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As holidays near, Winnipeg-based Venezuelan family faces deportation in New Year

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Ana Sofia Rodrigues Suarez asked Santa for three things this Christmas: clothes, candy and to stay in Winnipeg instead of being deported in the New Year.

“I really want to stay here,” said Ana, 11, seated at a table with her colourful drawings and school work in the Westdale duplex the Venezuela-born sixth-grader shares with her parents, aunt and 86-year-old grandmother. 

“I have a lot of friends and they will be very sad if I left them.”

Watch Ana list Canadian things she’ll miss:

Ana Sofia Rodrigues Suarez, 11, says her friends will be sad if she and her family leave and are unable to come back to Winnipeg. 0:33

After a series of applications to stay in Manitoba were dismissed, Ana’s father, Luiz Antonio Rodrigues Bonito, said Canada Border Services Agency notified him this month he needed to buy plane tickets by Friday and be out of the country by Jan. 21.

“I feel sad, desperate, just because my daughter, you know, she is very happy here,” said Luiz, 56, who works as a janitor with his wife, Sandra Suarez de Rodrigues, 50, at a local church.

“When I talk to her and say, ‘You know, we must leave Canada,’ she really, really cry a lot.”

Luiz wipes snow off the family van during his first winter here in 2016. (Supplied by Bonito family)

Following a traumatic home invasion and robbery in 2014, the family fled Venezuela for Winnipeg, where Luiz’s brother’s family has lived since the 1970s.

Luiz’s mother, wife, daughter and sister, Cristina Rodrigues Bonito, left amid ongoing economic turmoil that spawned a refugee crisis that has seen over two million Venezuelans flee the South American country in recent years, according to estimates from the United Nations.

Economic turmoil

The family once ran a successful business that sold appliances to hotels and restaurants, but things changed in the mid-2000s, a few years after the late Hugo Chavez took over as president of oil-rich Venezuela. 

For a time, Chavez helped provide better health care and other opportunities for the poor and working classes, but his government also fixed prices for some foods and goods. By 2014, the price of oil had plummeted, and the government was left in serious debt.

Luiz said the Chavez government took over his business and many others. Soon it became a challenge to access basic services or find enough food at grocery stores, he said. Food shortages remain a problem in Venezuela.

Luiz and Sandra participated in an anti-government group and protests in Venezuela and were taken into custody for a day. Luiz said they were made to sign a document stating they would face indefinite jail time if they were arrested for similar protests again.

Two other cousins have been imprisoned in Venezuela in recent years for similar political activity, the family said.

Gun to the head

Then, in 2014, Cristina was approved as a permanent resident in Manitoba through the Provincial Nominee Program. She planned to postpone her move to Winnipeg until Luiz and the rest of the family had their approvals as well, but the home invasion that year changed that.

Cristina, left, says she plans to leave with her niece Ana, right, and her parents if they are forced to leave the country and settle in Portugal. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

“I was shocked. I was sleeping in my own bed and somebody covered my mouth and put a gun at the top of my head,” Cristina said with a quivering voice, adding the robbers tied the family up in a room and threatened them.

“What I was most scared about was we were seeing their faces … I said, ‘They’re going to kill us all,’ because that’s what happens when you see their faces.”

The family dogs died in the days before and tests later showed they were likely poisoned, said Cristina. 

It took a while for Ana to recover.

‘I’m crushed’

Luiz came to Winnipeg on a tourist visa in 2015, as did his wife and daughter, after having his application to Canada’s skilled labourer program dismissed. While here, he learned his application through the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program was dismissed in 2015.

Sandra, Ana and Luiz celebrate mother’s day at Oasis Church, where both adults work as custodians. (Supplied by Bonito family)

In 2017, Luiz and Sandra obtained work permits and their volunteering at Oasis Church turned into paid jobs as custodians.

They’ve become valued employees and members of the church, said the church’s community life pastor Kelly Gray.

He said news of their deportation is devastating.

Watch Gray’s goodbye message to the family:

Oasis Church community life pastor Kelly Gray says he was crushed to learn Luiz Bonito and his family are being deported next month. 0:22

“I’m crushed. I I don’t think there’s ever a good time to get news like that. Christmas doesn’t make it any easier,” said Gray.

“It’s such a friendly family, a loving family, and it’s hard to see this cloud hanging over them. I know they’re happy here.”

Kelly Gray, right, Ana, centre, Sandra and Luiz, left, talk about the holidays at Oasis Church Thursday. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Luiz’s application to stay in Manitoba on humanitarian and compassionate grounds was rejected in 2017, so his wife, Sandra, filed for refugee status on behalf of the family that year. The refugee claim was denied and an attempt to appeal at the federal court level was dismissed this fall.

Humanitarian case

They’re now waiting for the results of a November humanitarian and compassionate case application they made in the interest of Ana’s well-being. The Canadian Human Rights International Organization, which advocates on behalf of thousands of refugees worldwide, is handling that plea and helping to get the Bonitos’ story out.

“They believe … they will be targeted upon their re-entry into Venezuela which will put not only their lives in danger, but it will also put their daughter’s life in danger,” reads a Dec. 12 letter addressed to Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland. “Ana’s safety is their main priority.”

Luiz bought notified Canada Border Services Agency via email Thursday night he had purchased tickets to Portugal on Jan. 21, 2019. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Cristina and Luiz were born in Brazil, but also fear for their safety if they were to move there.

