Chinese woman barred from mother's grave

The federal government, which barred a grieving daughter in China from coming to British Columbia for her mother's funeral, has since denied her two subsequent requests to visit the gravesite.

'Like a spritual judgment on her,' says Canadian nephew

Jason Ma calls the visa office's refusals of his aunt's applications ridiculous. ((CBC))
The federal government, which barred a grieving daughter in China from coming to British Columbia for her mother's funeral, has since denied her two subsequent requests to visit the gravesite.

Xiu Lan Huang's nephew said her Canadian relatives are baffled and outraged over what they see as an unjustified lack of compassion.

"How is it that they are not able to feel a daughter's pain?" asked her nephew Jason Ma, who lives in Richmond and works as a support analyst for Worksafe BC.

"There is tremendous shame for her not to be able to be at her mother's funeral."

Mother run over by truck

Huang's quest to come to Canada was triggered by tragedy. Her elderly mother, Lai Ai Yu, lived in Vancouver as a new Canadian. Yu was crossing a downtown street in 2003, on her way to get groceries, when she was hit and killed by a delivery truck.

"The truck ran over her and dragged her for half a block," said Ma. "The driver was unlicensed — his licence expired 10 years ago."

Documents show Huang, now 58, asked the Canadian immigration office in Hong Kong for an urgent visa to come to B.C. to bury her mother. The NDP member of Parliament for her mother's riding, Libby Davies, wrote a letter of support — offering her "personal guarantee" that Huang would return home to China after the funeral.

Lai Ai Yu died after she was hit by a delivery truck in Vancouver in 2003. ((CBC))
Huang also submitted documents showing she has a husband, house, car and savings in China.

Ma said the visa office then told her she needed to provide more banking records — showing transactions over a long period — to establish she had sufficient ties in her homeland and would not stay in Canada.

That delay forced his aunt to miss the funeral, he said, which meant she was shirking her obligations as a daughter in her mind and in the eyes of the Chinese community.

"This is almost like a spiritual judgment upon her — not being able to see her mother at life's final departure," said Ma.

Huang applied again, in 2008, to visit the gravesite — and was again denied. She filed a third unsuccessful application this February, again indicating a gravesite visit was the purpose of her visit.

"It means she is not completing her duty to her ancestors, that she would not get the blessings of her mother," said Ma.

"She would be traveling here alone, leaving behind her husband and young grandson who she looks after," he added.

Minister unavailable

Documents submitted by Huang in February state the gravesite visit as the reason for her trip. ((CBC))
CBC News asked to speak to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney about the case — with Huang's written permission — but was told he was unavailable.

Copies of the latest application package indicate Huang submitted financial records, showing she had $15,000 Cdn available for her trip. The package also included records of the family's assets and three letters of invitation, from relatives in B.C.

"I even wrote about our family history," said Ma. "I made sure I dotted 'I's and crossed the 'T's."

"I am not satisfied that you are sufficiently well-established and/or have sufficient ties in your country of residence to motivate your departure from Canada," reads a form letter signed in March by an unnamed visa officer in Beijing.

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"That is absolutely ridiculous," said Ma. "She's of an age where she can't work. She doesn't speak the language. If she stayed in Canada — she would basically be a fugitive, with no means of support."

Ma wrote to the immigration minister in March, asking him to intervene. He received a standard reply from Kenney's office, inviting Huang to apply again if her circumstances change and stating, "a decision is made only after consideration of all factors."

"They didn't even mention the issues behind it, the tragedy behind it," said Ma.

Kenney's spokesman, Alykhan Velshi, wrote to CBC: "We are sympathetic to the difficult circumstances of this case."

He then reiterated the official reason for Huang's rejection, however, adding, "Our government does not believe visa decisions should be politicized."

Velshi also wrote, "Based on the information provided in her two recent visa applications, the purpose of travel was not identified as being to visit the mother's gravesite."

Documents contradict minister

Vancouver immigration lawyer Lawrence Wong suspects visa officers often don't read applications fully. ((CBC))
Copies of several documents submitted with both applications show otherwise. 

"I would like to confirm the purpose of her trip," reads Ma's February letter to the visa office. "[To] visit my grandmother's (her mother's) gravesite and participate in the Qing Ming ceremony to honour my grandmother."

The Qing Ming festival is an annual spring tradition in the Chinese community, where family members gather to tend to the graves of loved ones.

"My aunt suffers greatly having not given rites of adieu to her dear mother," Ma's letter added.

CBC News asked the minister's spokesman to explain why he said that information was not submitted, but got no response. Ma now believes no one in Kenney's office, or in the Beijing visa office, read his aunt's full application.

"We've brought it to the people that should care — and they don't even look at her," he said.

Vancouver immigration lawyer Lawrence Wong said he would not be surprised if the visa officer didn't see any of the paperwork.

"It happens quite often," he said, adding an initial rejection often means subsequent applications are dismissed without review.

Visa applications contracted out

Xiu Lan Huang has applied three times to come to B.C. to visit her mother's grave. ((CBC))
Wong also pointed out, the Canadian government has contracted out the bulk of the visa application process, to a private company, called VFS Global.

"The private company basically follows certain guidelines and makes recommendations," said Wong.

"The actual refusal or approval has to go through a visa officer, but how much input he's going to have — or how much of the file he actually looked at — is anybody's guess."

VFS Global is based in Mumbai. It lists India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Indonesia, China, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda as countries where it handles visa applications for Canada.

Its website states its business is "managing all the administrative and non-judgmental tasks related to the entire lifecycle of a visa application process."

Ma wonders what happened with his aunt's application in that new system.

"We know that the quality of decision-making is directly impacted by the quality of the data transformation, data delivery, and data storage," said Ma.

Conservative Alice Wong is Ma's current MP. As a result of CBC News inquiries, her office manager said he would look into what happened with her application and why the visa officer in Beijing apparently didn't see the supporting documents.

"This experience has embittered me so much. I'm so cynical of everything now," said Ma.