An 82-year-old B.C. pensioner is on the hook to the government for $25,000, after marrying a Russian woman who left him the day after she got permanent resident status in Canada.
"Several times I thought I will have a nervous breakdown over this," said Heinz Munz, of Black Creek.
Munz said he believes his now ex-wife used him, with the help of her daughter, to get legal status in Canada. He is going public because the B.C. government is now forcing him to pay for social assistance she collected after she left.
"When she applied for assistance, they should have told me," said Munz. "They never did."
The first bill he received was for $24,899.34. He paid an initial lump sum, but still owes almost $17,000. He lives on a monthly pension income of $1,600 and owns a home.
"The warning was — if I don’t pay — they will go after my property," said Munz, who is now making monthly payments of $500. "I was scared they would go after my property."
Under federal rules, any Canadian who marries and sponsors a foreigner is legally responsible for supporting them for three years after their spouse gets permanent residency.
If they collect social assistance in that period, the sponsor must pay it back, even if they get divorced in the interim.
"I've been stuck with that," said Munz. "But then, how come they cannot take her permanent citizen status away?"
Met through the internet
Munz said he was a lonely widower when he met Polina Telyuk on an internet dating site in 2007. She is 10 years younger than he is. At the time, Telyuk was in the country on a temporary visa, visiting her Canadian daughter, who also lives in B.C.
Documents show, her daughter had applied to sponsor her mother to come to Canada. That process takes years, though, and it’s likely Telyuk would have had to go back to Russia to wait it out.
After a whirlwind courtship, her daughter Elena Sinenko urged Munz to marry her mother instead.
"It is very difficult…to know that [Telyuk] will not receive extension for visa…to go back to Siberia when you want to build a new relationship," Sinenko said in a 2007 email to Munz.
"I think she was waiting that you propose to her…everything depends on your decision."
Soon afterward, Munz married Telyuk and sponsored her to become a Canadian, a process that is faster for spouses than other relatives. He said everything seemed fine, until his wife got her permanent residency papers.
"There was no suspicion. She was so nice you wouldn’t believe it," said Munz.
He said she refused to let him put her new documents in a safe place, as the immigration officer had advised. The next day, her daughter picked her up and she was gone.
Left for good
"Laughing and talking in Russian…she left by taxi," he said. He said he complained to the RCMP and the immigration department, claiming he’d been had, but heard nothing back.
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After he got a divorce, he received the surprise bill from the province.
Outside her home in Richmond, Telyuk’s daughter refused to allow Go Public to talk to her mother. She also couldn't explain why Telyuk collected assistance or why she didn’t help support her mother, instead of leaving Munz on the hook.
"I don’t know what to say," Sinenko told Go Public.
The Canada Border Services Agency said it received more than 300 "leads" since 2008 about cases like this, alleging marriage and immigration fraud. However, it said only six people were charged and a handful of others deported.
"A lead doesn’t necessarily result in a criminal investigation being launched," wrote CBSA spokesperson Luc Nadon.
"Reasons for not launching a criminal investigation include an assessment that there is little likelihood of obtaining sufficient evidence to launch a prosecution."
The immigration minister said often complaints like Munz’s aren’t pursued very far, because it’s too hard to prove the sponsored spouse didn’t intend to stay married when they tied the knot.
"It’s really hard for us to get successful convictions in the courts on those cases," Jason Kenney told Go Public.
"I encourage this gentleman to make his complaint – let the CBSA do its investigation – but to be honest I wouldn’t get his hopes up too high that we would be able to get a successful conviction in the courts."
New rules coming
Kenney said the rules will soon change, so spouses like Telyuk will have to live with their spouses for at least two years after getting residency. During that time, their status in Canada will be conditional.
"If it’s clear that they didn’t come in a marriage relationship and they are just scamming the system we will not give them permanent residency and this will make it a lot easier for us to remove those people from Canada when they were just scamming the system."
A legal expert in this type of case said the province can and should forgive Munz’s bill for his ex-wife's social assistance.
"They do have the discretion to forgive a default…and they need to review the personal circumstances of Heinz in this matter," said Ottawa lawyer Warren Creates, who thinks the CBSA should now look at how and when Telyuk left her husband.
"The investigation, I think, should go a little deeper with this and look at the motives and the actions of the daughter as well," he said.
B.C.'s ministry of social development indicated the province won't do anything unless the feds do.
"The debt is valid until the Ministry of Social Development is advised by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) that the 'undertaking' is not valid," wrote spokesperson Grant Kerr.
"If marriage fraud is confirmed by CIC, and the sponsorship undertaking is overturned by the federal government, the Ministry will refund any payments made by the sponsor and any outstanding debt would be extinguished as the debt would no longer be valid."
Munz said that leaves him going around in circles, with no hope anyone will do anything to help.
"No justice for me. None whatsoever," said Munz. "Can you imagine? And I tried everything possible. Not even an answer. Not even a reply [from Immigration]
. That makes me mad."