Afghan interpreter one step closer to dream

Not only does Afghan interpreter James Akam now have an appointment at the Canadian Embassy in Berlin, he has a ride from his refugee camp 329 km away.

The appointment is Tuesday at 10 a.m. and Akam is hopeful he’ll finally get his Canadian visa so his wife and son can then follow him from Afghanistan.

“That is my dream.”

The problem before was he didn’t have enough money to get to Berlin.

“(Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada) does not provide financial assistance to ... applicants for fees or other costs incurred in the application process (e.g.: travel to an immigration interview),” spokesman Jessica Seguin explained.

Who knew? Certainly in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s photo-ops with Syrian refugees the transportation and hotel seemed to be covered.

But it’s different for a guy who served with our Canadian troops in war-torn Afghanistan from 2008-2011.

It hasn’t been easy for James since fleeing Afghanistan to avoid the Taliban’s wrath. The Canadian immigration process has required he walk 10 km into towns with fax machines to fill out forms and he spent his last $200 on processing fees.

He’s had to sleep outside.

Not this time., an organization “for the protection of translators and interpreters in high-risk settings,” has stepped up and booked a train trip and a hotel room for James.

Just as I was to send this column over, I received word that Immigration Minister John McCallum and his staff also stepped up to help James get to the meeting. Hats off to them.

McCallum has taken a special interest in this case and has already tweeted he would be “pleased” to grant James a visa.

“I hope this note finds you well. I have been informed of your interview that will be conducted at the Canadian Embassy in Berlin,” wrote Bernie Derible, a member of the minister’s office. “I along with my colleagues would like to assist you with attending the interview through donating a train ticket.”

Class move.

Very special thanks as well to Switzerland native Maya Hess of in New York and Ralf Lemster of the German Federal Association of Interpreters in Frankfurt, who have arranged all of this.

Thanks as well to the dozens of Canadians who offered to do the same. Some were prepared to write James a cheque for $1,000. Many offered to book him a train ride.

We decided to go with Maya and Ralf’s offer for two reasons. First, they do this kind of thing for interpreters and are on the ground in Germany. Second, with them having access to hotels and train passes, there’s no need for money to change hands.

Very generous of them to do what they’ve done.

“I want to thank everybody who has offered to help me,” James said.

The only comment I want to add is well done to the immigration department for finally making this appointment happen. But please spare James from using the return part of his train ticket. Give him his visa when he’s in Berlin and allow him to get on the next Air Canada flight. He’s earned it. Everybody who serves our country in battle deserves to come home.

It’s time for us to welcome James Akam.


That was quite a week. I have a call in to Councillor Rob Ford to get his view on the road toll study for Toronto’s highways. I suspect the former mayor will feel they’re nothing but a new tax, but I will let you know when he gets back to me — hopefully next week.

Special thanks to all the people who donated to 27-year-old cancer patient Ryan Stevenson’s GoFundMe campaign. In one day, $7,000 more was added to help pay for his cutting-edge treatment. I know his father Brad Stevenson, mom Catherine, and stepdad Wayne Proulx all appreciate it.

Congrats to Dr. Lecrae. The Houston rapper with a great story performed up at Canada Christian College Monday and received an honorary doctorate in music. He even wore an academic robe. I was blown away with Lecrae’s talent and faith. This guy is electric and so were the amazing 2,000 fans who showed up for a musical treat.

Special congrats to a civilian woman behind the scenes at Toronto Police headquarters named Alma, who was a receptionist in corporate communications for 27 years. She knows every reporter and every reporter knows her. Alma had an interesting policing career and served TPS very well.

Last but not least, congrats to Jimmy Tsirimokos of Princess St.’s venerable Olympos Crow-Bar diner, who served his final souvlaki on Friday after 45 years. As soon as the doors closed, it became a throwback to when he first started in 1971. He and short order cook Theo Balis each lit up a cigarette as a salute to a different time and to mark the end. “The reason why bacon and eggs tasted better 30 years ago was because of the ashes,” Balis joked.

Too late for a bylaw ticket. I hope. Enjoy fishing Jimmy. Have a good weekend everybody. Scrawler out.

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