Search This Blog

Monday, August 11, 2008

O Canada: Disabled Not Welcome

Last month a British family tried to move to Canada. Paul and Barbara-Anne Chapman, their two children, Jack and Lucy, as well as their dog, planned to move to Nova Scotia and open a business. Three years of careful planning was undermined on July 12 when they met with a Canadian Border Guard in Halifax. Apparently the Border Guard told the Chapman's they could not legally enter the country because their daughter was disabled. Lucy, 7 years old has Angelman Syndrome, a rare chromosome disorder. The Border Guard stated her daughter was banned from ever entering Canada under section 38 of the Federal Immigration Act. Despite concerted efforts to appeal this ban, the family was forced to return to Britain on July 30.

The above bare bone facts do not tell the whole story. For more than three years the Chapman's have been planning on permanently moving to Nova Scotia. They want to open up a business, hire about 25 people and in 2008 purchased a house in Fall River. The Chapmans are each former police officers and have run a small business in Britain but are drawn to Nova Scotia for many reasons. Clearly, they are ideal candidates to enter Canada--they are well educated, financially stable, hard working people. This is not good enough because they have a disabled daughter. They know this because they tried to enter Canada in 2005. They were explicitely denied entry because their daughter was disabled. Shortly after being denied entry the Supreme Court of Canada modified the disabilities section of the Immigration Act. The Chapman's reapplied to move Nova Scotia under the immigration nominee program. After two years and the support of six sponsors the Chapman's received approval from the provincial government to enter Canada.

Before the Chapmans arrived at Halifax they were under the impression that they had leaped through all the hurdles that were required to enter Canada. They never tried to sneak into country nor did they hide their daughters disability. They did all that was required by law and even got permission for the family dog to enter Canada. All went well until a Boarder Guard told the Chapmans their daughter was being "red flagged". The family was held in the immigration office for five hours and their passports were seized, all because the Boarder Guard deemed their daughter unworthy of entry. In the Chapman's estimation the actions of the Boarder Guards was nothing short of pure discrimination. It is hard to disagree with this assessment.

After reading multiple news accounts in Britain and Canada, it is clear to me the Chapmans are being discriminated against. Canada may welcome a host of different people but disabled people are not among them. This story is about one thing: human rights. Human rights denied to a family and one 7 year old disabled child in particular. I cannot help but conclude that in Canada disabled people are perceived as an onerous and costly burden. I know this because the Canadian Border has explicitly stated this on "Visiting Canada: Who is inadmissible?" According to this information card people whose conditions "might reasonably be expected to cause excessive demands on the health or social services" cannot enter the country. Disabled people are thus grouped in with terrorists, war criminals, convicted felons, those bankrupt, organized criminals etc. as unworthy.

Attracted by the a high standard of living in Canada and the recent drive to attract skilled workers, the Chapman's came face to face with ignorance and bigotry of not just one Boarder Guard but a government that deems disabled people as being less than fully human. There is no doubt Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) is embarrassed. Amazingly, this story has failed to garner much press but what it has attracted is overwhelmingly negative. A CIC spokesperson has been quoted as stating "People with disabilities can come to Canada. In Canada we have rules and regulations to protect the Canadian people and we have to make sure that the proper process is followed. It is not that we do not want them (the Chapmans) here. They just have to follow the proper process which includes ensuring the residency permit is in place before arriving in Canada". I find this statement misleading at best for I have no doubt had their daughter not been disabled the Chapmans would be happily residing in their home in Fall river instead of being forced to return to Britain.

Is it too much to expect the Canadian Border Service to acknowledge they were wrong? In a word, yes. The fact remains everyone in the Chapman family was welcomed to enter Canada except their disabled daughter. Paul Chapman is all too well aware of this and has stated that if he "arrived back in Canada tomorrow and I am alone, or without my daughter, I would be allowed in. I can come and do business, I am allowed to create jobs for Canadians and to invest my money here in Canada's economy. But if I arrived again with Lucy, we would both be put on the very next plane back to the UK". This reality is hard to accept and is nothing more or less than a gross violation of human rights. This cannot be explained away as a paper work error nor is the story about one family and one disabled child. Disability rights are human rights--a fact that many do not acknowledge in Canada and elsewhere. Until that changes I will continue to rail against the sort of ignorance and bigotry that the Chapman family encountered. Their experience also highlights why I am proud to call myself a bad cripple for all bad cripples need to fight for one another or face social invisibility and isolation.


Glee said...

Australian law allows the same disability discrimination.In other words the Migration Act is exempt from the DDA. We are seen as useless eaters still.


william Peace said...

Glee, I had no idea Australia had a similar law. This leads me to wonder how many other countries have such discriminatory laws. This also makes me realize just how costly it is to be disabled socially and financially. I liked your blog very much. I loved your line about the OT being an occupational terrorist.

Carol Marfisi said...

Unbelievable. Simply umbelievable. I'm finding it so difficult to wrap my mind around the reality of this situation. It sounds like a poorly written novel that goes over the top and isn't very well researched or situationally portrayed.
My ignorance and my naivete of Canada's ugly law makes me feel so humiliated. How could I have been so uninformed? I was under the impression that Canada was some kind of quasi-utopia where people and policy were more open-minded. Shame on me. I thought that the days of the ugly law mentality were safely behind us. I know that it was stricken from the books in Chicago in 1972
Writing about it seems so misogynist compared to the moral action that should be taken. Has anybody thought about boycotting goods that come from or are made in Canada?
This just goes to show how much ugliness can be hidden behind environmental beauty and the facade of a progressive country. Pardon my french, Canada but you can take your pride of hockey and everything else and you know where you can shove it.

pbk said...

The fact that we have this kind of law in Canada is disappointing, but, frankly, not at all surprising. Unlike refugees, immigrants are assessed on their ability to contribute, and countries with "socialized medicine" must, believe it or not, also consider how much the immigrants will cost. In this particular case, the intention (and how much weight should be given to stated intentions?) of starting a business and employing 25 people provides an interesting increases their desirability as immigrants, while diminishing the humanitarian urgency (the gist of their appeal seems to rest on how well off they are).

Also, to Carol...kudos to Chicago for having amended its immigration law in 1972. I'm sure the majority of people will join me in being amazed that a U.S. city even had such a law. Are you completely, 100% sure, however, that the government of the United States, which actually has jurisdiction in these matters, doesn't have restrictions similar to those in Canada? I'd be surprised, and ditto for most other countries.