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This article was published 17/4/2018 (642 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
AN American family whose struggle to resettle in Canada shone an unflattering light on this country’s immigration rules not only won their case, they’re seeing the rules change for other immigrants in a similar situation.
In 2013, Karissa and Jon Warkentin from Colorado invested $600,000 in a tourist lodge in Manitoba and untold volunteer hours in their new community but had their application for permanent residence in Canada rejected when their youngest child was diagnosed with epilepsy and global developmental delay and, they were told, might cause "excessive demand" on health or social services in this country. The parents and their four children faced removal from Canada.
After a public outcry, their case was revisited and their rejection was reversed late last year. This week, the Warkentins learned some other families won’t have to go through what they did.
On Monday, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Ahmed Hussen announced changes to the medical inadmissibility provision of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act so that Canada’s immigration policies "better align with Canadian values and reflect the importance that the government places on the inclusion of persons with disabilities."
"This is really good news," Winnipeg lawyer Alastair Clarke said after a conference call with Jon Warkentin and federal immigration officials Monday.
"We’re changing the law," he said of those who spoke out against the 40-year-old immigration policy.
"If it did, then that’s great," said Jon Warkentin by phone from the family’s home 320 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg in Waterhen. "That’s what we were hoping for, for some changes there. If our family was part of that, then that’s great."
Under the old rules, applicants could be found medically inadmissible to Canada based on a set of criteria out of step with a 21st-century approach to persons with disabilities. Most of those affected were newcomers who would otherwise be approved in the economic immigration class, and selected for the benefit their skills will bring to the Canadian economy. The number of refusals under this provision was not high, but it resulted in cases like the Warkentins’, where applicants or their children were refused despite the fact their health condition or disability was one readily accommodated in Canadian society, the Immigration Department said in its announcement Monday.
Karalynn Warkentin, the child whose story highlighted how out of step immigration policy was with Canadian values, is in Grade 1, has not had another seizure and is thriving in Manitoba, her father said. "She loves to be outside playing with the dogs or checking on the chickens." Her mom, Karissa, was not available to comment Monday because she was driving a neighbour to a medical appointment two hours away in Swan River, Jon said.
The new policy "aims to strike a balance between protecting publicly funded health and social services and updating the policy to bring it in line with current views on the inclusion of persons with disabilities," an Immigration Department news release said Monday.
Immigration officials have reviewed the medical inadmissibility provisions since 2016, and have met with provincial and territorial governments, and discussions with stakeholders. Later this week, the changes — which are not retroactive and do not apply to refugees — will be discussed at a Canadian Bar Association immigration law conference in Ottawa.
Clarke, the Warkentins’ Winnipeg lawyer, will be there. He said he has many clients who stand a better chance of getting permanent residence in Canada under the new provisions. Off the top of his head, Clarke noted a woman from the Philippines who worked in Thompson and has a son with a learning disability. Another family from Punjab is in a similar situation, he said.
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.
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