By Sharyl Jovellana, SAY News
Joy, who was 20 years old at that time, decided to flee to Canada from her family in Turkey during the pandemic in 2020. According to her, she grew up in an extremely strict and traditional household where her father controls everything.
“The more I grew up the more I realize the way they’re practicing the religion is not healthy and is not something that people can grow in. There were so many restrictions that you can’t breathe anymore.”
Joy’s parents used to live in Canada, but they decided to move to Muslim countries. Her three older siblings were born in Canada, but they left the country when they were pregnant with her. They decided to move to Syria where Joy was born. Since then, her family keeps moving around to only Muslim countries, whether they are Arab, Asian, or African.
“I haven’t been here before, was not born here, didn’t even come here for a visit. I have the Canadian passport but that was the only Canadian in me.”
The pandemic was a huge wake-up call for Joy, who realized she couldn’t put happiness off any longer. Another major reason for Joy’s escape was her parents’ attempt to marry her off. During the pandemic, only nationals returning to their home country were allowed to travel. Joy saw this as an opportunity to go to Canada. She reached out to the Canadian embassy in Turkey to help her. The embassy had a previous file against her father when Joy’s older sister tried to run away while they were still living in Sudan. Joy said her father paid the airport officers to stop her sister from leaving the country.
Joy escaped her house while her mother went grocery shopping for a few hours and her father was on a business trip in another country and got stuck there because of the pandemic. For months, she had to observe her mother open the locked safe where their passports were kept. She says she never got hold of her passport. Every time they traveled to a new country, it was her parents who handled everything.
She hid at a friend’s apartment after fleeing. She could see from the balcony that at least 10 to 15 men were looking for her. She felt unsafe and called the embassy for help. The embassy sent a tinted car in the middle of the night to take her to a safe house that even Joy doesn’t know the location of.
After a week of staying at the safe house, the embassy booked Joy’s flight to Canada. Joy was met at the airport by an army of police because her family had reported her missing. She called the embassy to report the situation, and an ambassador went to help her.
“The way she [Canadian ambassador] screamed at those people, she was like, do you want to start a war between Turkey and Canada right now? Do you really want to mess with this? She’s an adult, she’s not Turkish, you have zero jurisdiction here.”
The police kept questioning Joy until her plane had already taken off. She had no choice but to go back to the safe house. She stayed there for two more weeks until the embassy could get her a new ticket. The second time she went to the airport, she was escorted by an officer who made sure she gets through the airport immigration officers.
When she arrived in Canada, she lived in a shelter and got a job at a jewelry store with the help of the Covenant House. The government also assisted her in receiving intensive therapy and joining support groups to help her heal and begin a new life.
“It took a huge toll on my mental health. And for the first six months that I was here, I used to get nightmares all the time. I would wake up in sleep paralysis thinking that I’m still at home.”
Joy later moved from a shelter to a group home, where she said she got mixed up with the wrong crowd. She got a concussion and a broken ankle from hanging out with them. She had to walk with crutches for four months while wearing a huge cast.
When Joy had covid and was not allowed to leave her room, she said she had a chance to contemplate her life and was looking for something to do. She came across an advertisement for a pageant called Ms. World Canada and applied for it. She was one of the 14 girls chosen from thousands of applicants to compete.
Joy eventually stopped hanging out with her friends and put all of her money into the competition. She also struggled while competing because of her broken ankle. For Joy, winning the crown is not the reason why she joins the pageant, but for the experience and to wear dresses she can’t wear before because her family’s religion requires her to only wear a hijab.
“Growing up watching Disney movies in secret and doing all these things, that’s all I want out of life is to wear a pretty dress and be around pretty people.”
While she was competing, she also decided to return to school and study creative advertising at Seneca. She said that education is important for her to have a good life.
Joy is now living in a government-provided transitional home. She is preparing to move out soon and find her own place. Her future goal is to publish a book about her life and help other women who went through the same struggles she had.