Deportation of Inupiaq man from Aklavik to Alaska put on ice


The Canada Border Services Agency has cancelled its plan to deport to Alaska an Inupiaq man living in Aklavik. But Herman Oyagak’s fight to remain in Canada isn’t over.

According to Oyagak’s lawyer, Nick Sowsun, the CBSA initially planned to deport Oyagak to Juneau, Alaska – a city he has never visited and has no ties to – on December 13.

Following calls from community members in Aklavik, the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, Sowsun said that plan has now been put on hold. 

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“We remain concerned that Canadian border authorities felt it appropriate to put Herman and his family through the stress of impending deportation, waiting until his lawyers threatened to launch a constitutional challenge to immigration legislation before backing down moments before the challenge was set to be filed,” a news release from Sowsun states. 

Sowsun told Cabin Radio by email Oyagak could still be removed from Canada at any time.

Oyagak has been living in Aklavik for the past three years with his wife Carol, who is Inuvialiuk, where they maintain a traditional lifestyle. The Inuvialuit Regional Corporation says he has become a valued and well-respected community member in the NWT hamlet and shares his traditional knowledge with others. 

Sowsun said the Canadian government determined Oyagak was inadmissible to live in Canada due to a US conviction in 2015 for criminal mischief regarding damaging property under $250. Sowsun argues that conviction is dated and not serious enough to warrant deportation.

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Sowsun said Oyagak’s case is “emblematic of the harm that Canada’s immigration laws cause to Indigenous peoples.” He said deporting Oyagak would be an “unjustified violation” of Indigenous rights under Canadian and international laws.

“We certainly hope that Herman’s application to remain will be accepted and that he will not again find himself on the verge of deportation and separation from his family and community,” Thursday’s news release states.

“Canada’s immigration laws must be interpreted in light of the rights of Indigenous persons to engage in their traditional practices, even where that involves crossing borders in order to hunt, fish, participate in celebrations, marry, and engage in other cross-familial relationships or activities.” 

The CBSA told Cabin Radio it could not provide any information about Oyagak’s case due to privacy laws. Spokesperson Rebecca Purdy did say, however, that the federal agency has a legal obligation to remove people as soon as possible who do not have the legal right to stay in Canada.

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“The removal of someone from Canada follows a complex series of processes and recourse mechanisms that afford foreign nationals due process privileges,” Purdy said by email, “and it is only after such processes have been exhausted that the CBSA can remove a person from Canada.”