Victor Morales has lived in Montreal for 32 years and is the father of three Canadian kids. Yet, when the Chilean-born musician applied for permanent residence on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) rejected his application, citing petty crimes the Montrealer committed years ago.
Morales now faces deportation to Chile, a country he has not visited since he was six years old, when his family fled the terror of the Pinochet regime and were accepted as refugees to Canada.
When speaking to Morales, who is also the primary caregiver for his terminally ill Canadian mother, his distress was obvious.
"It is as if they were sending a Quebecer who had never lived with those people over in Chile," said the 40-year-old street musician in a telephone interview. "I've lived here my entire life."
Canadian immigration authorities originally scheduled his deportation for Tuesday, Feb. 8. Last week, a federal court ruled to "stay" or delay Morales's deportation -- a ruling that his lawyer attributed in part to vocal public opposition to the deportation order made by Morales and his family which drew considerable media attention to the case.
For his lawyer Stewart Istvanffy, the treatment Morales received at the hands of Canadian immigration authorities is a disturbing indicator of a systemic problem that goes far beyond this individual case.
Quite simply, "our immigration system's gone crazy," Istvanffy said.
For those who crowded into the courtroom on Jan. 31 and listened to CIC's arguments rationalizing Morales's removal from Canada, it's hard to avoid the callousness of the official position.
CIC's legal counsel, Sylvie Brochu, argued that Morales's deportation order should be carried out without further ado because of the street musician's alleged "great criminality." Yet as judge Yves De Montigny observed in his decision to stay his deportation, Morales was not "someone who had committed serious criminal infractions."
His offenses, which included possession of marijuana and petty theft, had never been grave enough to warrant a sentence of more than 14 days. Moreover, he has not had any new convictions in more than six years.
The punitive measure of deportation raises concerns about the spectre of a discriminatory "double punishment" being inflicted on immigrants in Canada. Sarita Ahooja, an organizer with No One is Illegal-Montreal and Solidarity Across Borders, observes that "this case shows the double punishment imposed on non-citizens, who get deported for crimes already purged, with no regard to the fact that the penal system has already made them pay for their acts."
Moreover, Morales's deportation would constitute an unfair punishment to his whole family. In federal court ruling on Feb. 1, judge de Montigny pointed out, "Mr. Morales and his children will be seriously affected if they are separated for many years or forever."
To most people, this would seem obvious. Yet astonishingly, CIC told the court they lacked evidence that any "irreparable harm" would be caused by exiling Morales.
With her back turned to the members of the Morales family who packed the federal courtroom last Monday -- including his 13 and 14 year-old sons, his ailing 65-year-old mom, his two young nieces and his brother -- Brochu argued that the government lacked proof of his closeness with his family.
This is despite the fact that Mr. Morales's kids had submitted letters to CIC expressing what an important role their dad plays in their lives on a daily basis, despite his being divorced from their mother.
Moreover, Morales's mother, Monica, who has AIDS, submitted testimony about the crucial role her son plays in her care, and her doctor Sylvie Vezena testified that her patient's health would likely deteriorate if it were not for the loving live-in primary care provided by her son.
Perplexingly, the immigration agent who rejected Morales's application to stay in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds stated that she gave "little weight" to his family's testimony, because it came from "interested parties" who were biased because they had a stake in the government's decision over whether their kin was allowed to stay.
Judge de Montigny expressed his bewilderment at CIC's reasoning.
"How is this a criteria for rejection?" he exclaimed during the hearing, adding that if CIC gave "little weight" to testimony from Morales's Canadian family in deciding whether Morales should be allowed to stay in Canada for humanitarian and compassionate considerations, what evidence would immigration agents consider?
In his ruling, De Montigny diplomatically suggested that the immigration agent might have "erred in rejecting the letters testifying to the link that exists between Mr. Morales and his children," who would "undeniably suffer great harm from the fact of" the absence of a parent to whom they were attached.
Brochu responded to the judge with, "I know we break up families, but that's our role."
For many Canadians, it would likely come as shocking news that breaking up families is part of the role of a taxpayer-funded government agency.
Istvanffy pointed out it represented "a clear violation of international law."
Brochu declined to comment for this article, telling rabble.ca: "I cannot speak to you."
Isabel Macdonald is a Montreal-based journalist and media scholar. Her investigative work covering foreign policy and migration issues has been published by The Nation, the Guardian and El Diario and many others. She is also the former communications director at the U.S. media watch group Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting. She is completing a PhD at Concordia University.
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