B.C. man deported from Canada over criminal record wins new chance at residency application

A B.C. man who was deported to the Netherlands after spending virtually his entire life in Canada has won a fresh review of his permanent residency application — a victory his lawyer says brings him some hope about the possibility of returning home.

Len Van Heest was deported to the Netherlands in March 2017 following string of criminal convictions

Len Van Heest, right, of Courtenay, B.C., was deported to the Netherlands in 2017 after a string of criminal convictions for uttering threats, mischief and assault that his lawyer says were linked to his mental illness. (CHEK News)

A B.C. man who was deported to the Netherlands after spending virtually his entire life in Canada has won a fresh review of his permanent residency application.

Len Van Heest, who lived in Courtenay, B.C., was deported from Vancouver to Amsterdam on March 6, 2017, over a list of criminal convictions for uttering threats, assault and mischief. His lawyers contended the offences were directly related to his mental illness.

Van Heest, then 59, hadn't lived in his birth country since he was a baby. He didn't speak Dutch and didn't know his relatives there.

After he arrived in Europe, a second application for permanent residency on humanitarian and compassionate grounds went to an immigration officer for consideration.

That officer rejected Van Heest's application. On Feb. 7, a federal court judge tasked with reviewing that rejection said he couldn't figure out how the officer came to his decision.

It means Van Heest's application must get second chance with a different immigration officer.

Lengthy criminal record

Van Heest's parents moved their family to Canada from the Netherlands when their son was seven months old. They applied for their own citizenship, but never got Van Heest's in what his mother described as an "oversight." 

He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 16 and later racked up more than 40 criminal convictions, the last in 2012. 

Van Heest fought his deportation in court for years before losing his last-ditch attempt at a stay a week before he was ultimately flown to Amsterdam.

Darcy Golden, Van Heest's lawyer, said her client has been living in a Salvation Army shelter since he left Canada.

He was able to move forward with a second, permanent residency application after his deportation because of a Supreme Court of Canada decision handed down last summer. The case clarified the test immigration officers must use when deciding on humanitarian and compassionate applications.

Golden said the new version of the test means an officer must now decide whether or not an applicant's circumstances would make any reasonable person feel compelled to help "relieve the misfortunes" of that person.

Golden said Federal Court Justice Yvan Roy couldn't see how the immigration officer, keeping that test in mind, came to a "negative" decision about Van Heest's application.

Justice Roy also said he expected more out of the immigration officer, writing that "one would expect a more careful and nuanced examination of the extremely peculiar circumstances of this case."

In light of Justice Roy's decision, Van Heest's application will be returned for a different officer to review.

Golden said that's a win for her client, and perhaps others.

"It keeps an option alive for Mr. Van Heest to return to Canada," she said. "And, it could assist other people ... who are long-term permanent residents of Canada who are in vulnerable situations and are facing deportation."

Others disagree. Sergio Karas, vice-chair of the Ontario Bar Association's immigration section, said Van Heest had been previously shown leniency for his crimes. 

"He's been given chances before," Karas previously told CBC.