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This article was published 25/11/2015 (2150 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
After five years of abuse and then the threat of having the rug pulled out from under her at any time, a single mom and her two kids from Poland can finally rest easy.
"It’s a special day for my kids and me," Marta Placzek said Wednesday, when she and Justyna, 11, and Jakub, 8, were granted permanent resident status in Canada. They’ve been living in Winnipeg with the help of people in the Polish community and friends like Peter Morgan, who drove them to their immigration appointment on Wednesday. There, Placzek and her kids who once fled to a women’s shelter, then relied on the kindness of strangers, were granted legal status in Canada.
"I’m very, very happy," said Placzek. "My life was very hard here," she said. "There was much stress."
She arrived in 2010 with her children and a new husband whom she believed had a trucking job lined up in Winnipeg. They arrived with visitors visas and when the job didn’t materialize, she alleges he began abusing her. She and the kids went to Osborne House and she obtained a restraining order that he violated. Her husband was charged by police and removed from Canada.
Placzek was desperate to stay with her kids even though their visitors visas had expired. In Poland, she had sold everything and quit her job at the railway for a fresh start in Canada. She had no family or anything to return to in Poland.
In Winnipeg, members of the community took the family under their wing. The children were allowed to attend Holy Ghost School on Selkirk Avenue for free and an immigration lawyer was hired to help her apply for permanent resident status.
Her lawyer, Alastair Clarke, asked that she be allowed to stay in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
In a lengthy written application, Clarke outlined three main reasons. Staying was in the best interest of the children, who were doing really well in school and faced hardship if they returned to Poland, he said. There was an established history of violence with her husband. Police in Poland have a well-established reputation for not taking domestic violence cases seriously, said Clarke. If Placzek and the kids returned to Poland, the only family they’d have is a potentially violent ex-spouse, he said. In Winnipeg, the family had plenty of support, said Clarke.
People like retiree George Bibik, a volunteer interpreter, rallied the community to provide shelter and support to them. Quiet-spoken Peter Morgan, who met the family through a Polish friend, said he empathized right away with the children.
"I’m an immigrant myself," said Morgan, who came to Canada from England when he was Justyna’s age, and had difficulty speaking. The addictions worker helps the family financially and provides them with transportation.
"I just hope they find their home here," Morgan said. "I certainly have."
Another factor in Placzek’s favour was her volunteering in the community, said Clarke.
"It’s purely out of the goodness of her heart," he said.
Placzek met regularly with Victoria Lehman’s elderly mom whose first language is Polish and was showing signs of dementia. Placzek visited her in Lion’s Manor where they spoke Polish, said Lehman, who is a lawyer. Some of her clients are victims of domestic abuse, and when she saw the 2014 Free Press story about the single mom and her two kids from Poland, she reached out to help them.
"I just gravitated to that," Lehman said.
Now that Placzek and her kids have permanent residence status, they can access provincial health care, social assistance and public schools. She’s had several job offers and can now legally obtain work and is eligible for more English language classes that she says are a priority.
Placzek wanted to stay in Canada for her children.
Jakub wants to be a lawyer when he grows up, and Justyna plans to be a veterinarian.
Placzek said she now has a better chance of realizing her own dreams, too.
"I have an idea of going to school."
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.