Karen Talosig heartbroken over 4-year wait to bring deaf daughter to Canada
Advocates speaking on case of Vancouver mom say immigration rules discriminate based on disability
A Filipina woman living in Canada says she's heartbroken that an application she filed four years ago to bring her daughter here is on hold for a medical review, blaming it on the fact her child is deaf.
Karen Talosig was a widow when she came to Canada seven years ago on the Live-in Caregiver Program when her daughter, Jazmine, was six years old. She lives in Vancouver, and is still employed as a nanny, supporting her daughter from overseas.
Talosig, 38, applied for permanent residency in 2010, both for herself and Jazmine, who has been deaf since birth. But their application is now stalled under a medical review, with no sign of a decision.
"It's really hard to be apart from her. It's so frustrating that I've been waiting for this long already," said Talosig.
"It's heartbreaking, to be honest. But I have to deal with it because I came here for her, for her future. It's really, really hard, but I have to be tough for her."
The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act says under the Live-in Caregiver Program, a foreign national cannot be given permanent residency if he or she "might reasonably be expected to cause excessive demand on health or social services."
But Talosig, who currently works three jobs in a 12-hour day and sends $1,000 back to her daughter every month, pledges Jazmine will never be a cost to Canadian taxpayers.
"She is my daughter and I will support her," she said. "I know she's deaf but she's very smart and by the time she's an adult, she'll take care of herself. She won't be a burden at all."
Jazmine, who lives with her grandmother, has already been accepted at a school for the deaf in Burnaby, B.C., based on her marks as an honour student at the school she attends in the Philippines.
'Striving for appropriate balance'
According to Sonia Lesage, a spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), the federal department sent Talosig a request for results of immigration medical exams for her and her daughter in October 2013.
"The results of the medical exams are currently still being assessed, so we can’t speculate on potential results," she said in a statement.
Lesage says due to privacy laws, they cannot provide details of Jazmine's medical exam results, but the CIC is striving to strike a balance.
"Canada’s immigration law strives to find the appropriate balance between those wanting to immigrate to Canada, and the limited medical resources that are paid for by Canadian taxpayers."
Helene Whitfield, one of Talosig's former employers, has tried to help her and Jazmine get permanent residency status. She can't believe the application has been delayed so long.
"I'm absolutely outraged, and I'm sad and I'm frustrated, because Karen effectively gave up raising her child to raise my child," she said.
Whitfield says she would be embarrassed as a Canadian if the application were rejected on these grounds.
"As Canadians we pride ourselves on being advocates for people with challenges, and making disabilities, abilities," she said.
"It wouldn't have even dawned on me that being deaf or being born deaf would be an issue... and it shouldn't be a blanket rejection simply because a person is deaf."
Whitfield describes Jazmine as a normal, sociable 13-year-old girl who goes to school and hangs around with her friends.
“All it is, is adapting differently, and this child demonstrates that she can adapt and function completely normally in society."
Looking beyond someone's disability
Susan Masters, executive director at the Western Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, says Canada signed the UN declaration respecting the rights of people with disabilities, and to possibly reject a deaf girl with a supportive mother is wrong.
"What this says to me is that we are not looking at it as a disability, we are not looking at it as something that we need accommodations for," she said.
Masters says it is a short-sighted approach and Canada could be losing a lot when they don't look beyond a person's disability.
"I'd hate to think if Beethoven came, and asked to be an immigrant, would we deny him because he's gonna cost our system?"
But immigration lawyer Catherine Sas says potential permanent residents do not have the benefit of protection under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"It's heartbreaking," said Sas of Talosig's case. "But realistically it's not surprising. I have lots of applicants like that. It took my own nanny about five years to get her family here."
Sas says any disability has the potential to add an extra cost to the taxpayer. In Jazmine's case, it would be an issue of providing extra education services and calculating the likely cost of those services.
"I wish that we had a softer, gentler kind of world but it doesn't work like that," she said.
"There's only so much we can do, if we have everybody bringing in their family members that have an illness or handicap that we have to cover, that means you have to work a little harder to generate a few more dollars to cover this expense."
Nevertheless, says Sas, there is still hope for Talosig, if she can demonstrate to immigration officials that she will bear any education or social services costs for her daughter.
Everything is decided on a case-by-case basis, she says.
'She's all I have'
"I missed most of her childhood...When she's sick, I want to go home but I can't. Now she's a teenager and she really needs my guidance as her mother."
If Jazmine is refused permanent residency, Talosig's application will be rejected too. However, Talosig says, she will try to stay in Canada so she can continue to support her daughter and give her a future.
Her work permit runs out in August 2015. Nevertheless, she still holds out hope their application for permanent residency will be successful.
"I would ask them to please accept my daughter to come here to Canada, because I believe she wouldn't be a burden for the government at all — and I am here for her. I will support her."
"It hurts me a lot. I just want to hold her, I just want to be with her," she said. "She's all I've got."