Fliss Cramman, a young mother facing deportation to the U.K. after spending much of her life in Canada, issued a plea Thursday to be allowed to stay in the country she considers home, a day before her strange saga goes before a hearing that may determine her fate.
Propped up in a hospital bed and groggy from pain medication, Cramman said she is terrified of being forced to return to England, where she was born but left at the age of eight when her parents moved to Ontario.
“I’m just so scared to go back – I don’t know anybody, I don’t know anything,” she said through tears, while two corrections officers stood guard in her drab hospital room.
“If I leave here, I’m leaving my heart behind big time. This is my homeland.”
The 33-year-old mother of four young daughters, who were all born in Ontario, only became aware that she was not a Canadian citizen following a recent drug conviction and incarceration. The Canada Border Services Agency looked into her status while she was in custody, discovering that her parents and several foster care families that took her in at the age of 11 failed to secure her Canadian citizenship.
As a result, the agency says it wants to deport her by Dec. 16, despite her physician’s assertion that she is in fragile health and needs to remain in the country for about 18 months to properly recover from a series of colon surgeries done after she was rushed to hospital from a prison facility in Dartmouth on Aug. 12.
At a hearing in the basement of the hospital late last month, the Immigration and Refugee Board agreed Cramman would not be able to travel for “at least a couple of months.” It said it would review the matter, along with a possible release from custody, at another hearing Friday.
“I just want to stay here,” Cramman said in a voice thin from fatigue, but buoyant when questioned about her citizenship.
“Hell yeah, I’m Canadian. I came over when I was eight, I have a social insurance number, I have a health card, I pay taxes, I had kids in Canada, I voted, I say sorry and that’s a huge Canadian thing. I say ‘eh’ a lot!
“I’m Canadian…It’s in my blood.”
Advocates with the Elizabeth Fry Society and a local refugee group agree and have taken on her case, which has attracted attention from across the country.
Julie Chamagne of the Halifax Refugee Clinic is helping Cramman navigate the complicated immigration bureaucracy while providing legal guidance in her fight to stay in Canada. She is helping draft an application for the federal government that would allow her to remain here on compassionate and humanitarian grounds.
Chamagne said her unusual case also highlights the lack of critical assistance for people caught up in immigration disputes in Nova Scotia.
“This underscores the provincial failure to have immigration matters covered by legal aid,” she said at the hospital.
The Elizabeth Fry Society has asked that Cramman be removed from the border agency’s detention list and released into the group’s care. It has submitted a release plan to the board outlining the care Cramman would receive at its halfway house in Sydney, N.S.
The society has said it will help Cramman address long-standing mental health issues, and a drug addiction that set in following years of physical and sexual abuse. In the worst instance, Cramman says she was sexually assaulted and tortured for hours on Christmas Day when she was 16, something Chamagne said was documented in her records.
Cramman said she was exposed to heroin a few years ago and quickly developed a taste for it, leading her to become part of a Facebook scheme to sell the potent drug.
“I was an addict,” she said. “And I got roped into a scam.”
She was convicted of offering to traffic heroin in 2014 and sentenced to 27 months in prison. She served two-thirds of her sentence and was released on parole, but was detained by the Canada Border Services Agency to start the deportation process.
Despite it all, Cramman said she has been moved by the attention her case has garnered.
“I honestly didn’t think I was worth it,” she said, fingering a Dollar Store notepad full of newspaper clippings chronicling her story. “Seeing how people are stirred up about this and appalled about everything, I’m drawn to it…It kind of made me feel like this is my break.”