Toronto

Mother of blind son faces deportation as government denies her refugee claim, accepts his

Sylvia Williams will no longer be able to look after her blind son because she's been issued a deportation order. Immigration Canada rejected her as a refugee but accepted her 31-year-old son.

Sylvia Williams says she has no home, job or family back in Barbados

Sylvia Williams and her son Ramon Williams on the balcony of their Toronto apartment. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

A woman and her adult son with a disability could be separated for the first time in their lives because the federal government accepted his refugee claim and denied hers.

Sylvia Williams, 62, has been the only caregiver to her 31-year-old son Ramon since birth. He is blind and lives with what his mother describes as "developmental issues." They live together in a Toronto apartment.

"Although he's an adult, he really cannot manage personal matters on his own," she said. While he can dress and feed himself, he has trouble with tasks like cooking, cleaning and laundry.

At six months, Ramon had a brain tumour removed at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. He's been blind ever since. They returned to live in Barbados but travelled back and forth between the two countries to visit relatives in Canada. They filed refugee claims in Canada two years ago, saying they faced harassment and discrimination in Barbados.

If her appeal of the decision is thrown out in court, Sylvia can be deported at any time, according to Toronto immigration lawyer Guidy Mamann.

'We're losing sleep'

According to the Williamses, Ramon faced threats and discrimination because of his disability. There are also few resources and services for people with disabilities there. Sylvia said she was escaping an abusive relationship and harassment from her neighbours over a land dispute. 

The refugee board accepted Ramon and rejected Sylvia, saying she could not prove she faced a "forward-facing risk."

"Every night we're losing sleep over this," said Ramon. "My mother is the only person I know."

Her subsequent appeal was again rejected in early 2019. She has since filed for a judicial review of that decision. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada would not comment because the case is before the courts.

"I saw Canada as a humane country where the administration would have been more lenient," Sylvia said. 

Sylvia and Ramon say they applied for refugee status to escape harassment and discrimination in Barbados. (Submitted by Sylvia Williams)

Deported at any time

In another attempt to stay with her son, Sylvia applied to remain in the country on humanitarian grounds. But her humanitarian claim can't be considered until at least a year after her judicial review wraps up, under new rules brought in by the federal government in its spring budget. Mamann said she is likely to be removed before that one-year period expires.

It's a rule that is "arbitrary" and "Kafkaesque," he said.

"It's ridiculous to say, 'I recognize if you go home to your country, your child is going to remain in Canada and have no one to look after him. We're just going to send you home because you haven't waited one year,'" he said. 

Mamann said Sylvia could have applied for humanitarian consideration instead of a refugee claim, but not both at the same time. He said the average person would not be able to understand the distinctions between the two streams.

Sylvia has been her son's primary caregiver since he was born. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

"[Someone] who isn't living in the life of the immigration laws every single day would never be able to figure out the right thing to do," he said. 

According to Mamann, the refugee route is often a first choice for several reasons. Refugee claims, he said, are free, typically take under two years, and claimants can get work permits and health care.

Humanitarian claims, by contrast, cost $550 per claim plus $490 for the right of landing to become a permanent resident. There's no definite timeline and claimants get no benefits.

In the meantime, Sylvia said her five siblings in Canada have kept their distance since she's faced deportation. 

"They don't want to have much to do with us." 

And every day, she fears that phone call saying she has to return. 

"I've lost my property [in Barbados], I have no job there, so I'll be on the streets." 

About the Author

Lisa Xing is a journalist by trade and a historian by degree. She's also a creative writer, photographer and traveller, dabbling in camping, canoeing and crafting. Email Lisa.Xing@cbc.ca.

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