TORONTO — A Romanian couple who died with their Canadian-born children as they fled a deportation order were remembered at a memorial Thursday as loving parents who wanted the best for their kids.
Florin Iordache, his wife Cristina (Monalisa) Zenaida Iordache, their two-year-old daughter Evelin and one-year-old son Elyen were among eight people found dead in the St. Lawrence River in March.
Police have said the Iordaches and another family were trying to cross to the United States through Akwesasne Mohawk Territory, which straddles provincial and international boundaries and includes regions of Quebec, Ontario and New York state.
Dozens of community members and staff of the TAIBU Community Health Centre, where the Iordaches received health care in Toronto's east end, gathered for a memorial to remember the family on Thursday. A photo of the family stood on a table with flowers and candles while attendees listened to Romani music.
Francine Charpentier, a nurse practitioner at the centre who provided primary health care to the family, said the event was an opportunity for those who knew the Iordaches to share their grief.
"I've known them for three years. I've known the oldest child, Evelin, since she was four days old," she said. "I've seen them all the time."
Charpentier said she wrote a few letters to support their refugee case.
"They were fantastic. They were great parents, very dedicated and devoted," she said. "It was so tragic that it's hard to put into words."
Peter Ivanyi, a Toronto lawyer who had represented the Iordache family since 2018, has said the couple were desperate to stay in the country for the sake of their two children, who were Canadian citizens.
He said the couple were among many Romanians who arrived in the country in December 2017 after Canada waived most visa requirements. Florin Iordache and his wife filed for asylum the next year on the grounds that they faced discrimination back home.
While the Immigration and Refugee Board found the couple's story to be credible, Ivanyi said, it denied their application because they didn't believe the situation was so dire that the couple would be denied basic human rights in Romania.
The president of the Toronto Roma Community Centre, Michael T. Butch, said the deaths were devastating, especially because they took place only a few days before International Roma Day on April 8.
"We had everything going on, we were excited, and then six days prior we heard about this terrible tragedy to this beautiful family," he said.
Butch said parents of children who are born on Canadian soil should be allowed to remain in the country and be spared the risk of deportation.
Liben Gebremikael, the executive director of the TAIBU Community Health Centre, said Thursday's event aimed not only to honour the Iordache family but also to highlight the issues many asylum seekers face in Canada.
"The crux of the issue is why did they end up doing this and ending up drowning?" he said.
"It's a family. They have children. The children were born here. They're Canadians. Did they really have to go through this? ... This is not really humane."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 18, 2023.
Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press