Debby Adegboye Montreal health care workers deport Quebec

Quebec to lose two Montreal healthcare workers to deportation during a dire labour shortage

Debby Adegboye, her husband and their three children, who’ve lived here since 2017, are scheduled to be deported to Nigeria, where Christians like them live under the constant threat of human rights abuses, targeted persecution and kidnapping.

[UPDATE: On April 2, it was announced that the Adegboye family’s deportation order has been cancelled and that they have been granted a six-month temporary residence permit while they wait for their application for permanent residence on humanitarian grounds to be processed.]

“Hello, we don’t know each other but we have friends in common,” read a message in my Facebook inbox on Wednesday. “I’m desperately trying to bring attention to Debby and her family’s case to stop their deportation, slated for April 5. Can you help?” 

Truth be told, I wasn’t planning on writing a column this week, as I was busy producing and preparing to launch my second book — which ironically, is about how we treat (or rather, mistreat) asylum seekers and refugees. But when someone reaches out like this with a ticking-time-bomb of a deportation date, you find the time. 

Originally from Nigeria, Deborah Adegboye, her husband (who remains anonymous because of fear of reprisals in their country) and their first child entered Canada in 2017 via Roxham Road to seek asylum. They were fleeing serious religious threats suffered in Nigeria because they are Christian. Religiously motivated attacks result in death for thousands of Nigerians annually and Christians in Nigeria live under the constant threat of human rights abuses and targeted persecution. 

Olivia Viveros, who sent me that frantic message, became friends with the Adegboye family back in 2017 when she decided to donate some of her son’s old clothing to refugees who had just arrived. 

“I didn’t know what I was getting into,” she says. “I just intended to donate some clothes, but when I saw the need — people sleeping on the floor, people who had nothing and knew absolutely no one, with no support system — I had to help.” Over the years, she has stayed friends with the growing family, who, since arriving in 2017, have had two more children. 

Hard-working ‘guardian angels’

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Olivia Viveros (centre) with her boyfriend (left) and Debby Adegboye and her three children

“Debby and her husband are extremely hard-working,” says Viveros. “During the pandemic, while pregnant, she was working at a Good Foods warehouse preparing boxes for people sheltering safely at home. Her husband was working two jobs, at a bakery and at a car wash.”

The couple never stopped working during the pandemic and neither requested nor benefited from the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). 

Since entering Quebec, they have done everything possible to integrate and contribute to their new community. Towards the end of the pandemic, the couple trained at their own expense and started working as préposée aux bénéficiaires, also known as PABs or orderlies, (or “guardian angels” as Quebec Premier François Legault liked to call them during the height of COVID-19). They’ve continued to work in the field ever since while studying to improve their French. Adegboye recently completed her Level 3 French course. 

Currently, the mother of three works six days a week assisting patients with severe disabilities, while her husband also works as an orderly seven days a week. Viveros believes that, as a former teacher, Adegboye has found a profession that suits her temperament and ability to be patient. 

“I don’t have enough words to describe how kind, caring and compassionate Deborah is,” says Victoria Karls, a family member of one of the patients Adegboye cares for, who is quoted in a recent La Presse article. “Our health system needs more Deborahs.” 

Does it ever! Adegboye is not only lauded as kind, but she is practising a profession that is understaffed. Quebec has a severe shortage of orderlies in the province’s long-term care homes and both public and private seniors’ residences. Last year, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé announced the province was missing a whopping 11,000 orderlies.

A long and arduous legal process 

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Debby Adegboye and Olivia Viveros, March 29. Photo by Toula Drimonis

The family says they have received massive support from their immediate community. Viveros has started a GoFundMe to help pay their legal fees while they continue the process of trying to stay here. 

When the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) rejected their asylum application in 2020, because they failed to believe they are in real danger, the family filed an application for permanent residence on humanitarian grounds. The demand was refused in October 2023, even though Nigeria is listed sixth on a World Watch List of countries where Christians face extreme persecution. They have since filed a request for review as well as a second application on humanitarian grounds and are currently waiting. If nothing changes, they will be deported on April 5, which, as Adegboye said in the La Presse interview, would be “the equivalent of the death penalty.” 

Maryse Poisson, the Director of Social Initiatives at the Welcome Collective, an organization that provides immediate help to the city’s most precarious refugee claimants, has been helping the family throughout their application process. She fails to understand why the government isn’t intervening to help them. 

”Deborah’s family is just a great asset to our community,” she says. “They have worked as ‘guardian angels’ in many different jobs during the pandemic, including both parents as caretakers: it’s so unfair that they were excluded from the pandemic regularization program and are now under deportation order.”

Sleepless nights 

Adegboye says the uncertainty and threat of deportation hanging over her head for years has left her exhausted. “All of this is far too heavy for my brain to carry,” she tells me. “I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights.”

She says she’s worried about her children (two of which are Canadian born) suddenly finding themselves in a foreign country where they don’t even speak the language. Her three-year-old, five-year-old and eight-year-old all attend French school or daycare. “All they’ve ever known is Quebec,” she says. “Since we’ve been here, we’ve never even left the province. My son thinks everyone in Canada speaks French.”

By next week, however, the family could find themselves in Nigeria, where, Adegboye says, the risk of violence and kidnapping family members for ransom is extremely high. “My kids all have accents; it will be very easy for them to stand out as foreigners.” Not even a request for a deferral so the children can finish their school year has been accepted by the government. 

“It’s so cruel to deport them while they’re waiting for an answer on that process,” says Poisson, who believes the family will eventually secure their permanent residence with their humanitarian claim that is being currently studied. “We’re asking the Immigration Minister to give them a temporary resident permit and cancel their deportation’.”

Massive community support 

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From the Welcome Collective’s protest on March 29. Photo by Toula Drimonis

Viveros says that, once the family settled in Montreal, they immediately started helping newcomers, often through their church. That kindness appears to now be reciprocated, as the entire community in the West Island, where the family lives, has mobilized to help. 

“They have a lot of support from their church, and people at their children’s schools are writing letters to the government,” says Viveros. “Regular Quebecers also rallied to donate to the fund after the La Presse article was published. We received more than 250 donations and I don’t know any of those people.”

Viveros says it feels surreal to watch her friends fight so hard to stay. “Their home is here,” she says. “Their children have never known Nigeria. Debby is such a hard-working, positive and resilient woman, and she and her husband have done everything to fit in and give back. I don’t know how anyone can argue that they don’t have a right to stay.”

The Adegboyes currently have three different legal processes on the way, including a humanitarian claim, says Poisson. “How can we deport them knowing they have high chances to secure their status soon and are such valuable society members?” 

While they wait to hear back from the government, a GoFundMe and petition have been created, and a demonstration by the Welcome Collective took place on Friday in front of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Marc Miller’s office in Montreal.

“I just want a better life for my children,” Adegboye says. “In Nigeria, there is no predictability. It’s sad to be afraid to go back to your home country, but that’s the situation there.” All she can do right now, she says, is wait and see.

“I’m praying for a miracle. I’ve tried my best.” ■

This column was originally published on March 27 and updated on April 3, 2024.

Read more weekly editorial columns by Toula Drimonis.