Karissa Warkentin calls it the “best Christmas present ever.”
The Manitoba mother of five said she learned Tuesday that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has reversed its decision and approved the family’s application for permanent residency.
“We’re still kind of in shock – a little bit of disbelief. Like, are you sure this is it?” she told Global News.
Karissa and Jon Warkentin received national attention following a Global News investigation that exposed serious problems with the way Immigration Canada handles permanent residency applications for persons with disabilities.
The couple’s six-year-old daughter, Karalynn, was diagnosed with epilepsy a little more than a year after the family moved from Colorado to Canada to fulfill a life-long dream of running a hunting and fishing lodge they’d purchased.
Despite having invested more than $600,000 in the rural community of Waterhen, Man. — population 142 — and having the full support of their local school board, municipal council and the province, the family’s application for permanent residency was initially denied. The federal government said the cost of caring for Karalynn’s medical conditions would place “excessive demand” on Canada’s publicly funded health and social services.
But after a Global News profile of the family revealed potential problems with the government’s decision, Immigration Canada decided to reopen their case. The family was then allowed to submit new documents to the government — evidence that eventually led officials to reverse their decision.
“It feels like they are acknowledging that she has value — whether she was born perfect or not. They’re recognizing that their policy is probably pretty outdated and that people that are born with disabilities have just as much to offer as those that are born without,” Karissa said.
“As parents, you’re always questioning yourself — was there something I did wrong? Did I eat the wrong food, was I too stressed when I was pregnant?” she said. “And when an outside source questions your motives — your value as a human being and your child’s value – it can really start to cause some self-doubt.”
WATCH: Mother in disbelief family could be sent home by Immigration Canada (July 2017)
The family’s attorney, Alastair Clarke, said support from their local community and sustained media attention were two of the biggest factors leading to the government’s complete 180.
“I agree with the Warkentin family that, to a certain extent, this decision means they have been vindicated,” Clarke said. “This decision was a group effort and I’m glad that in the end [Immigration Canada] was able to make the right decision.”
In support of the family’s application, Clarke submitted more than 500 pages to the Department of Justice, who was reviewing the case.
These files included reports challenging the reasons why the family was originally denied.
“New medical evidence supported our initial submissions that the medical conditions for [Karalynn] were exaggerated and that the initial medical reports were not correct,” Clarke said.
While Clarke welcomes the decision, saying it’s overwhelmingly positive, he says it’s unfortunate families with disabled children have to go through this process at all.
“When I speak to my colleagues at the Department of Justice, especially when there are children involved, there’s a lot of sympathy,” he said. “Hopefully the Minister will realize that the current procedures do not follow Canadian values and that future applicants will not be subject to this kind of review.”
Despite the happy outcome for the Warkentin’s, anyone with a disability or serious medical condition applying to immigrate to Canada could still be denied due to their health – this includes children with intellectual disabilities and behavioural issues.
However, last month Canada’s Immigration Minister, Ahmed Hussen, said his department is reviewing the “excessive demand” policy and that it could be repealed.
“All options are on the table,” Hussen said. “We could eliminate it completely.”
The comments were made before a parliamentary committee that is studying excessive demand and medical inadmissibility.
“This review is necessary and long overdue,” Hussen said. “The current excessive demand provision policy simply does not align with our country’s values on the inclusion of persons with disabilities.”
The committee is expected to table their recommendations to Parliament sometime this month. Possible options could include making changes — such as increasing the financial limit used to deny applicants or exempting certain groups of people — or repealing the provisions altogether.
Karissa, meanwhile, says she’s sorry for anyone forced to go through this system, especially those whose applications were denied. But now that her family’s application has been accepted, it’s time to celebrate.
“This is the best Christmas present ever,” she said. “Maybe I’ll go play some hockey and make some butter tarts just to celebrate my newfound Canadianism.”
© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.