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.

 

 

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.

Revisionist History


 

Yesterday was the deadline for the government to file any remaining affidavits in the case and they availed themselves of the opportunity by filing one.  Today I had an opportunity to read the actual affidavit, although I am waiting for copies of the exhibits attached to the affidavit.

In this case, it was the medical officer.  On first reading, I must admit, it was actually somewhat convincing that she had actually done some real thinking before reaching her decision.  Admittedly, there are some flaws in that rationale, but after mulling it over for some time, I realized that there’s one thing missing from all of this: what she’s saying isn’t supported by the written record.  Thus, she is now supplementing her original written decision.  That’s not supposed to happen.  I have read numerous legal decisions and I’ve never read one in which it was the government adding new material to the record.  I have read decisions in which the judge pointedly ignores new material submitted by the applicant, precisely because it is not material that was part of the original decision under review – and hence irrelevant.  Thus, I would think the government cannot correct the record “after the fact” any more than I could do so.  This is especially galling since they refused to consider information I actually submitted before they made their decision – “oh, sorry, we didn’t get that.”

So, she provides a nice rationale about how she thought insurance companies wouldn’t pay for medication when they found out that the provincial government had a program for doing so.  She doesn’t offer any evidence of this, merely just her theory.  While that sounds great, I realized that even if you accepted that rationale, it doesn’t explain her rejection of the private health care reimbursement program – known as a PHSP – which (at $20,000 per year) would still have been more than sufficient to pay the anticipated drug costs and which isn’t an insurance company – it’s an employer sponsored expense reimbursement plan.

Had she come back and expressed these concerns, we could have provided her with further evidence.  I could have offered to opt out of the provincial health care plan, which in turn would then have made me ineligible for the very coverage she used to ban me.

Then I can see the clear influence of the government’s attorney – the medical officer claims she signed off on the new medical opinion, and that – voila – i am no longer medically inadmissible.  Of course, she fails to mention that the medical opinion upon which she bases her decision is not even valid for my original case and cannot be used to make the decision in my case.

However, the fact the government is playing this game does tell me one thing: that for whatever reason, the government is actually worried they will lose on the merits.  This nonsense about alternatives and what-not have no bearing on the original decision, they are red herrings intent upon distracting the Court.

My expectation is that the Court will see through this ruse, step back and say “this is all interesting, but it doesn’t repair the original decision, which is defective.”  Even if you accept the affidavit from the medical officer, it says there were hidden concerns that were never expressed.   That would mean the fairness letter wasn’t detailed enough for us to successfully address the concerns.  That would violate the natural fairness required by the process.

That’s giving her the benefit of the doubt.  What seems more likely is that the medical officer is trying to cover her tracks after the fact.  I suspect she just looked at the material and said “none of this changes the medical diagnosis, so I don’t really care.”

We’re now just 1.5 months away from the hearing date.  We will find out after that.