British Columbia

B.C. man with criminal record faces deportation

A 58-year-old man who came to Canada as an infant faces deportation to the Netherlands for committing a string of crimes, which his lawyer says stemmed from mental illness.

'He's very scared,' lawyer says of 58 year old Len Van Heest, who has bipolar disorder

The previous Conservative government tightened the rules concerning the deportation on non-citizen criminals. (CBC)

A 58-year-old man faces deportation from Canada to the Netherlands — a country he left as an infant —  for committing a string of crimes, which his lawyer says stemmed from mental illness.

Len Van Heest, who has bipolar disorder, was scheduled to be deported Dec. 19, but last Friday his lawyer, Peter Golden won a stay. Van Heest is now in custody.

He grew up in Courtenay B.C., on Vancouver Island, where his parents immigrated when he was an eight-month-old baby. His parents, who moved from the Netherlands, became citizens, but for some reason Van Heest did not.

On Wednesday, Golden will return to Federal Court to ask for a stay of the deportation order. If denied, the Canada Border Services Agency could ask that Van Heest be deported immediately.

Golden said his client is frightened and doesn't know anyone in the Netherlands.

'Very scared'

"He's lived in a small town in British Columbia almost his entire life," Golden said. "He's very scared. His 81-year-old mother he refers to as his rock. She relies upon him to do things for her."

Van Heest was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he was 16. He has a long criminal record dating back to his teenage years, including convictions for uttering threats and threats with a weapon, Golden said.

The lawyer said 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.

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.

Golden said that change was overly harsh, allowing Canada to foist our problem residents on other countries. The lawyer conceded that his client has a long criminal record, but argued that he has never hurt anyone. 

Not a Canadian citizen

He doesn't know why Van Heest did not become a citizen, but suspects his parents simply forgot.

"This fellow is only not a citizen in a very narrow technical sense because someone didn't do what they ought to have done."

​However, an immigration expert, said Van Heest's crimes are serious, and he has stopped treatment for his mental illness.

Sergio Karas, vice-chair of the Ontario Bar Association's immigration section, said Van Heest has been granted previous stays for deportation, but continues to commit crimes. "He's been given chances before," Karas said.

On top of his many convctions, Karas says he has 32 pending police complaints.

"He's a recidivist," Karas said. "He has a criminal career basically."

In 2011, Canada deported a 52-year-old Jamaican man who had immigrated as a teenager and committed crimes related to his schizophrenia, drawing criticism from a United Nations committee.

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