Not quite Canadian: Falling through the cracks of a troubled childhood - InfoNews

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Not quite Canadian: Falling through the cracks of a troubled childhood

Lawyer Emma Halpern, representing the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, talks with reporters after a deportation hearing in Dartmouth, N.S. on Sept. 23, 2016.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
November 06, 2016 - 8:00 PM

HALIFAX - They have been deemed women without status for failings dating back to their childhoods, say their supporters.

They have spent much of their lives in Canada, had children, voted and held down jobs, but now find themselves facing deportation because of immigration issues that were never resolved when they were brought to the country as children and ended up in the care of the state.

Advocates fighting for three Nova Scotia-based women to remain in Canada say their cases are unusual, but not uncommon.

And they're hoping attention around their plight prompts governments to address what they say is a gap in youth protection policies for young people that become wards of the state, but whose residency status is not addressed by children's aid workers, foster families or their biological parents.

"There is this legal gap that no one is really looking at because it doesn't strictly fall under child protection, it doesn't strictly fall under criminal law, it doesn't strictly speaking fall under refugee law," says Emma Halpern, a lawyer with the Elizabeth Fry Society who is handling the women's cases.

"So it's hard to figure out who is going to put all of the pieces of this puzzle together so that we don't end up with extremely vulnerable people in our society losing their ability to stay in a country they've lived for their whole lives."

In many cases, they only become aware of their lack of citizenship when they get in trouble with the law as adults and face the prospect of deportation.

The issue gained prominence recently when Fliss Cramman, a 33-year-old woman who grew up in Ontario, learned that she was to be deported back to England despite having left the country with her family when she was eight. Cramman, whose four young daughters were born in Ontario, only became aware that she was not a Canadian citizen following a drug conviction and incarceration.

It was discovered that her parents and several foster care families that took her in at the age of 11 did not secure her Canadian citizenship. As a result, the Canada Border Services Agency says she will be deported by Dec. 16, despite her physician's assertion that she is in fragile health and needs to remain in the country for months to recover from surgeries done after she was rushed to hospital from a prison facility in Dartmouth on Aug. 12.

In another case, Debra Spencer is facing deportation back to St. Vincent after she was adopted by a Canadian family at the age of eight in the early 1990s. Halpern says Spencer, who now lives in Cape Breton, was placed in foster care in Canada and later became involved in crime, leading to a conviction in 2014 that brought a two-year sentence.

Again, Halpern said Spencer found out that no one had secured her citizenship only when she was involved in the criminal justice system. That left her vulnerable to forced removal from the country because under the provisions of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, her conviction made her inadmissible to Canada, Halpern says.

Halpern is also handling the case of a teenager from Africa who came to Canada about eight years ago, but is at risk of being removed because of her residency status.

"There is this pattern of kids coming as children, often from war-torn countries, experiencing tons of trauma, ending up in our care system, getting revictimized and bumped around from foster home to foster home, getting involved in drugs or crime, coming out of the care system and quickly getting criminalized and then being flagged for deportation," Halpern says.

People who work on behalf of youth in care say the cases highlight the need for legislation that would make child welfare agencies responsible for making sure they have proper citizenship after they arrive in the country as refugees, with their families or through adoption.

Emily Chan, a lawyer with Justice for Children and Youth in Toronto, said people who were failed in their youth by child welfare agencies or parents are the ones who suffer through no fault of their own.

"It's absolutely a systemic failure and the systemic failure is on the child welfare service provision — they're not protecting the rights of the young people," she said. "It's the provincial child welfare agencies that need to be taking this on as the parent of these children."

It's not clear how many people have been caught up in immigration disputes because their residency status was not dealt with while they were in care, but Chan suspects it is a small number.

Still, she says the consequences can be dire.

She recounts the story of a brother and sister who were adopted from Mexico by a Canadian woman, who later kept the girl but abandoned the little boy. Chan said he was put into care in Ontario and got involved in minor criminal activity. He was convicted of an offence after he had turned 18 and was deported back to Mexico, where he did not know the language or have any connections.

Some provincial children's aid groups are taking steps to make sure that doesn't happen. The Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies has produced a guidebook for social workers ensuring children's citizenship issues are resolved while they are in care.

Sharon Evans, a senior program analyst with the group, said a critical part of that is raising awareness among social workers about young people's immigration status.

"We are now asking whether they are a permanent resident, have no status or are a Canadian citizen," she said. "Especially with the increase in immigration, we know we need to pay attention to this."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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