Calgary woman says she was tricked into marriage of convenience
Immigration lawyer says sponsorship program needs changes to prevent similar situations
Hilwea Sleiman says she never thought she would become one of those women who got duped by a man from back home, but the 24-year-old Calgarian says love clouded her judgment.
Sleiman and Omar Hendous had been legally married in Lebanon, allowing Sleiman, a Canadian citizen, to sponsor Hendous to come to Canada as a permanent resident.
The woman said she started getting a funny feeling three days after the love of her life arrived in Calgary from Lebanon.
- MORE ALBERTA NEWS | Dash cam captures dangerous lane splitting on QE2 highway
- MORE ALBERTA NEWS | Elaborate tunnel full of stolen goods discovered in Calgary man's backyard
- MORE ALBERTA NEWS | Banff Bear 122 unafraid of railways, even after being hit by train
She says Hendous wouldn't unpack his bags and then took off to Edmonton to see his brother.
"I was hoping I was wrong," Sleiman tells CBC News. "That he wasn't just here to be in the land of opportunity."
Sleiman says she gave Hendous the benefit of the doubt.
But when he returned to pick up his suitcases and look for permanent work in Edmonton, she felt she'd been had.
"I was one of the girls that used to say, 'Oh my God, I am never going to marry anyone from back home because they all want my green card, right?' That's every girl you might talk to, is going to say that.
"And then I don't know what changed my mind. I trusted him — I trusted him a lot. He seemed different."
Hendous denies the allegations.
His lawyer, Eric Shawar, says Sleiman was the one who changed her mind after Hendous arrived in January 2015.
"There was a legitimate marriage between them and ... he's trying to work things out with her," Shawar said.
"What I think is going on here, is that she is just trying to escape her responsibilities as a sponsor."
Sleiman says the two met in Lebanon in 2011 while she was there attending a cousin's wedding. Their relationship continued to grow while they were living apart and by 2014 they decided to get married.
She returned to Lebanon, where according to cultural traditions, marriage is at least a two-step process.
The first part — a Nikah Kitab or Katb Al-Kitab — is a marriage contract, meaning Sleiman and Hendous were legally married.
The second part of the wedding and the consummation of the relationship was to happen in Calgary once he arrived, but Sleiman says Hendous left town before that happened.
Hoping to make an example
Now she's seeking an annulment, and what she calls justice.
"I'm hoping if he gets deported back, he would be an example for every guy or girl back home who thinks of doing this."
The federal government's sponsorship program has a two-year conditional period. The law states a couple must live together for two years or the sponsored spouse's status could be revoked.
But Citizenship and Immigration Canada relies on complaints to launch an investigation.
Sleiman says she filed a complaint in March 2015 and received a file number but has not heard back from the department.
The Liberal government is considering removing the two-year probationary period.
Immigration lawyer Michael Greene says he's heard many similar stories, and it's been happening since the sponsorship program began. But he believes there may be a way to help prevent it from happening in the future.
"If Canada were to take the position 'You are not coming here until we see the second ceremony,' then people wouldn't be able to get out of it so easily," Greene says.
Greene says if Sleiman receives an annulment, Hendous could face deportation.
But Hendous's lawyer plans to fight the accusations in court. He's already filed a statement of defence.
"We are saying the marriage did exist, they consummated the marriage, but obviously she is doing this to get [him] out of Canada," says Shawar.
Sleiman says she knows of two other women this has happened to, but who were too embarrassed to fight, so she's speaking out to warn others about the dangers of falling in love with someone from back home.