10/26/2013 06:13 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

When Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word

The Government of Canada has just given new meaning to the word "chutzpah". Adel Benhmuda tried to claim refugee status in Canada; he failed. When he said he'd be tortured if deported back to Libya this country didn't believe him; we were wrong and he was right. Adel was deported back to Libya in 2008, detained upon landing, and tortured. It wasn't just Adel that was sent back, his wife Aisha and their four children -- two of whom are born in Canada, were also deported.

By deporting the family Canada violated its domestic and international obligations of non-refoulement, to not deport someone to face torture.

They've finally been cleared to come back to Canada, but with one caveat -- first they need to pay up. Before they can return home, the Benhmudas must reimburse the government the $6,000 it spent deporting the four non-Canadian citizens back to Libya in order to facilitate Adel's detention and torture. Nowhere in the bureaucratic chain of Citizenship and Immigration Canada was it felt that this might not be an appropriate request in the circumstances.

After all this country put them through, it should be Canada reimbursing the Benhmudas.

In 2010, two years after being returned to Libya, Adel managed to smuggle his family out of Libya and claimed refugee status in Malta. Authorities concluded that they were in fact refugees; the family, with its two Canadian-born children, lived in a shipping container in a Maltese refugee camp.

In February 2011 the UN High Commissioner for Refugees wrote a 17-page letter to Canadian authorities supporting their return to Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. In response, a visa officer at Canada's embassy in Rome, Laurent Belieau, wrote in an email, "I do not see what is Canada's obligation in this case."

Later in 2011, with the family still languishing, then-Immigration Minister Jason Kenney promised the case would be given "every humanitarian consideration, and indeed dealt with on an accelerated basis." That never happened. It took over a year and a decision of the Federal Court to get the case heard properly by an immigration officer, who in January of this year finally concluded the Benhmudas could return home.

But they're still not here. A man we deported to face torture, two Canadian children, and the other three members of their family are still living in Malta, victims of Muammar Gaddafi's cruelty and Canada's bureaucratic callousness.

Canadian law does require the Benhmudas to reimburse the government of their "removal fee." The decision to enforce this provision highlights the collision between our laws and our decency. In the event Canada causes an individual and his family to endure such incredible hardship, can we not overlook the fact that we are supposed to settle up?

Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander has statutory power to waive the fee. In a story as disappointing as this one, asking why his power was never used to begin with is just added frustration. Hoping that decency will ultimately prevail might also be futile, but it's really all we have left. Otherwise an innocent man will stay trapped; Adel has said he has nowhere near the needed $6000 (he also owes an additional $800 fee for ARC, authorization to return to Canada).

Five years ago this country sent an innocent man to be tortured, uprooted a family, destroyed the lives of children, and undermined ideals and values we stand for. With this latest development, the Canadian government proved that it either hasn't learned that lesson, or it doesn't care.

When the Benhmudas were living in Mississauga, Adel worked two jobs to support the family; his wife Aisha volunteered at their children's school. Adel's employer and the children's school wrote letters in support of the family. They are who Canada is meant to welcome.

I hope the Benhmudas come home. I hope Adel, Aisha, and their four children will one day be able to put all this behind them and reconnect with this country -- one that I believe is ultimately decent, and a wonderful place to live.

And when that happens, when someone with the power finally realizes that this nightmare must end -- that this wrong must be righted, we will finally be able to say what so many of us have wanted to say, but that keeps proving premature: we're so, so sorry.