Sixty-year-old Surjpaul Deokaran will be home for the holidays after spending the first part of December detained at Toronto Pearson International Airport, accused of smuggling drugs.
He landed Monday morning returning from a trip to Guyana to meet his newest grandchild, but Deokaran never made it through the arrival doors.
The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) detained the grandfather, searching his bags and accusing him of hiding drugs.
“This is a traumatizing and humiliating situation because I don’t deal with that, I don’t deal with drugs,” said Deokaran, who has four children and five grandchildren.
Deokaran alleged CBSA initially withheld his heart medication from him. He underwent open-heart surgery two years ago and has dealt with a number of complications ever since.
“It was absolutely devastating for all of us, sleepless nights… It’s cruel they would do something like this to my dad given the fact after his heart surgery he’s been through so much,” said his daughter Ishwardai Deokaran.
Despite providing several stool samples over the course of five days, Deokaran wasn’t released until Friday morning – just before an emergency motion was set to be heard in Superior Court as to why his detention was unlawful.
“It’s unfortunate the court didn’t get to weigh in on what had taken place and provide a ruling as to what had gone wrong in this case,” said Deokaran’s lawyer, Leora Shemesh.
She said she believes his constitutional rights were fundamentally violated, alleging he was denied his medication as well as shower and a bed. Instead, the 60-year-old described being forced to sleep on a steel bench four nights in a row.
Shemesh also pointed to this case having greater implications. She said it shows that there is a gap in the legal system when it comes to detention by CBSA.
“There is one set of rules for police and another for customs,” said Shemesh.
If a person is arrested by municipal police, they must see a justice of the peace within 24 hours. Under the Customs Act, those rules do not apply.
“Customs officials are acting under assumption… that they’re allowed to hold you essentially indefinitely while they investigate,” she said.
“Where are the lines being drawn as to what is excessive and egregious conduct versus what we need to ensure our safety?”
For now, Deokaran’s family is focused on his well-being. Surjpaul said he is happy to be home, but that this experience will stay with him.
“I’m innocent of this. But they do something wrong to me, I don’t if it’s because of my colour or where I come from.”
Global News contacted CBSA for comment on the case. However, a spokesperson said the agency is bound by privacy act regulations and cannot confirm or deny if a person is, or has been, under investigation.