The Pusuma Family’s Story
Jozsef Pusuma and his wife Timea Daroczi are high profile human rights activists from Hungary. Both are Roma. Mr. Pusuma is half Jewish. Mr. Pusuma worked as a hate crimes investigator for Ms. Viktoria Mohacsi, an influential leader in the struggle for Roma rights and a former Member of European Parliament.
After years of enduring threats and harassment, Mr. Pusuma, Ms. Daroczi and their very young daughter Lulu were attacked by four members of the Hungarian Guard in July 2009. This incident was the culminating event that led the family to flee from Hungary to Canada to seek protection as refugees.
Amnesty International has recognized that Roma human rights defenders in Hungary are at increased risk in that country. At the present moment, even though Hungary is listed as a “safe” country, at least 20% of the refugee claims from Roma in that country have been accepted as refugees in Canada, and many of the cases that are refused get overturned on appeal to the Federal Court.
Jozsef and Timea are human rights defenders; that is a big reason why they are in danger Hungary. They have solid evidence to prove this fact, and they gave it to their lawyer, Viktor Hohots, long before their refugee hearing. However, the lawyer never submitted that evidence to the Immigration and Refugee Board, and didn`t prepare them properly for their hearing. On the day of their refugee hearing, their lawyer did not show up and an interpreter and immigration consultant on the lawyer’s staff came instead.
Because of the lawyer’s failure to submit their evidence to the Immigration and Refugee Board, it was never considered, and as a result, their refugee claim was refused.
In March 2011 the family received the negative decision from the Board. Their lawyer said he would file an appeal with the Federal Court, but then did not complete it, so it was dismissed. He also filed a risk assessment for the family, but left out the crucial evidence of their human rights work – again.
At this time the couple went to see a lawyer at the Refugee Law Office, who reviewed their case and advised them that the failure to submit the evidence of their human rights work was a serious error. Mr. Pusuma filed a complaint with the Law Society of Upper Canada in late November 2011 and with the help of his new lawyer brought a number of last ditch appeals to get permission to stay in Canada. The appeals failed.
With no more appeals left, the family was terrified of what would happen to them, and little Lulu, if deported back to Hungary. Fortunately, the family was offered Sanctuary in a Toronto church. They have been in Sanctuary for 26 months now. That is a very long time to live without going outside with a young daughter. Hard to imagine.
While in Sanctuary, they filed a new request for a risk assessment and an application to live in Canada based on “humanitarian and compassionate” reasons, citing their previous lawyer’s errors and all of the evidence that had not been considered concerning their high profile human rights activities.
In January 2014, an immigration officer rejected both applications, in part because there was no proof that the first lawyer had been found negligent.
The Pusumas became desperate that they would have to leave sanctuary, and leave Canada with no resolution of their complaint to the Law Society.
It has taken the Law Society over two years to investigate their complaint, as the family waits, despite repeated requests for resolution made by their lawyer, Romero House, Amnesty International and others.
Finally, in February, 2014 a committee of the Law Society`s governing body determined that “the investigation of the matter disclosed evidence of professional misconduct by their first lawyer and the Committee authorized discipline proceedings against him.
This ruling was a huge vindication of what they knew all along and had waited so long to hear.
The Pusuma family have suffered over and over again. First, for standing up for Roma rights in Hungary, they were targeted, threatened and attacked. Then, they came to Canada and fell into the hands of an unscrupulous lawyer. Finally, they have had to hide in a church for over two years while they await justice from the Law Society and the opportunity to have their case considered properly.
As a result of the Law Society’s ruling, their new lawyer asked Immigration to reconsider both the risk assessment and the humanitarian and compassionate application. It refused.
They also requested that Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Chris Alexander, issue them all Temporary Resident Permits so that they can leave the church to live freely and wait for the outcome in their applications and the Law Society proceedings. He has refused.
The Pusumas are the last remaining claimants against Hohots in Canada. They are currently asking the Law Society to hold the hearing in their church sanctuary. If agreed, this would be the first such hearing of its kind in Canada.
Regardless, it appears, according to Immigration Minister Alexander and Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, the Canadian government will not consider the Pusuma case further.