African dream turns into Canadian nightmare for victim of fraud: Reform immigration system

Is it any surprise that the United States wants to heighten border security from Canada when people who lie to gain access to our country can stay for so long and/or come back two years later?

When my lifelong friend from Ottawa, Lainie Towell, told me that she was getting married to a Guinean she had met in Conakry, West Africa, I was happy for her.

She had met him while studying dance in 2004 and their relationship developed over a number of trips. I knew that she was in love, as she put up with the rats, cockroaches, and several cases of malaria to be with him.

They married in April 2007 and soon after, she returned to Canada to process his immigration papers. I was unable to travel to their wedding, as my son was barely a year old, but I looked forward to welcoming her husband to Canada after his arrival.

Only I never got the chance.

Once he received his visa, Lainie travelled back to Africa to accompany her husband on his journey to Canada.

She knew that they would deal with exciting firsts and be challenged by culture shock, but was ready for anything now that an ocean no longer separated them.

They arrived on New Year’s Eve, welcomed by his first snowfall, and in fairytale-like fashion, by the annual fireworks display on Parliament Hill marking a new year for everyone.

She work two jobs to support them, including teaching evening dance classes. After one class, they were about

to dig into his first-ever bowl of butter pecan ice cream when he excitedly said he had an e-mail from a friend back home. She slid beside him to read it, and when he opened it she became as cold as the ice cream. The e-mail said that Lainie’s husband’s BABY was fine and that they had moved the baby into his parent’s home in Conakry.

As you can imagine, stressful times ensued. She couldn’t understand why he had lied to her or the Canadian government (on his entrance papers), but three weeks later, it all became clear.

She returned to their apartment one night to find that he had left with everything he owned, and everything she and her family had bought him. All he left behind was his wedding ring, and a “Welcome to Canada” booklet.

She soon realized she was the victim of marriage fraud, and called Immigration Canada. They told her that “the government has no place in the bedrooms of Canadians.” Lainie found that “marriages of convenience” are illegal, and got the media involved.

To make a long story short, a year and two months after he had duped her, and after many delays by his lawyer, he was found guilty of misrepresentation (but not marriage of convenience) and was issued a removal order on March 24, 2009.

He was given 30 days to file an appeal (a right only permanent residents are accorded– even though he lied to get that status, he still gets the privilege of appealing).

Unbelievably, her case would have gone nowhere if she hadn’t had copies of his e-mails regarding the baby.

When Lainie’s African dream turned into a Canadian nightmare, I was grief stricken for her, but also concerned as a taxpayer and a Canadian. Immigration fraud should not be taken lightly.

There is even a class action pending regarding the government’s lack of enforcement of the law.

Our immigration system clearly needs reform:

* Permanent residency status in Canada shouldn’t be automatic upon marriage. In the United States, marriages with non-citizens are subject to a two-year conditional residency. Such a rule here could quickly cut down on marriages of convenience that end days, weeks, or months after residency status is granted.

* The punishment for lying to gain access to Canada should be longer than a two-year removal order. Ten years (or forever) seems more appropriate.

If the humiliation and pain of being a victim of marriage fraud isn’t enough, victims are patronized by immigration telling them that nothing can be done. On top of that, they are financially responsible if their “partner” collects welfare. These cases must be taken seriously and sponsorship should be severed with a guilty verdict, even if an appeal is pending.

* Appeals can take up to two years. Do we really want someone who commits fraud hanging around that long, potentially looking for their next unknowing sponsor? Appeals have to be faster, or perhaps our “friends” need to wait outside the country.

I wish I could say that this is an April Fool’s joke, but it isn’t –this is my friend’s life. Given that marriage fraud is quite common but not taken seriously, our government needs to proactively revisit current policies to better protect Canadians.

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