Their late father, born in Portugal, arranged for Luiz and Cristina to obtain passports from that country as a contingency in case things in Canada fell through. 

On Thursday night, Luiz bought the family tickets to Madeira, Portugal, for Jan. 21. They don’t know anyone there.

Although she can technically stay in Manitoba, Cristina is going to leave with her brother’s family and mother.

‘Respect our laws’

A Canada Border Services Agency spokesperson refused to comment on the case, but said decisions to remove people from Canada aren’t taken lightly.

“Everyone ordered removed from Canada is entitled to due process,” the spokesperson wrote in an email. 

“Once due process is complete and individuals have exhausted all legal avenues, they are expected to respect our laws and leave Canada or be removed.”

Cristina and Ana pose next to their first Winnipeg snowman in 2016. (Supplied by Bonito family)

For Ana, she loves being close to her uncle’s family in Winnipeg. Her three years in the cold Prairie city have been full of firsts. French is one of her favourite subjects, as are the people.

“It’s fun. I can have a snowball fight and I can make, what are they called, snowmans,” she said.

“People are really nice to me here and I like school a lot and I like everything about it.”

As many Manitobans plan to come together for the holidays, one Winnipeg-based Venezuelan family is facing deportation in the New Year. 3:23

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Students call on University of Ottawa to implement pass/fail grading amid pandemic

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OTTAWA — The University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU) is calling on the university to introduce optional, one-course-only pass/fail grading for the Fall 2020 and Winter 2021 semesters amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The students’ union said nearly 5,000 uOttawa students have signed its petition supporting the grading system.

In a letter to the university, the UOSU said it is asking the school to make changes to the grading structure, including allowing one course per semester to be converted to the “pass” or “satisfactory” designation.

The UOSU also made recommendations regarding a reduction of workload and course delivery.

“The adaptation to online learning during the pandemic for students has created unique challenges and disruptions that could not have been anticipated,” wrote Tim Gulliver, the UOSU’s Advocacy Commissioner. 

“The use of flexible compassionate grading options has been introduced in other universities, such as Carleton University which includes a use of Pass/Fail which we feel could be implemented at the University of Ottawa.”

Carleton University approved the use of flexible and compassionate grading for the Fall 2020 and Winter 2021 terms in early November.

The UOSU also called for all grades that constitute a fail to appear as “Not Satisfactory” on their transcript, which would not be included in grade point average calculations. 

The union represents more than 38,000 undergraduate students at the University of Ottawa.

In a response to CTV News, the University of Ottawa said it is aware of the petition.

“Last spring a decision was made by the (University) Senate to allow the Satisfactory/Non Satisfactory mark to be used, given the unique circumstances of the pandemic, which hit us close to the end of the Winter 2020 semester. The University is aware of the petition and is looking into the matter.”

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OPP warn of phone scams in Ottawa Valley

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Upper Ottawa Valley OPP warn residents of a phone scam that’s been making its way through the region recently. 

Police say a scammer pretends to be from a local business and tells the person their credit card didn’t work on a recent purchase before asking the person on the phone to confirm their credit card number. 

The victim may not have even used the card at the store, but police said the scammer creates a sense of urgency. 

Police remind residents to verify the legitimacy of any caller before providing any personal information over the phone. 

Similar scams have been reported recently in the region, according to police, with scammers posing as police officers, Revenue Canada or other government agencies demanding payment for a variety of reasons. A Social Insurance Number scam has also been reported recently, where a victim is asked for their SIN number under threat of being arrested. 
 
If a scam artist contacts you or if you have been defrauded, you’re asked to contact police or the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501 or visit their website at www.antifraudcentre.ca.

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The human history of Ottawa Valley is thousands of years old. Archeologists may have found a piece of it on Parliament Hill

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OTTAWA—Archeologists working on Parliament Hill have discovered a relic of Indigenous life that one Algonquin leader sees as a symbol of his people’s long history in what is now the heart of Canadian political power.

The jagged stone point was unearthed last year on the east side of Centre Block, but its discovery was not publicized as officials worked with Algonquin communities to authenticate the object, the Star has learned.

Stephen Jarrett, the lead archeologist for the ongoing renovation of Parliament’s Centre Block, said this week that while such an object is “not an uncommon find,” the stone point joins just a small handful of Indigenous artifacts ever discovered on Parliament Hill.

“It’s about the size of my palm, and it could be used as a knife or a projectile,” Jarrett said this week in response to inquiries from the Star.

He said the point is made of chert, a type of sedimentary stone most often used for implements of this type. And while the point was unearthed in what Jarrett calls “disturbed soil” — earth that has been dug up and moved, most likely during construction of Parliament — the soil it was in “is natural to the site.”

That means “it came from a source nearby, but finding exactly where it came from is impossible,” Jarrett said.

For Douglas Odjick, a band council member responsible for education and culture with the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, this artifact of “an original world” is a testament to the longevity of his Algonquin nation in an area they still claim as unceded and unsurrendered territory. Based on the assessment of Ian Badgley, the top archeologist with the National Capital Commission, Odjick said the stone point is likely 4,000 years old and dates to a time when the confluence of the Ottawa, Gatineau and Rideau Rivers — along with all their tributaries that stretch out into the surrounding area — served as a great hub of regional trade activity.

“It symbolizes who we are and how long we’ve been here,” Odjick said, comparing the area to an ancient version of a busy hub like New York’s busy Grand Central Station.

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