Reflections, Apologies and Moving Forward


My attorney recently learned of my blog from a rather surprising source: Justice Canada. Apparently I’ve said some unflattering things on here and (now that I’ve been re-reading them) I can see why he might be upset.

While it was a tense couple of days as we went back and forth (I won’t detail the conversations at this point, but I did learn that an attorney cannot drop a client easily, without the agreement of the client or permission of the Court.)  In doing this I realized that his criticism was actually correct – that I didn’t trust him.  This wasn’t fair to him, because the distrust wasn’t really appropriately aimed at him.  Rather, the distrust was really from my previous attorney.  Once I received the medical results back from CIC my old attorney said basically “sorry about this, too bad it won’t work out.”  Not surprisingly, I now realize this made me feel abandoned.  I’d picked my attorney precisely because he presented himself as being knowledgeable about GLBT immigration issues.  It turns out he wasn’t as comfortable pushing into this area.

So I did all the leg work necessary: coordinated with my employer to create the medical savings plan.  I already had a private insurance policy and with a bit more work I arranged to be covered by a group policy (with no medical underwriting because of the size of the group).  This provided 100% coverage, with overlapping policies – and the PHSP is a medical savings plan, so there’s no question that it by itself would pay.  But since the one thing I couldn’t do is identify the cost of the drugs, I didn’t want there to be any question that the coverage wouldn’t be sufficient – and it was external to me.

The damage was done by then, though.  I’d been forced to be self-reliant and learn a distrust of my old attorney.  But carrying that into the relationship with my new attorney was unfair to him.

So I will say this.  I think my current attorney has done a very good job.  At one point I told him:

I think highly of your work.  I have recommended you to
several others already and I know at least one of them has engaged your for representation.  I would not have done that if I did not respect your abilities.

I do think this fairly summarizes my objective opinion of him.  I have apologized to him personally and I now do so publicly.  My comments were coloured by my bias and unduly harsh.  There really is no one else who would have done a better job of representing my case before the course.

I’m writing this after a very tumultuous 10 days or so, trying to capture the important essence now before it fades from my memory.

I think the attorney for Justice Canada has done a professional job on behalf of her client.  While I will never know, based upon my review of what has happened now that the dust is settling and I’m regaining some objectivity, I get the sense that when she reviewed this case she knew that her client had “screwed up” and she was going to have to do some work to prevent them from getting egg on their face.  I made her job easier, with the spousal application, because it gave CIC an “out”. She would have been well aware of the case law: Hilewitz, Sapru, Companioni and Rashid.  CIC lost three of those four cases.  When I read Sapru I thought “wow, this is my case except the visa officer didn’t even bother to try and backfill the rationale”.  In some ways I have sympathy for the visa officer – the medical officer really did hang her out to dry by not giving her much.  Then again, the visa officer probably should have pushed back. Maybe she was assuming I’d just give up and walk away, as I’ve talked about and I suspect most people in my situation would have done.

For the Justice Canada attorney, I’m sure none of this was personal.  She was doing her job.  Perhaps I’ve made it a bit more personal by some of the things I’ve said, but I suspect that she knows someone in my position isn’t going to be terribly objective.

So, I apologize to my attorney – he was not deserving of my lack of trust.  And if I have offended CIC’s attorney, I apologize as well, because in the end my read is that you’ve pushed for a good outcome for both parties, which is ultimately the objective.

I’ve made my decision, by the way.  After discussions with my attorney I concluded that there wasn’t enough to gain by moving forward.  He discussed the situation with CIC’s attorney and she inquired as to the status of my new application and the word relayed to me (from LA) was:

All statutory requirements have been met as of September 12th. We cannot speculate as to when the final decision will be rendered but as nothing else is pending, the file is expected to be concluded shortly.

With this, and the discussion with my attorney I agreed to discontinue the judicial review application.  The docket for my case is truly an unusual one, far outside the norm, but without a decision it’s not one that anyone else will ever study.  I don’t think that’s a bad thing, honestly.

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Decision time


 

So I am now faced with a very difficult decision, one that pits my personal interests against my sense of duty and obligation to others.

I’ve been forced to really carefully review my current situation and attempt to determine what is my best course forward, because the decision I make now has potentially long-term consequences for me and for others in the future.

