A Canadian who was briefly married to a woman from Ukraine can't understand why she is still here — and collecting support from him — when she has no legal right to stay in Canada.

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"Why is she still here?" Michael Volik asked about his estranged wife, Olexandra Lisovska. "Immigration made a decision. I am not responsible for her.… She must leave."

Volik, 56, is a Victoria resident who works for the coast guard. He met Lisovska in 2007, through a Russian dating site.

She worked in Ukraine as a media and public relations specialist, and Volik went to Ukraine and arranged a visitor's visa for her. Shortly after bringing her here and marrying her, he concluded she had simply used him as a ticket to get to Canada.

"She say all the time, 'I want to live as I want.' Like a roommate — as a single woman," Volik said. "I say to her, 'We should live together like a family. If not, sorry.'"

In May 2008, he filed for divorce and paid his wife $24,000 — what he considered a full settlement — for money she brought from Ukraine to put toward their home purchase.

Wife has no right to stay

He informed Citizenship and Immigration Canada that his short marriage was ending. CIC then cancelled his application to sponsor Lisovska and, at that point, she had no legal right to remain in Canada.

A CIC spokesperson told CBC News, "If the person who was being sponsored is inside Canada, they are expected to leave unless they have and maintain their temporary status in Canada."

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Olexandra Lisovska, seen at right entering the Victoria courthouse with her lawyer, is trying to get half of Michael Volik's assets, plus ongoing spousal support. ((CBC))

But more than two years later, Lisovska, 48, is still here. She is fighting in B.C. Supreme Court to try to get half of Volik's assets. The divorce case first went to court in 2008, but has been drawn out and delayed several times by legal wrangling.

"They only push me down, because she have lawyers [one for immigration, another for family court]," said Volik. "I do not have lawyer now. I can't afford it."

Because Lisovska has no steady means of support in Canada, the court ordered Volik in February to pay her $1,200 a month in spousal support. His take-home pay is $1,271 every two weeks.

Support equals half his pay

"$1,200 a month!" said Volik. "More money than I have in my pocket. I have an absolutely terrible situation. My debt now is $65,000 — two years' wages — because of this."

Volik said he owes several thousand dollars in legal fees. And because he is in arrears on support payments, B.C.'s family maintenance enforcement office has put a lien on his house.

Lisovska testified in court last week that she gets occasional restaurant work and is looking for a full-time job. She said she has no medical coverage and her immigration lawyer is trying to find a way to help her stay in Canada, but "no decision has been made yet."

Outside court, she declined to speak to CBC News about the case. Her divorce lawyer indicated publicity could cause serious repercussions for his client with immigration officials.

Responding to this story, her immigration lawyer David Aujla said in a statement, "During her time in Canada, Olexandra has made all the appropriate applications to maintain her temporary status in Canada. CIC has properly allowed Olexandra extensions to her status." 

"With the assistance of legal counsel, she is examining a number of immigration paths available to her to remain in Canada."

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Volik, second from left, and Lisovska, third from left, married in 2007, shortly after he brought her to Canada on a visitor's visa.

Volik can't understand why the courts are helping his estranged wife stay here when she could support herself back in Ukraine.

"One law say I am not responsible for her and other law say I should support her. She should leave the country and start a regular immigration application — as it should be," he said.

"A visitor has no right to be in Canada and can be asked to depart immediately," said Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland.

Lawyer cites gap in system

Kurland said he often sees cases where foreign nationals — with no real case for staying in Canada — will nevertheless delay leaving as long as possible. He said this case is particularly sad because it is using up valuable court time and causing hardship for a Canadian.

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"When you are wasting provincial [family court] money or creating havoc in a Canadian person's life and you have no status here — and there's no real humanitarian application that will cling you to Canadian soil — you have to go," said Kurland. "And if you don't go voluntarily, someone has to force you out."

"Our system has a gap in it," he added. "There's no followup, or little of it, and foreign nationals are asked to leave.… There's no one knocking at the door."

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney insisted the problem is with the courts, not the government.

Minister blames legal system

"People who are out of immigration status in Canada are subject to removal," said Kenney. "But, often what they will do is use every legal trick in the book to make appeals and risk assessments. We have a very, very generous legal system that sometimes makes it very difficult to remove even dangerous criminals."

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Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says his government is working on ways to crack down on marriages of convenience. ((CBC))

Kenney said his government is consulting with the public on how to stem the tide of marriages of convenience. His department said it has received 1,200 submissions so far through its online consultations.

"We are looking at measures to help us crack down on fake marriages and marriages of convenience. We are looking at temporary status — once people have arrived as a sponsored spouse — to make sure the marriage is bona fide," said Kenney.

That would not have helped Volik, however, since his estranged wife was given only temporary status but still has not left the country since their separation. He wrote to Kenney's office in March of this year about his case, but has received no response.

"Well, look, we get complaints about Canadians who turn out to be bogus, fraudulent spouses all the time," said Kenney. "We tell [the complainants] to bring evidence … to the Canada Border Services Agency and it's then up to them as a law enforcement agency to enforce the law."

"I'm ashamed to be Canadian now," said Volik, while holding back tears. "I have lost everything. At first it was my mistake, but everybody can make a mistake. It should not collapse your life."

Volik is awaiting a final decision from the judge on spousal support and division of assets after a divorce is made final. And he hopes the case will now get the attention of the Canada Border Services Agency.

Corrections

  • In a previous version of this story, it was reported that immigration lawyer David Aujla indicated publicity could cause serious repercussions for his client with immigration officials. In fact, the statement was misattributed and came from Olexandra Lisovska's divorce lawyer.
    Oct 24, 2010 6:30 PM ET