The last time Velaine Anis saw her two daughters in Haiti, she had spent two weeks living in terror as her husband was hunted by his political opponents and her cousin had been killed trying to protect her.
In October, 2015, she fled to Canada, leaving her daughters behind with her sister. She was granted permanent residency status in 2019 on humanitarian grounds and applied in early 2020 to have her daughters join her as permanent residents.
But bureaucratic delays and the pandemic have meant the process has ground to a halt. Meanwhile, her daughters’ living situation has become precarious. Her sister can no longer care for them and the 11-year-old and nine-year-old are currently in the care of a babysitter.
Her eldest daughter received the request to submit her passport for permanent residency only last week, but there has been no update on the application for her younger child. Ms. Anis and her lawyer are asking a court to compel Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino to make a decision on the children’s fate.
“I’m scared. In Haiti, there are a lot of things happening now. Bad guys can just get in the house and do anything they want,” Ms. Anis said in an emotional interview. “Last time I spoke with my elder daughter, she told me that she [babysitter] left them and was outside the house for a couple hours.”
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada did not respond to The Globe and Mail’s request for comment on Ms. Anis’s case.
Ms. Anis tearfully recalled the day when a group of men followed her to her house looking for her husband, Oct. 13, 2015.
“‘Where is your husband? Tell me,’ they kept asking. I said, ‘I don’t know,’” she said. “They said, ‘You are lying,’ and they pushed and slapped me. When my cousin tried to defend me, they killed him.”
The incident wasn’t the first time she had been threatened. The same group had frequented her food business seeking answers, and on one occasion even burned down her warehouse.
“I knew where my husband was. He used to visit, but very quickly go back to hiding. He used to say, ‘I cannot [do this] anymore,’ but we couldn’t go to the police. That’s when I realized I had to come to Canada,” Ms. Anis said.
Two weeks later, the 38-year-old fled to Canada, for which she had a visitor’s visa and had travelled to on business in the past, leaving her two daughters in her sister’s custody. Days later, her sister told Ms. Anis that her husband had been murdered.
With her sister no longer able to care for her daughters, Ms. Anis is concerned the worker she hired to look after her daughters is not able to provide adequate care.
For the first time since she fled, Ms. Anis returned to Haiti for a month in December, 2020, after receiving her permanent residency in Canada. She expected her application for her daughters to become permanent residents – in the works since early 2020 – would be processed by now, but the pandemic has slowed things down.
The Canadian government has warned against any non-essential travel to Haiti. Armed gangs, kidnappings and the inability of police to crack down on criminal activity has led to violence, including some instances of kidnapped hostages being killed, Global Affairs Canada notes on its website.
Vancouver immigration and refugee lawyer Laura Best, who represents Ms. Anis, said it is unacceptable that Immigration Canada has not addressed Ms. Anis’s outstanding permanent residency application for her daughters after more than a year, and will not even respond to questions about the process.
“[The children] were examined as part of Velaine’s application for permanent residence. Immigration already has their medical exam results; they already have their IDs. They know the full length of their relationship … so that application should go very quickly,” Ms. Best said.
“I don’t understand why minor children overseas in an unsafe environment who have already been examined by Immigration are not moving up to the front of the line,” she added. “There’s no humanity [or] logic in it.”
Since Ms. Anis’ younger child is not her biological daughter and hasn’t been legally adopted, Ms. Anis is requesting an exemption to allow her to arrive in Canada, where they can begin the legal adoption process. The costs of international adoption can be approximately $30,000 and take up to five years to process, Ms. Best said.
“This is a unique situation where her biological parents have totally relinquished any sort of responsibility, and Velaine has been her de facto parent for almost her entire life,” Ms. Best said. “One of the core principles of Canadian immigration law is that it’s to be administered in the best interest of the child. It is not in her best interest to live alone in an apartment in Haiti with no one to care for her.”
Ms. Best has taken the matter to Federal Court, where she has applied for a mandamus application, a legal manoeuvre asking the court to order the Immigration department to make a decision, though the application doesn’t dictate what the decision should be.
“It’s a ton of paperwork, time and effort to get a decision which basically says that Immigration needs to do the job that they’ve been assigned. It’s very frustrating that that is the recourse that someone would have to do in order to bring their children to Canada,” Ms. Best said.
“We’re seeing as lawyers [that] there’s a gap between the press releases from Immigration and what our clients are actually experiencing … the reality on the ground is that I haven’t been able to get in touch with the real person [working on the case] for more than a year on this file,” she added, noting that she has observed “massive delays” in processing times for permanent-residency applications.
“Our hope is that by filing in Federal Court ... it can be decided as soon as possible.”
In the meantime, Ms. Anis is left with having to chat with her daughters over long calls on WhatsApp while fearing for their safety amid the ongoing violence in Haiti.
“Very recently, a five-year-old was kidnapped and her parents couldn’t raise the money to give the kidnappers – so they killed the child,” she said. “My daughters are in danger there.”
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