Statement of Solidarity with Syrian Human Rights Defender Noura Aljizawi

We, the undersigned individuals and organizations write to express our solidarity with Syrian human rights defender and torture survivor, Noura Aljizawi, following an alarming series of actions taken by Canadian authorities with regard to her permanent residency application. We call upon Canadian authorities to expedite the approval of her application for permanent residency without further delay.

Noura Aljizawi: A Beacon of Pro-Democracy Human Rights Defense

Noura Aljizawi is a pro-democracy human rights defender who has lived in exile in Canada since 2017; she came to the country after being admitted to the Scholars-at-Risk Fellowship at the University of Toronto.

Pro-democracy advocacy in Syria, arrest & torture

  • In Syria, Noura led pro-democracy protests during the Arab Uprisings; in response to her peaceful activism, in 2012, Syrian authorities kidnapped, detained and tortured her.

A voice for women’s rights

  • After her release, she left for Turkey and became the vice-president and prominent voice for women in the male-dominated opposition-in-exile Syrian National Coalition, representing youth and women activists inside Syria, and was elected to sit at the UN's negotiation table in Geneva to bring peace to Syria.

  • Noura also founded Start Point, a civil society organization dedicated to supporting Syrian women and girls who had been detained and tortured. The organization has received funding from the Canadian government.

A well-respected researcher & expert witness

  • Noura is now a senior researcher with the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, from which she successfully completed her Master of Global Affairs degree. Noura has spearheaded widely-cited research on gender-based harassment and digital transnational repression.

  • In 2021, Noura was an invited panelist at the Summit for Democracy, hosted by the Biden White House, where she spoke on responding to transnational repression.

  • In 2022, Noura spent three days providing witness testimony in support of a case being jointly brought by the governments of Canada and the Netherlands against Syria for torture before the International Court of Justice.

Unfair Treatment by Canadian Authorities

In 2020, Noura and her husband applied for permanent residency through Express Entry. Applications like these are generally processed within six months.  What followed instead is deeply troubling:

  • The couple heard nothing with regard to the status of their applications until a 2023 email from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) in which CBSA requested an interview.

  • The CBSA requested the interview to take place at the Greater Toronto Enforcement Centre which houses a well-known CBSA detention facility near Toronto’s Pearson Airport, raising the alarming prospect of deportation.

  • After Noura’s lawyer wrote to CBSA to request more information, CBSA responded with a vague intention to “clarify some concerns pertaining to s.34 of the Immigration and Refugee and Protection Act.

  • Section 34 of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act gives intelligence authorities expansive discretion under national security and has previously been critiqued by lawyers and advocates for insufficient due process protections.

  • Noura’s interview was abruptly canceled by authorities just hours before, and has since not been rescheduled, leaving Noura without recourse and in an immigration blackhole.

In summary, Canadian authorities subjected Noura to undue delays while failing to justify the alarming actions and departure from due process. These actions subjected Noura, who is mother to a 5-year old Canadian-born daughter, to serious psychological harm. Her mistreatment sets an extremely grave precedent for human rights defenders that have been forced to take exile in Canada.

Failing to provide support for Noura as a witness who has risked her life to provide testimony for a case championed by Canadian authorities is an alarming abdication of responsibility that severely undercuts the government’s policy priorities on Syria, its Women Peace and Security Agenda, and toward the protection of human rights defenders globally.

Noura’s lawyer is currently suing in federal court to press Canadian authorities to proceed with the prompt processing of her case.

Canada: Process and Approve Noura's Permanent Residency Application

We, the undersigned, urgently call upon the Canadian authorities to process and approve the express entry application of Noura Aljizawi and her spouse. We also demand a formal apology for the undue psychological harm and trauma caused by the government's handling of her case.

We insist on an urgent reassessment of the laws, policies, appeals, and decision-making processes related to the resettlement and immigration of human rights defenders. We ask for a thorough review of the application of Section 34, ensuring that human rights defenders like Noura are never again subjected to such unjust treatment.

We call upon the Canadian government to uphold its commitment to democratic values, human rights, and the global women, peace, and security agenda. Canada must protect human rights defenders like Noura, who embody these principles and have dedicated their lives to advancing them.