Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/9/2011 (3108 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
COMING to Canada for the first time to visit family and see the Rockies turned into a nightmare for a 54-year-old Polish man and his relatives in Winnipeg who were waiting for him.
And it was only this week — five months after the ordeal began — that he finally got his passport back following a hearing in Winnipeg.
When Henryk Brzezinski’s flight from Warsaw landed in Toronto in the spring, immigration officials detained him for 10 days.
"They put handcuffs on him at the airport and took him to jail," said his sister-in-law, Miroslawa Mikolowski, in Winnipeg.
Brzezinski, who doesn’t speak English, had complete identification, has no criminal record and runs a successful business in Poland.
"They took away his passport, driver’s licence, cellphone and phone notebook, where he had numbers."
His family in Winnipeg didn’t know he was being held, but on the day he was to arrive in Winnipeg, Mikolowski got a call from an immigration officer in Toronto. He asked her questions about Brzezinski, the purpose of his trip and her family income — but the officer didn’t mention they were detaining him, said Mikolowski.
The Mikolowskis went to Richardson International Airport expecting a happy reunion on May 8, but Brzezinski wasn’t on his flight or on that day’s last three flights from Toronto. He wasn’t on next day’s early flights, either.
Mikolowski got scared and thought of the fate of another Polish visitor, Robert Dziekanski. In 2007, the Polish man was lost in Vancouver airport for nine hours, had a run-in with police and died after being Tasered several times.
She called their Winnipeg travel agent for help.
"The family was frantic and I spent hours and hours trying to look for him," said Anna Gebczyk. The travel agent said Brzezinski had a biometric passport, which has high-tech security features, and didn’t need a visitor’s visa to come to Canada and stay up to six months.
Gebczyk contacted the airline and learned Brzezinski didn’t get on any flights from Toronto to Winnipeg. She checked on flights to Poland to see if he went back home. He did not.
"I got in touch with Immigration," Gebczyk said. "They didn’t tell me anything. They said call the police at the airport." She called airport police in Toronto. "They told me to call back to Immigration." She was told by Immigration they wouldn’t give her any information — that it was privileged.
Worried about Brzezinski’s well-being, Gebczyk told the authorities they were responsible for him.
"I told that person (that) knowing someone from Immigration called the family the evening he arrived... they were the last people who saw him alive. After that, they transferred me to the supervisor who said, ‘Yes, he’s being detained.’ " No other information was provided and authorities wouldn’t let Gebczyk or Mikolowski speak to Brzezinksi by phone. Gebczyk contacted the Polish consul in Toronto and asked them to check on Brzezinski.
"They assured me he was OK, but that’s all they can do," Gebczyk said. She asked the consul to send a message to Brzezinski to call his family in Winnipeg, which he was later allowed to do.
Mikolowski was floored when she heard why officials held her brother-inlaw for 10 days. He had some women’s clothes and a baby’s toy in his suitcase — gifts for his female relatives and a two-year-old in Winnipeg. An immigration officer believed they were for his wife and child whom Brzezinski would be joining in Winnipeg. His son is 10 and in Poland with his wife, said Mikolowski.
Her sister came to Canada for Mikolowski’s 50th birthday last year, stayed for three months and went back to Poland. Border security technology records when people arrive in Canada but not when they leave. The immigration officer in Toronto was convinced Brzezinski, a welder, was coming to Canada to work and join his family, Mikolowski said.
"He told them, ‘I have my own business in Poland. I have 10 people working for me,’ " his sister-in-law said. "They don’t let him say anything."
He had a series of interviews, and Mikolowski had to post a $5,000 bond at the immigration office in Winnipeg before officials in Toronto let him go. She had to pay $366 for a new plane ticket to Winnipeg.
The money was nothing compared to Brzezinksi’s shock and humiliation at getting locked up for 10 days, she said.
"He was very upset," Mikolowski said. "It was very stressful. He was shocked by how they treat him... like some kind of criminal. He did nothing wrong. He came to see the family."
A Polish community leader in Winnipeg, George Bibik, was hired to translate for Brzezinski at a hearing at The Forks immigration office Tuesday when Brzezinski got his passport back so he can go home next month. Bibik has written letters to Winnipeg MPs expressing his outrage and asking for an explanation.
Immigration officials said Thursday they were looking into the case.
Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.