A 16-year legal limbo has finally ended for Therese Betoukoumessou and her family, but not with the outcome she had hoped. Her husband, Prince Debase Betoukoumessou, was sent home to the Congo this afternoon after losing his legal battle to stay in the country on humanitarian grounds.
His devastated wife and family say the pain would have been easier to bear if the government had denied his request earlier, before the family had the chance to build a life here in Canada.
“I didn’t think it was going to be like this, because I see a lot of people coming to this country and they are so happy. When I came to Canada I thought I was going to have a better life with my husband and my family,” says a sobbing Therese Betoukoumessou as she packs her husband’s belongings – neatly pressed dress shirts, shoes and pants – into a large black suitcase purchased hours earlier in Chinatown.
Her husband had been detained for the past three months. The Canada Border Services Agency refuses to say why, or on what specific grounds he’s being deported. With the final avenues for appeal exhausted, Betoukoumessou will return to an uncertain future where his safety is at risk according to his family.
Because of serious human rights concerns, Canada does not deport residents to the Congo unless the government believes the individual has committed a crime or is a serous risk to national security.
According to the family in 1993, while living in Africa, Betoukoumessou was a civilian driver for the police and took part in an operation where officers abducted and arrested members of a government opposition party. He quit his job shortly thereafter and was arrested and jailed for four years according to his wife Therese.
His Canadian lawyer, Michael Crane, says he has no criminal record both in Canada and in his home country. Betoukoumessou and his wife have six children together, four daughters and two sons.
“They’re separating the family, that’s my big problem. It can’t happen like that. You can’t take your father from your kids, this one is only 11,” says Therese as she points to Jacob, one of their two young sons.
“I’m definitely worried. I’m worried that they may hurt him in the Congo,” says Jacob, as he lifts his worn bicycle up the stairs of the family’s modest Regent Park home.
Therese now worries how she will support her large family alone: “I don’t know what I’m going to do, it’s been three months now, I can’t work, I can’t concentrate. I can’t eat, can’t sleep.” With no remaining recourse to the law she says all she can do is hope and pray.