Juan Ariza and Teresa Fulton are bound by tragedy.
Mr. Ariza is one of three temporary foreign workers who survived a horrendous van crash that killed 11 people, including Ms. Fulton's husband, in the southern Ontario hamlet of Hampstead 10 months ago. The 36-year-old Peruvian farm worker had locked eyes with Chris Fulton just before the truck driver swerved his big rig, sparing Mr. Ariza's life.
Now, Ms. Fulton is trying to help Mr. Ariza gain the precious thing she lost: time with a spouse. Mr. Ariza wants to travel to Peru to visit his ailing wife, who was rushed to a hospital about three weeks ago when a fluid-filled cyst began pressing against her spinal cord, causing her to lose feeling in her arms.
But he is worried the federal government will not allow him to return to Canada if he leaves London, Ont., where he is still receiving treatment for the physical and mental trauma he suffered in one of Ontario's deadliest road crashes. Mr. Ariza's work permit and visa expire on Jan. 31. Mr. Ariza, who has a seven-year-old son, wants to remain in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
Ms. Fulton is advocating for his cause. "He left his family, his culture, his language, everything to provide for his family," Ms. Fulton said on Thursday in one of the few interviews she has given since the Feb. 6 tragedy. "As Canadians, I think we owe it to Juan to do everything we can. If he goes back to Peru and they don't let him back into Canada, he will not get even 50 per cent of the care that he gets here."
Citizenship and Immigration Canada spokesman Philippe Couvrette said the department extends its sympathies to Mr. Ariza and his wife and wishes them well in recovery, but it cannot discuss his bid to remain in the country without consent from Mr. Ariza. Mr. Couvrette noted in an e-mail that temporary foreign labourers who need to leave Canada can return to work as long as they have a valid passport and work permit. If migrant workers have applied for an extension to their temporary status and an emergency surfaces before they get a new permit, they can leave Canada and come back. However, they may be granted only visitor status until a decision on their extension is made.
The other crash survivors also want to remain in Canada.
Javier Alba Medina, who suffered a fractured pelvis and ribs and bruised lungs, is also recovering in London. His visa expires in February, 2014. Edgar Sulla Puma, 27, suffered serious brain injuries and is in a Hamilton hospital's rehabilitation centre. The provincial Workplace Safety and Insurance Board is covering the cost of their medical care and providing wage-loss benefits. A spokeswoman for the employer-funded insurance agency said she can't discuss individual cases for privacy reasons.
The care home where Mr. Ariza and Mr. Alba are staying is only a few blocks from Ms. Fulton's London home. She has visited the pair several times, bringing them fresh raspberries from her garden on one trip.
The visits are important to her, but they're also hard. The pain of losing her husband on their 11th wedding anniversary is still deep. A police investigation determined that the van carrying the migrant farm workers failed to yield for Mr. Fulton's transport truck.
"It was like a war zone that night," Ms. Fulton said of the wreckage and carnage.
Mr. Ariza's physical injuries are slowly healing. He had broken his hand and ribs and smashed a leg, but he can walk again with the aid of a cane. He is grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder, Ms. Fulton noted.
Ron Burdock, director of global outreach with the North Park Community Church in London, visited Mr. Ariza on Thursday. He said the Peruvian has not been able to talk much with his wife since she was put in hospital. She's had surgery on her spinal cord and recovery could take two to six months.
"They're hoping that the feeling will return to her hands, but it's hard to tell right now," Mr. Burdock said.
Mr. Ariza, who is learning English, said he's worried about his wife and scared for his young son, Flavio. With no family nearby, his son is home alone in Peru, being checked on by neighbours. If Mr. Ariza is allowed to stay in Canada, he hopes to bring his wife and son here.
"I want to make sure he has a future," Mr. Ariza said in Spanish. "I'd like him to have a better life, one different from mine. With family."