Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Disabled girl's family fights order to leave Canada

From The Globe & Mail in Canada:

MONTREAL — The Barlagne family (pictured) came from France wooed by Canada's promise of an entrepreneurial environment and the reassurance their handicapped toddler was welcome. Five years later, the business end of the family venture has worked out, but the Canadian government wants the disabled girl out of the country, for fear her cerebral palsy will be an "excessive burden" on the state.

A Federal Court judge must decide if Immigration officials have dealt fairly with the family, who are facing an order to leave Montreal and return to France with Rachel, now 7.

The hearing will take place tomorrow . "It's clear if I'd known we were going to have this problem, we never would have come here," said David Barlagne, Rachel's father. "It's much too difficult to live through. It makes no sense."

Mr. Barlagne, 39, a software developer, paid a visit to the Canadian embassy in Paris in 2005, where an official in charge of drawing new business to Canada made a pitch that he should move his firm, which creates software for managing libraries, to Quebec. The father of two said he asked the official if his disabled daughter would pose a problem in the course of immigration proceedings. Mr. Barlagne was advised to take a temporary work permit, which came with no health requirements for his family.

Once he was established in Canada, Mr. Barlagne said, the official told him passing medical exams and gaining permanent residency "would be a formality. "The person told me there would be no worries."

They moved from the French island of Guadeloupe in July of 2005. They rented an apartment in Montreal's Côte-des-Neiges neighbourhood. Mr. Barlagne set up an office in the city's west end; his wife, Sophie, volunteers, teaching French to immigrants.

Rachel attends a special-needs public school, École Victor Dubé, while her elder sister, 10-year-old Lara, is in elementary school. Rachel has learned to speak a few words, while also learning to communicate with a computer than translates pictograms she touches into speech.

Mr. Barlagne has been surprised by the support he has received from Montrealers. One person with full citizenship even offered to adopt Rachel.

"It's not realistic or something I'd even consider, but it just shows the lengths people will go to help us," he said.

Early last year, when Mr. Barlagne applied for permanent status for his wife and two daughters, they got a shocking response. The youngest girl was deemed "medically inadmissible" on the grounds she may pose an "excessive burden" on medical and social services.

"I was misled, I moved my family here, my company, and the reassurances we received are not something that should have been just casually thrown out there," Mr. Barlagne said.

Immigration officials handling the case in Montreal could not answer detailed questions recently without approval from Ottawa, but a spokeswoman did say officials acted in good faith.

"Everyone who works for us overseas has to be rigorous and honest with clients. If one of our employees made an error, it's possible. It can happen," said Jacqueline Roby, spokeswoman with Citizenship and Immigration Canada. "But we can't just carry on with that error."

Whether the error was made in Paris or is being made now in Canada seems less than clear. A 2005 Supreme Court of Canada decision ruled that immigrants must be allowed to stay in Canada when family can guarantee support of disabled new arrivals. Rachel hasn't needed particular medical attention, Mr. Barlagne said, and he has promised to cover any unusual costs related to rehabilitation or learning.

"They created an expectation for my client, but not only that, they are not applying the law. It's a complete and total error," said Stéphane Minson, one of two immigration lawyers representing the family. "And I can't believe they continue to ignore the Supreme Court decision."

If the judge in tomorrow's hearing finds for the family, Immigration will be forced to re-examine the file. If not, the family would face an order to leave Canada, but an appeal is almost certain. Mr. Barlagne holds out hope Immigration Minister Jason Kenney will soften his position and allow them to stay with a special permit granted on humanitarian grounds.

Mr. Barlagne's lawyer is less optimistic. "For the minister right now, it seems it's important to shut the door on handicapped people. He's taken a very hard, stubborn position," Mr. Minson said.

In the meantime, plans to expand the software firm and buy a home are on hold, in case the family has to return to France.