MONTREAL - The federal government is temporarily not proceeding with the deportation of a longtime Quebec resident who was ordered back to his native Italy based on a 20-year-old criminal conviction.
Michele Torre was at Montreal's Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport awaiting an early evening flight when word of a ministerial reprieve came down late Friday, relayed to him by a Canada Border Services agent.
His daughter, Nellie Torre, said she received word that her father's case would be reviewed from Liberal MP Angelo Iacono, her local member of Parliament.
The new came as a shock to Torre's family, who had all but given up hope earlier Friday that they'd get a reprieve on humanitarian grounds.
"I'm very, very grateful of our government right now," Nellie Torre said. "I'm still scared of the fact we're still not out of the dark, but I'm grateful that my dad is coming back home tonight."
Torre's lawyer, supporters and family have argued it was unfair to deport him so long after his conviction.
The now 64-year-old Torre was convicted in 1996 in a cocaine importation conspiracy linked to the Cotroni crime family and served part of a nearly nine-year sentence in prison.
A permanent resident since arriving in Canada nearly 50 years ago in 1967, he only found out about an expulsion order — based largely on that conviction — when attempting to secure Canadian citizenship a few years ago.
Since 2013, the Canadian government has sought to remove Torre from Canada for "serious criminality and organized criminality."
Supporters and relatives held a rally on Thursday in downtown Montreal.
Earlier Friday, a Federal Court judge rejected a request for a stay of deportation.
Torre had gone to the airport alone to spare his family further heartbreak, leaving behind his wife of 42 years, three adult children and six grandchildren.
Then came the dramatic turn of events, his lawyer said.
"Ninety minutes before his flight to Italy, the escort agents communicated with the family," Torre's lawyer, Stephane Handfield said. "They said the deportation was cancelled, come get your father at the airport, he's not leaving today."
Torre was arrested again in 2006 during a major police operation aimed at dismantling the Mafia. He spent three years in pretrial custody and was ultimately acquitted.
While fighting to remain in Canada, Torre said under oath he had no ties to anyone in the Mafia since his 1996 conviction and his family argued he'd done his time.
Handfield said it's the first time in 24 years of practising law he has dealt with an deportation case like this and argued the delay in deportation was an abuse of process.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version wrongly said the reprieve was for three weeks. There is in fact no timeline.