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Roma family whose lawyer mishandled claim want case reassessed

04/17/2015 05:16 EDT | Updated 07/03/2015 09:59 EDT
A Roma family that was denied refugee status in Canada even though their former lawyer admits he mishandled their claim is asking to have their case reopened.

Josef Pusuma, his wife, Timea, and their young daughter were deported to Hungary last December after spending three years living in sanctuary in several Toronto churches.

They originally came to Canada in 2009 after facing beatings, threats and other persecution in their native Hungary. The two were human-rights activists and were working for a member of the European Parliament at the time.

But their former lawyer, Viktor Hohots, failed to file significant documents with the refugee board and failed to prepare them for their hearing. Last month, Hohots pleaded guilty to professional misconduct before the Law Society of Upper Canada. He'll be sentenced next month.

But by then, the family had already been deported.

On Thursday, they asked a federal court judge to overturn the recent decisions in their cases and allow them to come back to Canada temporarily to have their case re-assessed.

'Poor representation'

"It's established law that where there has been really deeply ineffective assistance of counsel, that means there's been a denial of natural justice and there needs to be a new hearing," said Andrew Brouwer, a lawyer with Ontario's Legal Aid Refugee Law Office, who now represents the family.

"The goal is for them to come back to Canada to get the risk assessment they were denied because of the poor representation from their lawyer," Brouwer told CBC News.

"When someone comes to your country pleading that they are refugees, you may not, as a matter of international law, deport them until you've looked at their risk," he said.

But lawyers for the federal government argued that the initial decision to reject the Pusumas family's case was reasonable. They also say that since the family has left Canada, the case is now moot.

The Pusumas are now in hiding in Europe and Brouwer said they still fear for their safety, given reports of escalating violence against Hungarian Roma.

A recent study by Sean Rehaag, a professor of law at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto found thousands of Hungarian Roma refugee claimants were subject to racial bias and unfair treatment by Canadian officials and some lawyers.

The Pusumas were among hundreds of Roma refugee claims handled by Viktor Hohots. Almost all of them were rejected.

The Law Society of Upper Canada, the regulatory body for lawyers in Ontario, has also initiated disciplinary action against two other lawyers, Joseph Farkas and Erszebet Jaszi, who also handled hundreds of Roma claims.

They are scheduled to appear before the Law Society in the coming weeks. 

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