Elizabeth Almassy and her two teenage sons Adam and Marton fled Hungary in 2011 after years of alleged physical and sexual abuse at the hands of their father.
This included multiple instances of inappropriate touching and molestation, the two boys said.
Elizabeth says she remembers being severely beaten by her then husband.
“He hit me with a broom and I was unconscious,” she said.
But the refugee judge who heard their case thought Elizabeth was lying: about the reasons for her divorce, the details of what happened between her and her ex-husband and the sexual abuse the boys allegedly experienced.
The judge said it was clear something happened that caused Elizabeth to leave her ex-husband, but none of her other claims were believable, he said.
“The panel finds that the events as recounted have not occurred and that the female claimant has used the circumstances of a routine divorce as the basis for a specious claim for protection,” wrote IRB judge Reid Rossi in his June 2018 decision.
Rossi also said Elizabeth wasn’t believable because she agreed to a divorce settlement giving her husband visitation rights and because she agreed to let him take the boys on vacation after she learned about the alleged sexual abuse. Rossi said this was inconsistent with the behaviour of someone trying to protect their children.
Hungarian mother describes alleged physical abuse from ex-husband
Because of this decision, the family is set to be deported on Feb. 3 by the Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA).
Global News attempted to contact Rossi but received no response.
IRB spokesperson Anna Pape, meanwhile, said Rossi is prohibited from discussing his work, adding that for him to do so would violate the Board’s code of conduct.
“The Board is unable to address any specific refugee protection claims publicly,” Pape said. “The decisions and reasons rendered by the Board’s independent members speak for themselves.”
Family waited 7 years for claim to be heard
The Almassy’s, who live in Hamilton, Ont., are what’s known as “legacy” refugee claimants, meaning they filed their application for asylum before December 15, 2012, when the government implemented a new system for reviewing refugee claims.
But because of a lack of resources and a backlog of more than 32,000 legacy claims at the IRB, they were living in Canada for seven years before the IRB heard their case.
Their claim was heard by Rossi, a member of the Legacy Task Force, a group of roughly 33 retired IRB judges brought back to deal with the last of these outstanding claims.
He said the fact Elizabeth continued to work alongside her ex-husband after reporting the alleged abuse – even though she says she was financially dependent upon him – was not credible. He also said she was lying about the trauma she and her family endured because she did not behave the way he thought an abused woman should.
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Elizabeth’s claim that she sought protection from the police was also “fabricated,” Rossi said. He also ruled that consultations with a doctor, psychiatrist and a lawyer describing abuse the family endured did not constitute evidence needed to prove her claim.
“What is so incredulous to the panel is that the female claimant allegedly worried about a lawsuit from a sex offender and pedophile as her reason for not seeking assistance,” Rossi said. “If her anger and distress were as great as she alleged at the hearing, it makes no sense that the female claimant would then agree to work alongside her ex-husband.”
Because their claim is a legacy case, the family was denied the right to appeal Rossi’s decision. And if sent back to Hungary, they fear Elizabeth could be arrested because she took her children to Canada without her ex-husband’s permission.
Ongoing problems at the IRB
The Almassy’s decision came on the heels of a series of reports published by Global News in 2018 in which lawyers accused other IRB judges of not following the rules, including allegations of “sexist” and “aggressive” behaviour against one former Board member.
Then, in December, Global News received more than 1,300 pages of documents under access-to-information laws related to complaints involving the conduct of judges at the IRB from 2012-2017. More than 400 pages of those documents were completely withheld.
Buried in the documents were details of complaints the IRB received from three of its employees who said they overheard an immigration judge make a sexist and “upsetting” comment during a training session held in 2015 on how to handle cases involving sexual assault.
Despite acknowledging the comment was made, the Board said it could not take any disciplinary action because it could not confirm with absolute certainty who made the comment and in what context it was said.
‘Serious problems’ with decision-making
Following the 2018 Global News investigation, then-head of the IRB Paul Aterman said things would be done differently at the Board and the bad behaviour of a few should not take away from the good work done by the majority of decision-makers.
Almassy’s lawyer, Lorne Waldman, said some refugee judges at the Board – including Rossi — continue to deliver problematic decisions, employing stereotypes and outdated views on how victims should behave.
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Waldman said the decision in the Almassy’s case violates the IRB’s guidelines for dealing with victims of alleged gender-based violence .
“We deal with a lot of people who’ve suffered abuse and the one thing we’ve learned is it’s very dangerous to make assumptions about how people are going to react,” Waldman said.
Waldman said Rossi’s decision is an example of a judge imposing his own ideas about how a battered person should behave when confronted with abuse, something he says the law strictly prohibits.
“What we see in this case, and in other similar cases, is that members say this is the way I would react and I’d expect you to react in the same way,” he said. “That’s completely wrong.”
Deepa Mattoo, an immigration lawyer who specializes in cases involving victims of sexual and gender-based violence, agrees it’s wrong for judges to assess cases based on their own expectations of how someone should behave.
According to Pape, members of the Legacy Task Force participate in several days of “refresher courses” before being allowed to hear cases again. Depending on experience, these courses task force members are required to take can vary.
Since returning to the Board, Rossi has taken courses in values and ethics, how to assess claimants’ credibility, IRB rules, and up-to-date case law.
Almassys fighting to remain in Canada
About to graduate high school, Adam Almassy was recently awarded a $2,000 annual scholarship to study mechanical engineering at Carleton University.
But if the family is sent back to Hungary, both Adam and his brother will be placed in Grade 9. According to a letter from Hungarian school officials, neither Adam nor Marton have the required courses to graduate high school in Hungary.
The boys say they also worry their dad could target the family if they return — making worse the severe depression and anxiety both boys were recently diagnosed with.
“He would put us through abuse, myself and especially my brother,” Adam said.
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Marton, meanwhile, worries he could be placed back in his father’s custody if his mother is arrested upon their return to Hungary.
Waldman has applied to the Federal Court for intervention and the family has submitted a humanitarian and compassionate application to remain in Canada. They’ve also asked the CBSA to delay their deportation.
But with only days left before their scheduled removal date, they worry none of these decisions will come soon enough.
They’re asking Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen to intervene in their case, at least until their application to stay in Canada can be heard.