Bhavna Bajaj, 30, and Aman Sood, 29, are permanent residents who will qualify for Canadian citizenship in a year. They have been separated from their son, Daksh, for almost two years, and, as the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act stands now, the little boy has no chance of ever being admitted to this country.
The couple made the key mistake of not indicating prior to leaving for Canada — after being accepted as permanent residents under the skilled workers category — that they had become parents while their application was being processed.
Here’s what happened:
The couple applied for permanent residency in 2011. The mother was pregnant. Three earlier pregnancies had ended in miscarriages.
It wasn’t until January 2013 that they heard from the Canadian government that they’d been accepted as permanent residents.
By then, they had a new son.
Bajaj and Sood say they told their independent online immigration consultant about their son, but that they were assured they could apply for his sponsorship once they got to this country themselves.
They flew to Canada about two weeks after being accepted, with the plan to pick up their permanent residency cards, file sponsorship papers for their son and bring him to Canada once they found a home.
The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act requires family sponsors to name dependent children so they can undergo medical examinations before the sponsors can be approved as permanent residents. So, when they revealed their plans after landing in Montreal on Jan. 28, 2013, they were accused by a Canada Border Services Agency officer of trying to circumvent the rules by not revealing earlier that they had a child while they were still in India.
The way the couple describe their treatment by the CBSA at Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport in Montreal sounds outrageous.
The couple allege that the first CBSA officer mocked them as being illiterate when they said they had used the services of an immigration consultant to help them navigate the major move. Over the next five hours, they were questioned by various CBSA staff, they say. Their bags were searched several times — perhaps for documents of their son, they think.
They say they were reduced to tears by the ordeal. When they said they didn’t think they had done anything wrong, CBSA officers threatened to have them sent back to India, they contend.
So they wouldn’t be turned back, they say, they agreed to write and sign a Citizenship and Immigration declaration form that they would never attempt to sponsor Daksh as a permanent resident to Canada. Bajaj says she rewrote the declaration about 10 times because the first CBSA officer kept saying she wasn’t satisfied. “Write this!” she recalls being told. “My hands were shaking.”
Citizenship and Immigration says “applicants are asked to sign that type of declaration in some cases. The declaration ensures that the applicant is aware and understands that a family member who has not been included in their original application for permanent residence cannot be sponsored as Family Class applicants at a later date, if they are granted permanent residence at that specific time.”
It also says its policy requiring applicants to disclose all family members in their application before landing in Canada helps prevent immigration fraud and child trafficking.
The CBSA adds that “all allegations of improper behaviour by CBSA employees are taken very seriously and are thoroughly investigated and acted upon accordingly.” It says complaints should be made in writing to the agency — soemething the couple did not do.
It also says its officers “are expected to enforce the regulations in a professional, courteous and respectful manner.”
The parents say they were made to feel like “criminals.” The say they agreed to the document under duress, but did not believe the nightmare they were being put through could last.
An appeal to allow Daksh to be reunited with his parents was rejected by an Immigration officer. The officer wrote the case was not strong enough to grant an exemption on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Then, this month, the Federal Court said it would not review the case. It did not give any reasons for its decision.
Daksh continues to live with his paternal grandparents in the town of Shimla, situated in the Himalayas of northern India. Bajaj visited her son for the month of September. She brought two suitcases, both brimming with clothes and toys. She knew Daksh would not recognize but, she says, “He knows who I am, now.”
Rezaur Rahman, their Ottawa immigration lawyer, says the only way at this point for Daksh to be reunited with his parents would be for Alexander — whose office did not return calls to the Citizen this week — to intervene and declare the boy admissible as a permanent resident.
“Every day, we just cry,” says Bajaj, a master’s biotechnology graduate who is joining Gamma-Dynacare Medical Laboratories in January after working for a Target store in Ottawa for several months. “We have been struggling for two years,” says Sood, who works for a car-rental company but has earned his licence to drive transport trucks.
They had envisioned a better life in this country, and they still have plans to eventually own a home and for Sood to buy “my own rig.” But with possibility of having to return to India if their son isn’t allowed into Canada, everything is on hold.
Rahman says Bajaj and Sood are obviously of good standing, or they would not have been allowed into the country. Though he says parents being separated from their children is not a unique problem under the rules of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, Immigration officers seem to be using their discretionary powers arbitrarily when admitting family members on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Rahman says he is baffled that no one in authority has been convinced of the need to reunite a young boy with his parents.
One major objective of the act, “is to see that families are reunited in Canada.” In his clients’ case, Rahman says the government is acting against one of its own immigration principles.
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