So where am I right now.  At the present time I technically have four different applications ongoing with respect to some aspect of my immigration status in Canada.

The oldest is my original application to be an immigrant to Canada in the Federal Skilled Worker category.  I applied in that because I seemed to be qualified.  I don’t think I fit the typical skilled worker model – I wasn’t looking to go to work for an existing company.  I’m already established in my field, I’ve written books, I give lectures and talks, I work with companies all over the world. Thus, no matter where I live, I bring my skills and my customers with me.  I actually made the decision to apply back in 2006.  Had I not waited three years to do so, none of this would have happened, because I’d have been done in 2008, even with the 18 month processing time typical at that time.

But I didn’t – I applied in June 2009.  By the time they got around to doing my medical I tested HIV positive and while not an “automatic” failure to qualify for FSW, based upon the rejection I did receive it is for all intents and purposes an automatic failure for anyone planning on immigrating to British Columbia.  The attorney I was using at the time basically gave up on me at that point, once I received the follow-up medical request.  I hadn’t thought much about this honestly, until my conversation with my current attorney – but it did profoundly impact my willingness to trust anyone else, something I had not seriously thought about until after my conversation with my current attorney on Friday.

I’m the one who found my current attorney.  I did so by finding the Companioni decision and then looking through other decisions.  There are only a handful of attorneys with serious experience in medical inadmissibility and mine seems to specialize in the HIV cases. I’d been preparing the path to a solid response for quite some time.  Being an American I’m used to the idea of buying private insurance – indeed, it’s one of the very first things I did once I moved up here to work, which is quite fortunate because I wouldn’t qualify for personal private insurance any more.  I organized a group insurance policy as well and worked with my employer to set up a Personal Health Savings Plan (PHSP), which is a form of “health savings account”.  Thus, by the time I started working with my current attorney I’d put together all the fodder necessary to present a strong, credible, and current plan.

Behind all of this is my own fundamental distrust of the very paradigm that one must assume is true in order to create such a strong, credible, and current plan.  While I’m sure it marks me as a heretic, I find mounting evidence that the model of pharmaceutical intervention is deeply flawed.  I did write up a document to that effect and I even circulated it to my attorney and he did so to the expert who wrote up the report for me.  There was some feedback on it, but it was essentially negative – no surprise coming from someone who is deeply plugged into the current paradigm.  But the model for medical inadmissibility here doesn’t allow you to refuse the preferred treatment paradigm, no matter what the basis: religious, moral, philosophical or even scientifically based.  So while I can (and did) point to papers that say “um, this treatment paradigm doesn’t really work the way we’re telling people it works” (much like the article in the Guardian to which I linked earlier) that isn’t a winning strategy – and I did want to win.

Of course, in parallel with all of this I have the growing relationship with my now husband.  I’ve had previous relationships, and I was even married for quite some time, but this time my feeling is I’ve really found something quite special and that feeling has only grown and intensified.  When I received my fairness letter in early April 2011 it was actually upsetting, even though I had expected it.  I was very grateful for his strength and support and that was the final push and I asked him to marry me.  He agreed instantly.  We married six weeks later, after a week of actual planning – we literally were at breakfast (Dim Sum) and I said “so, you busy, because if you aren’t how about we get married?”  We didn’t get married that morning, but we did pick up our marriage licence.  We spent some time online looking at wedding bands and found several we liked at a local jewelry store, which is where we went the next day after he got home from work.  After looking at over a dozen different bands we narrowed it down to three.  He wanted me to pick, but I said, no, you pick one, and I’ll pick one and then we’ll figure it out from there.  We picked the same ring.  Even more amazing, they just happened to have two of those rings in stock.  Given that usually they have to order these things, it was surprising.  I’ll just say that it lent it that magical sense.  I contacted a wedding commissioner here, found she was available on the date we wanted (one week from getting the licence) and so we booked with her, made arrangements for two close friends to accompany us.  The day was an amazing spring day – sunny, bright, warm.  A true rarity in Vancouver in spring.  I even won the lottery that day!

