Jilted Bride Takes Immigration Protest To Parliament

Jilted bride takes immigration protest to Parliament

Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration says marriage fraud investigations take back seat to crime, security

Globe And Mail
April 20, 2009

OTTAWA — Lainie Towell is putting on her white wedding dress on Thursday and heading to Parliament Hill.

In front of what are sure to be befuddled MPs walking into the Centre Block, Ms. Towell will protest her unusual battle with Canada's immigration system in the way that comes most naturally for the Ottawa dancer: performance art.

Ms. Towell is one of a growing number of people going public with their stories of marriage fraud in the immigration system. These are Canadians who married a foreigner only to see their husband or wife leave them within weeks or even days of landing on Canadian soil.

But when these self-described victims alert the federal government to the trick they say has been played on them and the country, they often wait years for their file to be investigated.

Meanwhile, the jilted spouse risks being on the hook financially should the new arrival file for social assistance.

“I think the image itself is going to be extremely powerful,” said Ms. Towell of her protest, during which she intends to strap a heavy red door on her back. She said the door symbolizes the weight she bears for giving her husband entry into Canada.

“I hope that some MP comes forward and recognizes this is a problem,” she said.

There has been little public response from Ottawa on the issue. However, in documents recently filed in Federal Court, the Minister of Citizenship and the Minister for Public Safety state that a nearly two-year wait for a fraud investigation is a “short time period” that is not unreasonable.

The government also says immigration investigators are short of staff, that marriage fraud investigations involve a complicated weighing of both sides in the dispute, and that such cases must take a back seat to those involving alleged criminals or security threats.

Ottawa's position comes in response to a proposed class-action suit on behalf of alleged victims of marriage fraud. The suit aims to force the federal government to investigate allegations of marriage fraud within a reasonable period.

It is based on the case of Saranjeet Singh Benet, a Brampton, Ont., man who says his wife left him just a month after he sponsored her immigration from India. If the court grants the class action status, his lawyer said hundreds of others could join the suit.

An affidavit filed by Ottawa from immigration officer Wendy Seunath states that the office in Mississauga that handles such cases has a staff of just eight officers and four counsellor assistants, yet is responsible for more that 650 files annually.

“I can understand and appreciate Mr. Benet's frustration, impatience and concern,” Ms. Seunath said in her affidavit. “However, Mr. Benet's case is one among many.”

Ms. Towell got her case investigated last year after she went public with her situation. The Canada Border Services Agency supported her view that her husband, a Guinean musician named Fod Mohamed Soumah, entered the marriage in bad faith and lied to immigration officers about the fact that he had a dependent child.

The Immigration and Refugee Board heard the case, ruling that marriage fraud could not be proven but that Mr. Soumah should be deported for lying about his child. Mr. Soumah intends to appeal, arguing he did not lie and that the child is not his.

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said the minister is aware of the issues based on his consultations with various ethnic communities across the country. The spokesman said that beginning in late summer, the government will roll out “a number of initiatives” to address immigration fraud.