Aug. 29, 2012 - Issue #880: LP
Guilty until proven innocent
Have Canada's immigration policies gone too far?
An old friend's child is getting married. Time is booked off work at your government job in India. Plane tickets are purchased. Travel arrangements are made. Most of your party have travelled in Europe before. One has been to the United States with a multiple entry visa. They are all upstanding citizens—no criminal records. You don't know anyone who has one. But entry to Canada is denied. Why? Somebody in the immigration office has decided that coming to the wedding of a very good friend's child is not a good enough reason to visit.
Jinny Sims, NDP Critic for Immigration, Citizenship and Multiculturalism, tells this story with an air of frustration. For confidentiality reasons she does not give names. Sims has a tough job on her hands in trying to hold the government accountable for all of the changes in immigration policy that have been so prevalent lately. She says they have made immigration policies almost unrecognizable.
"I don't know what problem this government is trying to fix. Immigration policies should not be set in stone and of course we should look at them and examine them and fine tune them, but we're moving toward immigration policies that take us away from nation building and supporting families to actually punishing families."
For example, since last November there has been a hold put on anyone applying for their parents and grandparents to join them in Canada. The Conservatives say it is to help get rid of the backlog of more than 165 000 older family members who had applied for residency up until that time. Sims counters that you don't get rid of the backlog by not having people applying for residency. "First you deliberately build a backlog and then you complain. It's just wrong," she says. "I would say that the dramatic changes that are being undertaken by this government are going to do Canada a great deal of harm in the long run because it's creating a lot of discontent in the communities around the country. I don't want to say it's racial profiling, but there definitely seem to be certain countries that are targeted."
Sims says that her relatives in England who have roots in India have no problem visiting Canada, but as she mentioned above, it's often a different story when the starting point is not a western country.
The top four countries that are sending immigrants to Canada are the UK at nine percent, eight percent from China, seven percent from India and five percent from the Philippines according to StatsCan 2006.
The case of one Filipina woman who has applied for residency and been denied has made headlines recently because of suspected marriage fraud. On Monday, August 27, 60-year-old Albertan Carwin Miltimore's federal hearing to see if his young bride would be able to join him in Canada was postponed. Miltimore met 23-year-old Marife Matangcas on an Asian dating website and the pair wed in the Philippines three years ago. But the significant age difference between the two has led immigration officials to believe their marriage is a sham.
As the feds have no published stats on the frequency of marriage fraud in Canada, the sudden crackdown—with proposed legislation to come out this fall that a spouse has to cohabitate with their sponsor for two years or else have their residency revoked—doesn't make a lot of sense.
"I'm not saying that there isn't fraud because that would be naive. There is absolutely fraud, but it is a very small percentage ... So Canada is supposed to have a policy of you're innocent until you're proven guilty, but when it comes to a lot of immigration issues now you're guilty until you're proven innocent. And it's very difficult to prove you're innocent when you're sitting in another country," says Sims.
The supposed frequency of Canadians being duped by their foreign lovers is overshadowed by a reality that social agencies deal with every day: immigrant women who arrive in Canada to find themselves in situations of domestic abuse. This is a big enough problem that the Edmonton Women's Shelter—WIN House—has opened a home just to help immigrant, refugee and trafficked women who are being abused by their sponsors. WIN's executive director Janine Fraser has seen first-hand how these women's dreams of a better life in Canada have been crushed.
"They really felt deceived into believing what their life was going to be like and then when they got here, they were exploited as a human resource. They were exploited to be the maid, to look after elderly parents, and they also had sexual relations as part of the expectation. So they really were seen as property. As something that was purchased."
Fraser says she has never encountered anyone who was just trying to get a free ticket to Canada. More often it is the hope of being able to provide for a poor family back home and to become successful in such a progressive country. Cultural differences mean a different understanding of family and marriage commitments and many women will stay in an abusive relationship as they feel they have no other options.
"They don't necessarily know what their legal rights are in Canada and many of the women have had their immigration status or their sponsorship used as a weapon against them with their sponsor saying, 'I will send you back and it will be a lot worse for you there if you tell.' Many of them don't even know how to take the bus. They are completely dependent on their spouse for everyday living," Fraser says. "This is no different from human trafficking in my professional opinion. You're paying for someone and then you're victimizing them."
Fraser says disparity in age, disparity in finances, the length of the relationship, how the couple met and whether or not there was a transaction of money are all things the government should be considering as indicators that a marriage could be abusive for the foreign spouse. "It's a human rights issue. Every woman and child in Canada has the right to live free from all forms of abuse, regardless of race, regardless of spirituality, regardless of socio-economic status."
Next week part 2 of this story will look at the economic implications of temporary foreign workers in Canada.
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