The deadline for the initial submission was a Sunday, May 27.  My attorney indicated he had asked for an extension, but I’d not heard anything back, so I sent a copy of the document I had written, along with a cover letter saying that my attorney had asked for an extension and I wanted to make sure something was on file.  I also indicated that I’d been married, since I’m under an ongoing obligation to do so.

When the marriage certificate came in mid-June, I forwarded a copy to my attorney (although it turns out it was forwarded to my previous attorney, not my new attorney) and to CIC in NYC.

So, we submittted the mitigation plan.  My attorney did an excellent job of clearly laying out the issues and pointing to the case law, and my hat is off to him. When I noticed the change on the online CIC tracking system (to “decision made”) I was initially elated, thinking that this meant we were done.  But as I read a bit more and considered it a bit further I began to realize that it was most likely a rejection – my FBI clearance letter would have been expired by then, along with my medicals, both of which have a one year expiration date.  Thus, if they had decided to move my application forward, they would have ordered new medicals and a new FBI clearance letter.   Of course the rejection letter was sent to my attorney.  Since I was in NYC  – working in the same building as the Canadian Consulate – I tried to get a copy but they refused to even give me a copy.   So I had to wait until he returned from vacation to find out what was going on.

I still remember that early conversation and the questions without clear answers.  I even went so far to consult with a second attorney about one burning question: is it possible I might be rejected at the border?  Nobody really knew.  As a foreign national I do not have a legal right to enter Canada – it is discretionary and thus any border officer could look at my information and say “you’re inadmissible”.   I know this is not not a rational thought, but I am deeply in love with my spouse.  The thought of being forced to live apart is not a pleasant one for me.

So I studied and filed for a Temporary Resident Permit.  That’s my second oldest active application. Nobody knew if I was inadmissible, so asking for one would answer the question.  There were three possible outcomes:

  1. I’m not inadmissible and hence do not need a TRP;
  2. I’m inadmissible and am eligible for a TRP;
  3. I’m inadmissible and not eligible for a TRP

Of course, after everything that has happened since then I think (1) is the most likely outcome, but (2) is still not entirely unreasonable.

I’d also moved along with my spousal application.  That is my third application and I’ve talked about it (and these others) extensively.

The most recent is my work permit renewal. That’s just so I can remain in Canada while we sift through all of this.

Wow… so my situation is this – to move forward with the Judicial Review application I have to make sure my application is withdrawn.   That means sending my withdrawal letter via FedEx to them in LA (versus ahem, mailing it to them, a process that looks like it’s led to the loss of that letter).  But that raises the likelihood I will have to deal with the temporary inadmissibility issue.

A win on the Judicial Review will send my application back to CIC for reconsideration, which will mean going through the process again: a new medical, a new fairness letter, a new response to the fairness letter, etc.  At least another year.  Thus, the only “gain” here might be the positive legal decision.  But will it move the “state of the case law” forward enough to justify the personal inconvenience.

What I’d do most likely is just withdraw the application once it was returned to CIC.  That would make processing the spousal application simpler.  Ah, but I’ve been told that the spousal application is all but done – so there’s no reason to try and make it simpler, since it’s already over.

Thus my decision: do I declare a symbolic victory and move on with my life, or do I continue the fight?

Not an easy decision.

 

 

Is Discretion the Better Part of Valour?


This is my first post since I converted the blog to be private.  I did so entirely for personal and selfish reasons.  It seems the attorney from Justice Canada found the blog and send a letter to my attorney who was not happy. So, at least until this matter is resolved one way or the other, I’m going to leave the blog private – people who ask for access will be granted but I’m not going to leave it public, at least for now.

Hence the title of this post – I’m being discreet.  At least for now.

Rashid v MCI


This truly is a process that encourages one to scream at times.  I’m reading various cases (this time, using the fabulous search tools at the Canadian Legal Information Institute. I’m finding their linkage tools (“find cases that cite this case”) to be invaluable.

Of course, the downside to this is that I’m likely torturing myself through this process.  Because in this case (Rashid v MCI)  the applicant‘s application was rejected.  A careful reading of the logic suggests that it could be applied to my case.

