reports a serious case of child abuse. Police charge the couple with aggravated assault.
July 27, 2009 - Aurora Breakthrough dies. The couple, both 23, are taken into custody for allegedly abusing the infant.
August 12, 2009 – Ashiqur Rahman and Jane Gomes are remanded into custody. The court denies their request to communicate with one another.
December 14, 2009 - The couple appears in Halifax provincial court to enter not guilty pleas for charges of aggravated assault.
March 9, 2010 - Police rule the death of Aurora Breakthrough a homicide. Rahman will face a charge of manslaughter, while police charge Gomes with two counts of manslaughter, one for criminal negligence resulting in death and one for not providing the necessities of life.
April 25, 2010 - Gomes pleads guilty to a charge of failing to provide the necessities of life as a part of a plea deal to testify against the baby's father, which saw her charges reduced from two counts of manslaughter.
May 26, 2010 - Gomes is sentenced to a conditional discharge and six months of probation.
November 14, 2011 - Rahman’s trial begins.
June 22, 2012 - Judge Felix Cacchione finds Rahman guilty of manslaughter.
August 7, 2012 – Rahman is sentenced to 6.5 years in prison for the death of his infant daughter, saying he lacked the empathy to see he was severely injuring the seven-week-old child when he slapped and shook her.