By RON CSILLAG
For Gilad Paz, the COVID pandemic hasn’t all been bad: It has stalled his legal case and possible deportation to Israel.
Paz, an Israeli supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, has claimed that he faces persecution for his political views if returned to the Jewish state.
His refugee claims have been rejected since he first sought asylum in Canada in 2016, and earlier this year, he exhausted his remaining legal avenues to stay in Canada.
An immigration lawyer consulted by the CJR said anyone applying for refugee status in Canada must sign a conditional deportation order. When all avenues of appeal fail, the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) could implement the order.
But the COVID crisis has intervened.
“Because of COVID, there are no deportations of anybody,” Paz, who lives in Montreal and works in customer service, told the CJR.
Paz, who was a lawyer in Israel, became active in the BDS campaign in 2014 following Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” in Gaza. He also became involved in Israel’s left-wing Meretz political party and with Amnesty International.
According to the pro-BDS Independent Jewish Voices Canada, which Paz has joined, he began using social media to criticize Israeli operations in the Gaza Strip, alleging that Israel had committed war crimes against Palestinians.
Paz, 38, fled to Canada shortly after a 2016 announcement by Israel’s interior minister, Aryeh Deri, and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, that the government would form a task force to identify and deport or deny entry to those who support BDS.
But Paz said his chief reason for claiming asylum are threats he received from two Israeli officials, including one from an aide to an Israeli cabinet minister.
In Montreal, Paz filed a claim for refugee status, alleging that his support for BDS put him at risk of persecution from Israeli officials and fellow citizens.
The Immigration and Refugee Board denied his claim. An appeal, at which translations from Hebrew of the threats were submitted, was also unsuccessful. Paz then sought a judicial review at the Federal Court, which ruled against him earlier this year.
The court took note of Israel’s crackdown on BDS supporters, saying that Israeli government ministers had warned that Israeli activists involved in the movement “would pay the price” by being barred from Israel, and those already in the country would be deported.
Still, the court found Israel offers protections to dissidents, even if they receive death threats.
“Israeli civilians who receive threats to their life or safety have access to legal and administrative remedies from independent judges and government organizations, and NGOs are available to help people whose rights have been violated,” the ruling stated.
Israel’s actions towards dissidents “does not mean that it is a non-democratic country…”
Paz took issue with the decision, saying the court “narrowed everything down to state protection,” an irony, he said, given that the threats came from within Israel’s political establishment.
“The main threat was from somebody who is an organ of Israel. Once an agent of persecution is an organ of the state, it’s unreasonable to look to the state for protection. It just doesn’t make sense,” he said.
The Federal Court allowed that while Paz “may possibly encounter difficulties in his home country, there is no evidence on the record to show that he has attempted to seek protection and was denied such protection.”
The efficacy of Israeli state protection “has been assessed several times by our Court,” the decision added.
Paz said journalists and political figures in Israel who have received death threats are given protection. If he’s deported to Israel, “I’m not entitled to any protection.”
According to consular guidelines, Israeli citizens who seek refugee status in Canada may not receive a new passport or extend their current one. They may only receive a one-way travel document to Israel, where they must sort out their status at the Ministry of Interior.
The Israeli passport Paz used to enter Canada expired in March 2018.
Paz said he has two options remaining, and both are available in February 2021, one year after the Federal Court ruling. One is to apply to remain in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. The other is a pre-removal risk assessment, which weighs whether the applicant would face danger or risk of persecution in the country receiving him.
He said he is applying under both programs. Paz has done some legal homework and found that the CBSA tends not to deport prior to those procedures, though it legally could.
In an email to the CJR, a CBSA spokesperson said the agency is bound by the Privacy Act and is “not able to release case-specific information.”
In a 2016 interview with Haaretz, Erdan, the Israeli public security minister, claimed Paz “is apparently using the excuse of the boycott only to try to receive a permanent residence permit in Canada.”