Woman can’t reunite with
son after five years; 97-year-old woman told her case may take another 47
by Elizabeth May
Embassy Magazine, September 27, 2011
People often ask me if I have
encountered any big surprises since starting as a member of Parliament in May.
Of course, I knew that an MP’s job is
hard work and much of it focused on assisting people who need help in the
riding. And I knew that the bulk of those issues would relate to immigration
What I had not been expecting was the
callous, Kafkaesque nature of recent immigration decisions. Here are a few
examples (names and nationalities removed to respect privacy):
A young pregnant woman applied to come
to Canada, sponsored by other relatives from her country of origin. At the
time, she was told she could not apply for an unborn child. When the child was
three, her immigration approval came through, but then she was told she had not
applied for the child so she could not bring him.
She headed to Canada, leaving the boy
with relatives, under the belief that she could sponsor her child once she
established residency. Two years later, immigration officials have rejected the
application to allow her five-year-old son to join her, and have written him:
“Dear Mr. XX…. You do not fit any acceptable classification of sponsored
person”—as if he could read. Maybe it is just as well he cannot.
A Canadian citizen has had her
97-year-old mother living with her from the UK while her mother applies for
permanent residency, which has been in process since 2008. The mother has no
living relatives in the UK, and the family spends enormous sums for health care
insurance. The most recent letter from Citizenship and Immigration Canada has
told her the process to determine whether her 97-year-old mother can stay will
take another 47 months.
A refugee from political strife who, at
the tender age of six, had seen his entire family slaughtered in his country of
origin has applied to come to Canada. He is being sponsored by a Canadian
citizen, another refugee from the same turmoil, whose family adopted the
younger boy in the refugee camp. The sponsor, his older brother, started the
sponsorship process seven years ago. Citizenship and Immigration Canada has
told the younger brother, now in his 20s, that his country of origin is fine
and he should go back.
I could go on and on. The individual
heartbreaks should be no surprise. In the five years in which Stephen Harper
has been prime minister, the time to process visa applications for sponsored
parents and grandparents has increased (depending on the visa post, from nine
months to 30), while the number of visas issued annually to parents and
grandparents has plummeted from 20,005 in 2006, to 11,200 in 2011.
In the House in June, Bob Rae, Liberal
Party interim leader, read the text of an email from an immigration official to
a Liberal caucus member to the effect that they were under political orders
that family reunification was not a priority. Should instructions change, the
email concluded, the process would be improved.
Human smuggling bill
Reflecting the government’s willingness
to treat all refugee claimants as potential terrorists, is Bill C-4, the
so-called human smuggling bill. It should more accurately be called the Refugee
This bill panders to xenophobia
prompted by the sight of boatloads of refugee claimants on our shores.
Strangely, this bill, marketed as a way
to prevent the unscrupulous from preying on the desperate, will target people
arriving by boat for special treatment. It will eventually be struck down by
the Supreme Court of Canada as offensive to the Charter.
Those refugee applicants deemed to have
made an “irregular arrival” (primarily by ship, but not exclusively),
will be placed under mandatory arrest and detention for one year.
This applies to men, women and children
who arrive by boat. Most refugee claimants in Canada arrive at our airports.
When I asked Immigration Minister Jason
Kenney about this discrepancy, he told me he can designate entry anywhere to
meet the terms of this act.
I pointed out to him that it was wrong
to talk about refugees “jumping the queue,” as political refugees, by
definition, are not able, due to fear of persecution or death, to stay in their
country of origin to apply to leave.
Mr. Kenney says the queue means going
to a UN refugee camp and waiting there.
Of course, the UN High Commissioner for
Refugees depends on voluntary funding and the agency’s resources are over-stretched.
The UN refugee camps are not set up around the world as waiting rooms for Canada.
They are typically established near the borders of areas of natural or
climate-crisis disasters, or regions of armed conflict. Those fearing political
persecution are far less likely to have any access to a UNHCR refugee camp.
The Conservative claim is clever
messaging, but sophistry.
I want to close with a note of
gratitude and a tribute to former Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj. When a family
in his riding was wrongfully deported, he dug into his own pocket, retained a
lawyer and helped the family of Arjan Tabaj return to the safe haven of Canada
Let us hope the Federal Court ruling in
the Tabaj case will give the government pause. Perhaps the Harper government
can step back from the punitive approach, withdraw Bill C-4 and discuss with
Canadians how we want potential new Canadians to be treated.
Canada’s policy toward immigration and
refugees has changed dramatically while the Conservatives had a minority
government. We need to discuss these issues and protect human rights now that
Mr. Harper has his majority.