FYI.

This story is over 5 years old.

Grandson of Hamas Founder Says He Faces Certain Death if Canada Deports Him Back to the West Bank

VICE News spoke to John Calvin who turned his back on the Hamas leadership, converted to Christianity, accepted he was gay, and fled to Canada. Now he's being sent back for his links to the group.
May 18, 2015, 4:40pm
Photo courtesy of John Calvin

It was always assumed that when John Calvin grew up, he would be at the helm of Hamas. His grandfather, Said Bilal, was a founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Palestine and Jordan Division, and a co-founder of Hamas. His five uncles are all senior members of the group. As the oldest boy in both his immediate and extended family, Calvin's fate was decided at birth.

"It was a big responsibility, I was told. From quite a young age I was being prepared to become the leader," he told VICE News.

Advertisement

Calvin remembers how at the age of 14, his grandfather presented him with a pistol as a gift for memorizing the Quran. As symbolic as the gesture was, he claims his preparation for Hamas at this age didn't extend beyond religious education and, he says, "an implementation and normalization of hatred for the enemy — the Israelis."

The decision to convert to Christianity, and his knowledge from an early age that he was gay, would leave him estranged from his family and fleeing for his life to the other side of the world. Now, after five years of refuge in Canada, Calvin is facing imminent deportation, on the grounds of links to the very religious extremism that he says will have him killed if he ever sets foot back in Palestine.

VICE News spoke to Calvin last week, two days after he learned his first stage application for a judicial review on the decision to deport him for his "links to a terrorist organization" had been dismissed, meaning that he will now most certainly face being returned back to the West Bank.

"This actually means death," he said. "I don't know if I can express how I'm feeling at the moment. Just overwhelmed, shocked, disappointed, and frightened."

'He began a journey to Christianity in a rather unexpected way — with a reading of "The Da Vinci Code"'

Calvin grew up immersed in Hamas' ideology, receiving training as a young teenager. But he was a child, he says, and could not consent to what was happening. As he grew up he began questioning his family's strict beliefs, he says, and at 16 got into a big argument that ended in him running away to Israel.

There, he had an experience which he says made him completely disown Hamas' ideology. Thrown in jail for crossing the border without documentation, he says he was sexually assaulted by a man from his hometown. He told his jailers about the incident.

Advertisement

"I was shown humanity and compassion by my Israeli jailers," he told VICE News. "This was against what my family had taught me my entire life."

Searching for answers, he began a journey to Christianity in a rather unexpected way — with a reading of Dan Brown's book, The Da Vinci Code.

"I read The Da Vinci Code, and then read a book which explained how the Da Vinci code was written based on facts," he said. "That led me to read the Bible, which I ended up reading three times. The Bible just made sense to me. I felt it connected with me spiritually and morally."

Calvin's new religious leanings were discovered by his parents when his mother overheard him on the phone with a pastor arranging to be baptized, he claims. "She started screaming, and when my father overheard he came into the room with a knife and tried to stab me," he said. "I managed to escape by jumping out of the window. From that moment, things went downhill."

Calvin went into hiding in the West Bank. A few weeks later, he claims, he bumped into his father again at a bus station. He says his father publicly beat him before forcing him to get on the bus. Soon after he was arrested and jailed in Nablus without a hearing, he says, for "disrupting the public peace."

After 21 days in a single prison cell with 63 men, Calvin spent a short time with his grandmother after his parents refused him access in to the house. He says he eventually ran away from his grandmother's and once again sought hiding in the West Bank, only to learn days later that his father planned to carry out a so-called honor killing on him.

Advertisement

He fled Palestine, and with the financial aid of a pastor friend he settled in Canada in 2010 on a student visa after enrolling in the Toronto Bible School.

Related: Religious War Has Moved to the Forefront of the Israel-Palestine Conflict

But in December 2014, Calvin received a letter from the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board informing him that he was being deported back to the West Bank on the grounds of having links to a terrorist organization.

With the help of crowdfunding and supporters such as the Canadian non-profit group Universalist Muslims and a nightclub in Edmonton, the town where Calvin has been living, he raised thousands of dollars to appeal his deportation.

But the Canadian authorities rejected his case, arguing there are reasonable grounds to believe that Calvin was an active member of Hamas until at least the age of 16 and remained a member — at least nominally — until the age of 18.

Ultimately, the decision argues, Calvin possessed the mental capacity to make his own informed choices, and he chose Hamas.

He says that upon hearing the news, one of his friends burst into tears, and another offered her fiancé up for marriage to him if that would help him stay. But resigned to his fate, he told VICE News he didn't think there was anything else he can do within the Canadian borders.

VICE News contacted the Federal Court of Canada, which said it did not provide comment on decisions made.

Advertisement

"The law needs to be changed," said Calvin. "It doesn't differentiate in my case between the decisions of a 35-year-old man and a 14-year-old boy."

According to Catherine Dauvergne, a professor at University of British Columbia and an expert in Canadian immigration and refugee law, the Canadian law does not have a specific definition of terrorist.

"This is problematic," she told VICE News. "The question of the age at which one participates in activities, whether or not one participates in activities, and the extent to which one participates in any kind of criminality, those things are all relevant in Canadian criminal law. But the standards of proof and definition of proof in an immigration law context are much poorer and much fuzzier than in the criminal law."

Calvin says he faces certain death if sent back to the West Bank. "It will be a race between my family and Hamas to kill me," he told VICE News.

If not executed for his Christianity, he will be killed for his sexuality, he says, after coming out as gay to Canadian media earlier this year.

He could also face a death sentence for treason, after speaking to Israel media about his experiences. Hamas carried out at least 22 extrajudicial killings of people they accused of collaborating with Israel last year, according to Amnesty International, though these took place in the Gaza strip, which the group controls. The Fatah-ruled Palestinian Authority controls the West Bank, albeit very shakily.

Advertisement

According to a report released on Tuesday by the Palestinian International Committee for Human Rights, the status of human rights in Palestinian territories is at its worst in years.

Related: Hamas Is To Be Taken Off the European Union's List of Terrorist Groups

Calvin says that while not illegal under Palestinian law, growing up as gay in the West Bank was a "constant torture."

In 2005 a man was shot in his area in the West Bank for being gay, he said, and his body cut up and bagged. "It wasn't done secretly. I knew the man who carried out the shooting," he told VICE News. "Being gay is down as one of the worst things a person could do. It's a shame on the family."

For a long time, he says, he tried to deny his sexuality. "For years I was hoping it would go away," he said. "I had a few relationships, but they were always very secretive. We had our own adventure in a sense, but a few times I almost got caught. It was both adventurous and scary."

In February, Calvin applied for a pre-removal risk assessment outlining the risks he believes he would face if returned home. He didn't hear anything back. "It clearly failed, as I'm to be sent back to the West Bank," he said.

Now, it's just a waiting game for Calvin. A wait to be deported back to the West Bank, and a future of fear and uncertainty.

Follow Kayleen Devlin on Twitter: @KayleenDevlin