Man granted Canadian residency after years in B.C. church wants to clear name
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VICTORIA — A man who spent more than two years in a British Columbia church to avoid deportation from Canada on alleged terrorism links is asking the Federal Court to clear his name.
Jose Figueroa will be in court Wednesday in Vancouver asking it to rescind an eight-year-old report that said he was inadmissible to Canada due to his past membership in a political organization.
Before he fled to Canada in 1997 to escape death threats, Figueroa was a volunteer for the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front in El Salvador. The group brought in a new era of democracy when it was voted into power in 2009.
He also said Monday he wants a federal deportation order quashed.
Immigration Minister John McCallum granted a ministerial exemption last December that allowed Figueroa to leave the Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley.
"If there is justice in this country, the Canada Border Services Agency should be found accountable for the harm that they have done to me, to my family," Figueroa told a news conference outside the University of Victoria's law faculty building.
Figueroa, who is studying law at the university, said he is now a permanent resident of Canada but wants the border services agency to erase the report on his inadmissibility and deportation orders.
"My application for permanent residency was finalized on May 12, 2016," he said. "When you are looking at the time span when the application was approved in principle in 2004, it took 14 years for immigration to actually finalize that application. That is unreasonable. My name has been tarnished by an allegation that is unfounded."
The border services agency could not immediately be reached for comment.
Figueroa said he has never been a terrorist but was a member of a university student union in El Salvador that supported the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, which opposed the country's right-wing dictatorship in the 1980s.
"I am not a terrorist," he said. "The FLMN is not a terrorist organization. At this point we are looking for the CBSA, the Canadian government to acknowledge my rights have been violated."
Figueroa arrived in Canada in 1997 with his wife and claimed refugee status, but 13 years and three Canadian-born children later, the federal government sought his deportation.
He said the immigration battle and especially his time at the church took its toll on him and his family. He said his wife lost one of her kidneys the year before he sought sanctuary at the church, and he missed his son's graduation ceremony while he was staying there.
His petition to the federal court for a judicial review doesn't mention a damage award.
Figueroa, who is representing himself in court, said he isn't concerned about financial compensation.
"I'm for justice," he said.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said Jose Figueroa's wife lost her kidney while he was living at the church.