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In recent weeks many people in Hamilton have been following the case of Lucene Charles, a 36-year-old single mother who is fighting to avoid a removal order and keep her family together.

Charles, originally from the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent, began raising awareness about her situation by telling her story in a video posted on YouTube. She soon gained attention from the media, and public support quickly followed. She has gone through “a mixed bag of emotions” throughout this process.

“It has been over four years that I have been fighting to be heard, to tell my story to Citizenship and Immigration…but I kept trying…for the way out, for the freedom and the peace. I knew what I was fighting for – my children’s future, to give them every tool to become successful young men and good citizens, and for me to remain safe.”

Lucene originally came to Canada to help care for the child of one of her mother’s friends when she was 16. She later studied at Mohawk College and Seneca College. The Canada Border Services Agency has said she lacked work and student permits.

“It has been over four years that I have been fighting to be heard…”

She married a Canadian man and had three children with him; boys now ages 11, 13 and 14. Patterns of domestic violence soon emerged, and he never bothered to sponsor her as a permanent resident of Canada.

They moved to Gambia where a one year stayed turned into seven. The abuse continued, and the couple eventually divorced. Lucene had another child, a girl now five, with her current partner.

She later returned to Canada and filed a Humanitarian and Compassionate application, as well as a refugee claim, in hopes of staying in Canada. Both claims failed.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney refused to grant a stay to delay her removal. She was due to be removed from the country with her youngest child (the three older children were to stay in Canada) on February 20 – coincidentally, Family Day. But a federal court judge has declared a stay on the removal order pending a review of her case.

On February 17, three days before her scheduled removal, over 200 people gathered outside Hamilton’s Citizenship and Immigration office to show their support for Charles and her family. The group included MP David Christopherson, who spoke strongly in support of her case.

“The love of the hundreds of people that came out to the rally was a simile for what love is… The life of the beloved – that is what the experience felt like.”

Lucene became an exemplary member of the community. She volunteered at the Immigrant Women’s Centre, the Henderson Hospital and the Canadian Cancer Society. She was the guest speaker at the Ontario’s Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration volunteer awards. She became active at St Paul’s Anglican Church, and found meaningful employment as an administrative assistant at St. Joseph’s Healthcare. She currently serves on a survivor’s advisory committee at the Women Abuse Working Group.

In other words, Lucene belongs to this community where she has found love from many friends, who have become a vital part of her support and her struggle. Over six thousand people signed a petition supporting her.

“Like Lucene, there are many mothers without legal status in this country.”

Like Lucene, there are many mothers without status in Canada. Mothers without status can be trapped in abusive relationships, facing isolation, a lack of financial resources and little community support. When women without status become mothers, they may “put up” with these barriers to protect their children. These mothers are often subject to abuse, as their partners use the immigration status as a form of control.

Charles’ case may bring hope to women facing a similar situation.

Through her voice, story and courage, Lucene may inspire women to not feel alone, and let them know that help is there when you ask without fear. Women in abusive situations should tell a friend, a neighbour or someone they trust about what is happening to them.

“Today my children and I and our home are feeling much ‘lighter’. We are so blessed, so grateful and have learnt so many lessons in this trial. We continue to pray for a successful end, to have the Permanent Residence status for me and my daughter, to live without fear of the unknown; the insatiability of living in limbo. To spread our wings, to get to hold each other every day…”

Lucene’s fight is not over. There are still hurdles to pass, but she is continuing to fight with help from her friends and supporters.

By Maria Antelo | Photo by Michelle Drew

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