How much would you give up to get a university education? For most of us, four years of work, study, investment and anxiety are the costs we are willing to pay to secure the benefits and opportunities of a university degree. But is a university degree worth so much to you that you would allow yourself to be confined in a church basement, cut off from physical contact with friends and family for almost a year of your life all while under constant threat of arrest and deportation? Most of us would balk at such an ordeal, but for two University of Regina students facing deportation orders for their honest mistake of working off-campus at a local Wal-Mart, this is exactly the extent they are willing to go advance their education.
On the night of June 18 2012, Victoria Ordu and Ihuoma Favour Amadi - two Nigerian students studying at the University of Regina - sought sanctuary in an undisclosed church basement to avoid their pending deportation. They sought sanctuary in the hopes that Immigration Minister Jason Kenney would intervene in their case. Their sole mistake was to work at a local Wal-Mart for two weeks. While both students were eligible to work on campus, their mistake was to work off-campus. While the punishment for violating their visa was at the discretion of the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) — the CBSA decided to pursue the most severe sanction imaginable: deportation. Moreover, while Victoria and Favour face the severest of penalties for this minor infraction, there is no evidence that the employer - Wal-Mart - has faced any sanction whatsoever.
Since Victoria and Favour sought sanctuary, the federal government has actually recognized the defects of the original policy. In December 2012, Minister Kenney’s office announced changes to the International Student Program including new rules that would allow eligible students to work on and off campus with one work permit. What this means is that Victoria and Favour's so-called crime is not even recognized as such today. Were they to seek employment off-campus today they would be well within the law to do so. Despite these changes, Victoria and Favour are close to marking an unhappy one-year anniversary under virtual house arrest. By way of comparison, persons convicted of rioting, child abandonment, theft, animal cruelty and fraud have all received less time under official house arrest than these two students unofficially endure.
With the end of another missed semester, the time has come to conclude this sad episode and return both Victoria and Favour to their studies at the University of Regina. Minister Kenney could end this ordeal with the simple stroke of a pen, by grandfathering the recent work-rule changes to apply to Victoria and Favour's case. Given the Federal government’s desire to make Canada the “destination of choice” for international students, this case serves as an ugly mark on Canada’s international reputation. A just resolution to this case would demonstrate Canada’s compassion and commitment to fairness and remove any lingering doubts among the international student community that Canada is truly the destination of choice for post-secondary studies.
Finally, for a culture that regularly counsels youth of the importance of university education, Victoria and Favour's resilience and determination to complete their degrees should be an example to us all. While governments' regularly lament drop-out rates and continually espouse the need for skills and training within the knowledge economy, here we have two students willing to endure the almost unendurable all for the sake of their education. For their strength and persistence they deserve to be rewarded with what they want most; the opportunity to earn a university degree.
To learn more about Victoria and Favour's case, visit here.
Simon Enoch is Director of the Saskatchewan Office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. He is a University of Regina graduate and holds a PhD in Communication and Culture from Ryerson University in Toronto.