MONTREAL: A French family who immigrated to Montreal after being wooed by a Canadian embassy official in Paris has now been told they must leave the country because their daughter has cerebral palsy and places an “excessive burden on social services.” David Barlagne settled in Montreal with his wife and two daughters in the summer of 2005, hoping to start a computer software business. Barlagne said he had forewarned Canadian authorities that his daughter, Rachel, has cerebral palsy, a congenital neurological disorder that causes lifelong unco–ordinated physical movement and posturing. “I asked whether this would be a problem, and I was told that once my business was established in Canada after a couple of years, I could make a request for permanent residency and that it would simply be a formality,” Barlagne recalled.
Four years later, Barlagne’s business is thriving, and his wife Sophie teaches French to immigrants on a voluntary basis. But Citizenship and Immigration Canada has rejected Barlagne’s request for permanent residency because his seven–year–old daughter Rachel is considered “medically inadmissible.” In a letter dated March 11, 2009, the government stated that because Rachel suffers from what it described as a “global developmental delay,” she “risks giving rise to an excessive burden on social or health services.” Rachel attends a public special–needs school, Ecole Victor–Dore, but has not required any medical attention. She is in need of some rehabilitation services, since she can’t walk or speak, but Barlagne has said he would be willing to pay out of pocket to help his daughter. “She’s just beginning to speak a few words,” he added.
All applicants seeking permanent residency in Canada must pass a medical exam. Barlagne and his wife passed the medical, as did their other daughter, 10–year–old Lara. But Rachel was rejected even though the immigration official who made the final decision never actually met her. “It’s very unfair,” Barlagne said. “What I find particularly unjust is that a representative of the government of Canada had told me: ‘Come to Canada, no problem,’ yet after arriving in Quebec and contributing to society here, we can’t stay anymore. “It’s very stressful,” he added. “Our lives are on standby.” Barlagne is seeking a judicial review in Federal Court of Immigration Canada’s decision. The hearing is scheduled on Feb. 23. If they lose, the family would have to leave the country immediately. And if they were to win, the review would mean that another Immigration Canada adjudicator would have to look over their file ? and not necessarily reverse the earlier decision. Patrice Jourdain, a lawyer who specializes in securities law, has decided to take up Barlagne’s case pro–bono, outraged by what she calls the “cold, heartless” decision by immigration officials.
“There are so many categories of children who come into Canada with learning disabilities that are not identified in the medical exam and who wind up costing the system more,” she said. “This family has the financial means and the will to provide for their daughter to overcome that presumption that she might be perceived as a burden.” The government has estimated that Rachel might cost health and social services up to $5,000 a year more than a so–called normal child, but Jourdain pointed out that Barlagne has spent thousands of dollars in taxes and has built a viable business. Jacqueline Roby, an Immigration Canada spokesperson, declined to comment on Barlagne’s case Tuesday. However, she did say that “such decisions are difficult for our department and are heartbreaking for our staff.” “In general, Canada is hoping that more skilled workers, investors, entrepreneurs and other individuals will immigrate to Canada,” Roby explained in an e–mail. “Nonetheless, it is also the goal of Citizenship and Immigration Canada to maintain an appropriate balance between welcoming new members into Canadian society while protecting our publicly funded health and social services, including the potential impact on waiting lists.”