CANADA

March of defiance

MICHAEL ROSE April 18 1988
CANADA

March of defiance

MICHAEL ROSE April 18 1988

March of defiance

It was a ragtag procession of about 100 desperate but determined men. The group of Turks that set out on April 4 to march 235 km from Montreal to Ottawa clearly hoped that their dramatic gesture would persuade the federal government to abandon plans to expel as many as 1,800 Turks living illegally in Canada. But even as the marchers drew encouragement from the warm welcome extended by the people living along the the aging highway that they followed for most of their trek, their chances of being allowed to remain in Canada dwindled rapidly. During the week, deportation orders were served on nine Turks—and federal officials said they could obtain an arrest warrant this week after the first of the illegal immigrants, scheduled to be flown back to Turkey, failed to show up at the airport on Friday.

More Turks were expected to be expelled over the next several weeks — despite the Turks’ efforts to win public support. The marchers had planned to arrive in Ottawa Tuesday and meet newly appointed Immigration Minister Barbara McDougall to plead their case. Instead, in an unexpected gesture,

McDougall visited the marchers as they bedded down for the night at a school in Masson,

Que., about 30 km east of Ottawa. McDougall expressed sympathy for the marchers, but told them that she could do nothing to prevent deportation orders from being carried out. “We must treat everyone the same,” she said. “Everyone must be treated fairly and equally.” McDougall’s style in tackling the emotionally charged issue was in sharp contrast to Ottawa’s earlier handling of the case. Last month, McDougall’s predecessor in the troubled immigration portfolio, Benoît Bouchard, and his Quebec counter-

part, Louise Robic, failed to settle the problem. Following a three-day sit-in at a Montreal church, Bouchard suspended deportation orders against 37 Turks on March 22. But eight days later, the orders were reintroduced, and Bouchard said that there had been a misunderstanding between the

two ministers about whether the suspension would also apply to all 47,000 refugee applicants in Canada.

In the meantime, Himmet Comek— the first Turk scheduled for deportation—did not board an Air France jet bound for Paris on Friday evening. Instead, Comek joined his fellow Turks on the road at Masson. And another Turk, Ismail Ozkan—who sparked the sit-in at the Montreal church—was

under orders to be aboard an Air Canada flight for London on April 10. He vowed to resist deportation. “I’m marching with my friends to Ottawa,” Ozkan told Maclean's on Friday. “If they want me to go, they’ll have to come and get me.”

Throughout their march, the Turks were greeted warmly by local residents who provided them with money, food and shelter during their trek to Ottawa. The Turks began their march

with few preparations

and only a vague idea of how they would feed and house themselves on the eight-day journey. A battered van that followed the marchers contained only a few items of food and a rudimentary first aid kit. At the end of their first day on the road, the Turks found shelter after Montreal supporters alerted church and community leaders in St-Eustache, Que., about 30 km west of the city. The marchers slept on gymnasium mats in a community hall and the next morning ate a breakfast provided by the local chapter of the Knights of Columbus, a Roman Catholic men’s organization.

Many of the residents interviewed along the route of the march expressed sympathy for the Turks. They said that because the Turks were lured to Canada by unscrupulous travel agents in Turkey who ^ promised that there Î would be no immigra\ tion problems, and bel cause most of the Turks ü are now established 5 in Canada, they ? should be allowed to í stay. Said Liette Cadorz ette, who lives with her

husband and sons near

St-Hermas, Que.: “Those who are here should stay here. But the rules should be fixed so this can’t happen again in the future.” In fact, with a new minister in charge of the affair, Ottawa was clearly determined to begin returning the reluctant Turks to their homeland.

—MICHAEL ROSE in Masson with MAUREEN ARGON in Montreal and ROSS LAVER in Ottawa