Karolina Krystyniak and her family moved to Canada in the summer of 2016. She’s an assistant professor of finance at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.
But Krystyniak, 32, fears her family could be forced out of Canada because of her four-year-old son Franek’s medical condition.
“Even though me and my husband could be really good candidates to immigrate, my son’s condition – my son’s disability – makes it potentially impossible for us to stay here,” she said.
Franek has Angelman syndrome, a rare genetic disorder affecting roughly 1 in 20,000 people. It can cause developmental delay, intellectual disabilities and speech and mobility issues.
Krystyniak’s fears are similar to those of other families profiled by Global News’ Inadmissible investigation. Their applications for permanent residency were denied due to a child’s disability.
Now, NDP immigration critic, Jenny Kwan, says she’s tired of waiting for the government to end this “discriminatory” law. She’s set to table a private member’s bill in Parliament later Thursday morning that – if passed – would repeal the law.
“The untold pain and suffering those families have to endure needs to stop,” Kwan said.
“The government has been running consultations on the matter since October 2016. It’s now 2018 and the minister has yet to take any steps in addressing an issue that is continuing to tear apart families.”
Known as medical inadmissibility due to “excessive demand,” Section 38-1 C of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act allows the government to deny permanent residency to persons with disabilities and their family members when the cost of caring for their needs could place a “burden” on Canada’s publicly-funded health and social services. This includes economic immigrants whose children have disabilities.
After a Global News investigation profiled several families denied permanent residency due to a child’s disability, a parliamentary committee tasked with studying immigration recommended repealing the law. Canada’s Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen also told Global News the policy is “out of step” with Canadian values and needs to change.
Despite this, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has not ended the policy.
Kwan is calling upon Hussen to adopt her idea as a government bill. This would speed up its passage through Parliament and bring relief to families sooner.
“What is happening is unconscionable,” Kwan said. “The minister needs to see beyond the disability and value the contributions of the entire family to Canadian society. There is no justification for this harmful, discriminatory law to continue.”
Meanwhile, Immigration Canada says it is working with the provinces and territories to conduct a thorough review of the policy. Hussen says all options are being considered – including repeal of the provision – and that any solution to the problems of excessive demand must consider the rights of persons with disabilities while recognizing the need to protect publicly-funded health and social service programs.
“The [minister] has stated that the current excessive demand provision does not align with Canada’s values on the inclusion of persons with disabilities in Canadian society,” said a spokesperson for Immigration Canada. “Any policy changes stemming from the review [of the policy] will be publicly announced at an appropriate time.”
Appearing before the citizenship committee Thursday, Hussen said his response to the recommendation for repeal will be delivered by April 12. He says this will include details on how the government plans to change the rules around excessive demand.
“I will encourage you to wait for that response and in that response you’ll find how we’re proceeding on this issue,” Hussen said.
Krystyniak says her family wants to stay in Canada and apply for permanent residency, but lawyers have advised them this is extremely unlikely, warning their case would almost certainly be denied due to their son’s disability.
“The law is basically saying my son is being perceived as a burden. So it doesn’t really see his contributions, his value, his capabilities,” Krystyniak said.
“If we apply for permanent residency, it may be rejected based on my son’s disability.”
She thinks the law needs to change because it treats families of children with disabilities differently than other applicants. She says it also fails to consider the contributions people with disabilities and their families make to Canadian society.
“[The law] doesn’t look at us as a family unit,” she said. “Both me and my husband work. I’m a professor, he’s an art director… We’re really working hard to be contributors and then this law is telling us, ‘Well, it doesn’t really matter.’”
Krystyniak says her son is bright, vibrant and has already overcome many obstacles.
“Even though he’s non-verbal, he’s communicating using an alternative communication device,” she said. “The doctors told us he would never walk. [But] he walks, he runs, he rides a trike. He’s a very active, affectionate little boy.”
As currently written, the law does not take into account the contributions of family members to Canadian society. While families can propose plans to mitigate certain social service costs, they can’t offer to pay for medical procedures covered under public health-insurance plans.
Krystyniak says she and her husband spend roughly $80,000 a year for speech and occupational therapy, travelling to see a neurologist and for a full-time caregiver for Franek.
While they’re technically eligible to receive government-funded services under their work permits, they say the programs offered in Ontario don’t meet their son’s needs. Regardless of their status in Canada, Krystyniak says she and her husband intend to continue paying for the vast majority of services Franek receives.
“We face a lot of challenges,” she said. “We have to constantly advocate for [Franek], for him to have rights to inclusive education, for him to be perceived for his values… On top of that, we have that thought in the back of our head that maybe we will not be able to stay.”
While Krystyniak recognizes the challenges of providing publicly-funded health care, she says there can be no compromise when protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. If the government truly believes in inclusivity and wants to attract talented workers like her and her husband, she says this policy needs to change.
“The ministers really know what’s wrong with that law,” she said. “I really believe Canada is a country that stands out as being open to diversity and open to promoting equity… It’s a question of social justice and human rights that people with disabilities are given the same rights as people without disabilities. I think it’s as simple as that.”