The judge did certify a question in this case, one that had it been answered would likely have direct bearing upon my case:

When a medical officer has determined that an applicant will be in need of prescription drugs, the cost of which would place the applicant over the threshold of “excessive demand” as set out in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations, must a visa officer assess the applicant’s ability to pay for the prescription drugs privately when those same drugs are covered by a government program for which the applicant would be eligible in the province/territory of intended residence?

This question directly squares with my own situation. Rashid however failed because he did not already have the necessary insurance in place.  Thus, interpreting the current jurisprudence it would seem that in order to be successful proving an insurance based plan to mitigate excessive demand one would have to already be inside Canada and the insurance must already be in place.

The CIC medical officer in my case added an additional requirement: one must already be using the insurance, in order to assuage her (after the fact) concerns that the insurance truly will pay the prospective costs.

Indeed, it is this continual raising of the bar that makes me grudgingly question if this isn’t really not about procedural fairness but rather more about “let’s just make it difficult for anyone ‘undesirable’ to immigrate to Canada.”  Frankly, very few people will take their case to the Federal Court of Canada in a case like this.  I suspect that most abandon their case at the point they get the fairness letter.  “Oh well, we didn’t make it.”  Some respond and of them a few actually work with an experienced attorney to craft an intelligible response.  At that point, how many people will continue to challenge the system?

Finally, even if they are successful at challenging the system, what do they win?  After all, their application is just sent back to CIC for consideration by another officer.  From what I can tell, that doesn’t seem to be successful in most cases anyway.

Is there any wonder that this really looks more like a scheme to provide the veneer of respectability over what is, at its heart, primarily based upon bias?

I just hope that I’m wrong.

Reliance on Extrinsic Evidence


I know I’m overthinking the process at this point.  I’m using different search terms to look at various court decisions.  My latest search turned up several hundred decisions and I’ve started by looking at very recent (2012) decisions.

One of these is Noh v MCI (2012 FC 529) an interesting H&C decision for a family who overstayed their visitor visas and are now trying to obtain permanent residency.  Cases such as this one are held up as an example of how the immigration system is broken.  Their children (now both over 18) have lived the past 8.5 years in Canada, going to school and even University here.  The parents are using their children’s needs as part of the rationale for why they should be allowed to remain in Canada.  I’ll leave it to the reader to decide if they should be allowed – or not – because that isn’t what caught my eye as I read the decision.

[20]           A decision-maker’s reliance on undisclosed extrinsic evidence is a breach of procedural fairness (see Tariku v Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) 2007 FC 474 at paragraph 2 and Qureshi v Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) 2009 FC 1081 at paragraph 14). Likewise, the opportunity to respond to a decision-maker’s concerns is also an issue of procedural fairness (see Karimzada v Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) 2012 FC 152 at paragraph 10 and Guleed  v Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) 2012 FC 22 at paragraphs 11 and 12.

To be honest, I’ve been thinking that the issue the medical officer raised in her affidavit (the text she didn’t have in her original notes but recalled nine months after the fact) was a “reasonableness” standard but after reading this I begin to think that in fact this is an issue of law and thus must be judged on a standard of correctness.

The standard of correctness is a much higher standard than reasonableness and there is no deference given to the tribunal for decisions on the correctness standard – while there is such deference given on the reasonableness standard.

In other words, if the medical officer and/or visa officer had concerns that the insurance coverage would pay the cost of medication, they should have advised me of this fact.  Otherwise, they deprived me of the right to address their concerns.  It reminds me of the trial in L’Étranger.

Even so, if one were to use the standard of reasonableness:

[24] When reviewing a decision on the standard of reasonableness, the analysis will be concerned with “the existence of justification, transparency and intelligibility within the decision-making process [and also with] whether the decision falls within a range of possible, acceptable outcomes which are defensible in respect of the facts and law.” See Dunsmuir, above, at paragraph 47, and Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration)v Khosa 2009 SCC 12 at paragraph 59.  Put another way, the Court should intervene only if the Decision was unreasonable in the sense that it falls outside the “range of possible, acceptable outcomes which are defensible in respect of the facts and law.”

The decision still falls short, because even if one accepts the medical officer’s opinion that the insurance wouldn’t provide coverage, it fails to address the PHSP that covers any legitimate medical expense.

