Skip to main content

Woman tired of hiding in church sanctuary

But she's afraid deportation to Nigeria will mean genital mutilation
Sept. 14, 2008 - Sun Media
Tom Godfrey

A Nigerian mom who's been hiding in a Port Credit church for two years in her bid to avoid deportation and possible female circumcision says her sanctuary has now become a prison .

Ola Akinwalere, 44, and her Canadian-born daughter, Alice, 12, say they face gender mutilation if removed to Lagos, where a form of female circumcision is exercised by some tribal clans.

"I am most worried about my daughter," Akinwalere said from a tiny apartment in the basement of Trinity Anglican Church on Stavebank Rd., near Lakeshore and Mississauga Rds. "I cannot take my daughter back to Nigeria with me."

She claims never to have collected welfare during her 18 years in Canada and upgraded her education to become a social worker.

"My daughter is everything in my life," Akinwalere said. "I cannot go to her school or watch her play basketball while I am hiding in a church."

She longs to walk in the park or to the store without having to look over her shoulder for immigration officers, since she's sought on a warrant for overstaying her visa and cannot leave church property for fear of arrest.

Rev. Steven Mackison said the church has created a fund and 25-member committee to help Akinwalere cope with chores like grocery shopping and looking after Alice. Members videotape school plays and other events featuring Alice for her mom to watch.

"Ola has been a valuable member of our community for quite a while," Mackison said. "She is a well-known and well-respected member of our congregation."

Akinwalere came to Canada in 1990 on a visitor's permit and overstayed her visa after learning her husband, a Nigerian military captain, was reported missing and presumed dead in a failed coup.

She has twice applied un -successfully to stay in Canada on humanitarian grounds. A third and more detailed application is before the courts.

Rev. Majed El Shafie, of One Free World International, a human rights group helping Akinwalere, said the mom and daughter face inhumane gender mutilation if deported.

"This is a major concern for us," El Shafie said. "Some women are subject to disease and possible death from botched jobs in unsanitary conditions."

El Shafie said Alice will also be forced to undergo the painful procedure, which involves partial or total removal of the female genitalia for cultural or religious reasons.

Akinwalere's lawyer, Chantal Desloges, said her client is well established in Canada and fears for her child.

"To return to Nigeria would be devastating to her and her daughter," Desloges said.

Supporters will stage a rally Sept. 28 at the church at 2 p.m. to support Akinwalere's claim.