Portnoys' supporters still working to bring family back to Canada

Immigration

Paul Herridge editor@southerngazette.ca
Published on May 10, 2008

Despite Angela Portnoy's recent decision to return to Israel with her five children in the face of a deportation threat, Jo Anne Mallay-Jones says the family's fight to stay in Canada wasn't in vain.

Mallay-Jones co-chairs the Portnoy Family Support Committee along with Sam Synard, and said the committee hasn't given up the fight to have the family stay in Canada - it's just being approached from another angle.

Marystown - Despite Angela Portnoy's recent decision to return to Israel with her five children in the face of a deportation threat, Jo Anne Mallay-Jones says the family's fight to stay in Canada wasn't in vain.

Mallay-Jones co-chairs the Portnoy Family Support Committee along with Sam Synard, and said the committee hasn't given up the fight to have the family stay in Canada - it's just being approached from another angle.

For now, she said, the focus is on reuniting the family.

The Portnoys entered sanctuary in the basement of the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Marystown in the fall of 2005, after their application to remain in the country on humanitarian and compassionate grounds was denied and the Canada Border Services Agency ordered them deported. That December, Alexi Portnoy briefly left the sanctuary to run an errand, and was stopped by police for a traffic violation and promptly deported to Israel.

Angela was left to raise the children alone, and some of them have health problems.

"Our intention is to remain in close contact with the family, and to give fairly regular updates to the community, and the province and country, on how the children are adjusting in Israel," Mallay-Jones said.

"We have some specific concerns about Anna Maria (who has cystic fibrosis), whom we know won't be able to avail of a drug plan for at least 10-12 months after landing (in Israel) because of the way the health-care system is set up there.

"We want to make sure that the family is doing well there, because often in these immigration cases there's very little follow-up after the family leaves the country, and from our perspective we want to continue to support them and keep in contact with them even upon their re-entry into Israel."

Mallay-Jones said the federal government's reason for denying the family's immigration claim always came back to the argument that they shouldn't be in the country.

"Alexi has three local job offers and the family is interested in returning to Canada," she said.

"That is the ultimate goal. ... I think the federal immigration system has failed them, and failed the children specifically."

Lee Cohen, the lawyer who has been representing the family in its bid, revealed their decision to go to Israel last week, explaining that Angela and Alexi could no longer withstand being separated.

Synard acknowledged the committee still wants what's best for the family, especially the children.

"We got into this initiative for the sake of the kids. They've lived a different life. To be in sanctuary for two and a half years is a long, long time," he said.

"I don't know how much longer anybody could stay in sanctuary, really. So, it was only a matter of time before something had to happen, either some kind of landed status was granted or the family would decide to leave."

He said having a family living in sanctuary was a unique experience for Marystown.

"Very few communities go through supporting a family like this," he said. "In fact, if you look at the history of sanctuary in the country, very few small communities have ever been involved with it. It's usually Halifax, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and so on. ... I think that's part of the reason why the Portnoys received so much support and publicity, because it's such a unique issue here."