The Companioni decision set the bar fairly high – so high that it is extremely difficult for anyone not already inside Canada to reach.  Despite this, I put together a plan that I maintain anyone objectively reviewing the evidence would conclude actually met that rather high bar – it was a choate plan, the biggest concern voiced by the judge in that case.  It did not rely upon a personal promise to pay, either, another potential issue.  And, it demonstrated more than adequate funding to pay for a huge amount (approximately $68,000).

I seriously doubt that an impartial reviewer using the reasonableness standard would agree with the original rejection because if this plan cannot pass muster, no plan could pass muster and thus this whole process is a charade.  Just reject people in my position categorically.

But what I submit really happened (where “really happened” means “on a balance of probabilities”) is that the plan was ignored.  The rationale for that now are concerns that had never previously been voiced.  Rather than bolstering the government’s case, it actually damages their credibility.  Perhaps that is why thus far the government hasn’t really presented any actual legal argument against this application.  My best guess is that they will do so in their filing on the 28th – complete with the advantage of providing us with no opportunity to reply.

As usual, it’s a waiting game. 39 days to go – for the hearing.  Nobody knows how long until the decision.

Countdown: Six Weeks to Go


Today marks six weeks to go before the hearing date.  While I’m sure the time will fly by (after all, that means we’re over 50% of the way since leave was granted) living it up close and personal is always an interesting experience.  Nothing like waiting months and years for something that is so fundamental to life.

Indeed, I often find myself reflecting upon the whole process, wondering if I would have been far wiser to have never pursued immigration in the first place.  A look over at my spouse (being domestic right now, putting away laundry) assures me that the net outcome really is a good one, but absent that I seriously doubt I’d reach the same conclusion.  Of course, underlying the court battle is my strong desire to prevail “on my own” – to basically not burden my spouse with this ongoing obligation to be responsible for me.  While I don’t expect anything to happen, we never do plan for these sorts of things, do we?

The past week has been a good one overall, though.  I pointed out the observation in my previous post that the PHSP would have overcome the medical officer’s objection to my attorney who thought that was an important point that he would incorporate into his memorandum (the memorandum is due on 18 September).   I’ve also had the opportunity to interact with some other people who have been through the same process as me.  One of them had a hearing yesterday (judgment reserved – but it was only 30 minutes, suggesting there really wasn’t much argument.  Whether that is good or bad remains to be seen).  The other won his case back in 2009 but was ultimately unable to successfully immigrate to Canada (from what I was told, this is because they couldn’t prove something that could only be determined once they had come to Canada.)

I took the past two days off as well.  My spouse and I enjoyed a pair of wonderful days – late summer days, enjoying some time together – a rarity these days.  It has given me a time to reflect and consider the nuances of this process.  One thing I find myself wondering is if much of this “process” is really a mechanism by which Canadian Immigration can enshrine biases and discriminatory practices.  Certainly both cases I learned about have suggested that this might be the case, but of course two cases do not prove a pattern, either.

Ironically, what helped me crystallize this thinking was a news article I read on The Huffington Post.  It was the story of a child with Down’s Syndrome who was denied boarding on an American Airlines flight.  The airline claimed the pilot was concerned about security.  It made me realize that discrimination is so damned hard to prove precisely because it can be disguised in the clothing of “rational process”.  Thus, they agree to allow someone into Canada but only if they can do something prior to granting permission that can only be done after they’ve been admitted to Canada.  “So sorry, you are still not admissible to Canada.”

This passes an initial inspection as “due process” but fails to withstand scrutiny.  What is particularly ironic is that immigration is about encouraging diversity – but only within a very limited range.  There’s nothing wrong with having such a system, but it would seem to be disingenuous to dress it up in the guise of an equitable system.

There is a certain inherent hypocrisy in the system.  While I had hoped that my case might serve to shine a bright light into the dismal innards of the system, the reality seems to be that this isn’t likely.  The system is self-protecting.  In my case, they will point to the fact that I can always enter the system through a different mechanism and thus avoid the possibility of examining the inherent bias in the system itself.  While I can say that this is a shame for the process overall, I have selfish motivations here – I want the process to end.

Six weeks from today I’ll be allowed to watch them argue my fate.  Some time after that I’ll learn the final outcome of my case.