After nearly 60 years in Canada, B.C. man faces deportation to the Netherlands
'We're down to our last breath now,' says Len Van Heest who moved to Canada as a baby
At age 59, Len Van Heest is facing deportation to the Netherlands because of a string of crimes he admits he committed. But Van Heest doesn't speak Dutch and doesn't know a soul in the land of his birth.
The Courtenay, B.C., man said his crimes were the result of a severe mental illness he developed as a young man and is appealing to Canadian immigration officials to let him stay.
"Well they've been trying to get me out and we've been fighting it and fighting it and fighting it, and we're down to our last breath now," Van Heest said in an interview with CHEK News.
He's due to be deported March 6.
Van Heest moved to Canada with his parents when he was eight months old but never became a citizen. His mother said it was an oversight.
Long criminal record
As a teenager, Van Heest developed bipolar disorder. He has a long criminal record dating back to his teenage years, including convictions for uttering threats and threats with a weapon.
Van Heest is one of several cases in which immigrants face removal after the previous Conservative government toughened laws regarding the deportation of non-citizen criminals, his lawyer Peter Golden said in an earlier interview with CBC.
Previously, the deportation took effect if a person was sentenced to more than two years. The Conservatives reduced that threshold to six months and removed the right to appeal to the Immigration Appeal Division.
Van Heest's mother, Trixie, said her son has only distant relatives in Holland. His mental illness is under control now, but he has no support system in Holland.
Without her son in Canada, she said, "I wouldn't know what to do."
"I'm 81 years old," she said. "He's all I've got."
Seven years ago, immigration officials caught up with Van Heest and told him he was to be deported.
"I got a big envelope in the mail saying that because of my criminal record I could be deported and they've been hammering at me ever since," he said.
Van Heest has served nine months for assault but said he's in control of his mental illness now and doesn't drink or do drugs.
"I've paid my debt to society for the things I have done, you know. I've done my time. I've paid my debt, and now they're giving me a life sentence" he said.
Green Party leader Elizabeth May is familiar with the case and says Van Heest should be allowed to stay in Canada.
On Thursday, she met briefly with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen to ask both to take a second look at his case. They both agreed, May said.
She said nothing would be served by sending a mentally ill man to a country where he knows no one.
"The injustice of it bothers me enormously," May said in a phone interview. "This is someone who can function well with the support of friends and family.
"And he will have none of that, if we send him to the Netherlands."
Van Heest has a hearing Feb. 28 before a judge who will decide if he will get to make his case to the immigration minister on compassionate and humanitarian grounds.
With files from CHEK TV and Dean Stoltz
- A previous version of this story said Len Van Heest was 60 years old. In fact he is 59.Feb 24, 2017 11:01 AM PT