A fresh Supreme Court of Canada ruling on sponsors of immigrants ought to throw a bit of a chill on anyone considering helping their new foreign-born girlfriend or wife establish a life in Canada.
Immigration regulations say that if your sponsored family relative, e.g., wife, ends up on social assistance, then you have to pay back all of it. The High Court ruling says if you can’t, the government must try to collect every penny of it. In effect, it says that if the indebted sponsor throws himself on the mercies of the courts and governments, you have another think coming. There’s no forgive and forget on the debt.
“The risk of a rogue relative properly lies on the sponsor, not the taxpayer,” Justice Ian Binnie wrote on behalf of the unanimous court, reported the Canadian Press.
The issue was brought to the federal court by the provincial government of Ontario and Ottawa, which sought to overturn an Ontario Appeal Court ruling in the case of a group of eight visa sponsors.
The group, claiming hardship in one way or another, said that the governments should have the option of deferring the debts or absolving the sponsors from the debts. Their debts to the Ontario government ranged from $10,000 to $94,000, according to news reports.
A provincial appeal court sided with the group in 2008, saying the governments could even go so far as forgiving the debt if they wanted. The 9-0 Supreme Court of Canada landmark decision this week says, not a chance! There’s no free ride on the taxpayers.
Federal immigration law has always been clear that the sponsor has to financially support the immigrant should things go wrong. What the new ruling makes clear is that federal and provincial authorities can recover social assistance payments from sponsors and that they be treated like an ordinary debt.
The Supreme Court does allow some minimal discretion in that the law provides for an explanation of the sponsor’s hardship circumstances before collection enforcement is begun.
In a couple of cases, said the news reports, the fiancée or spouse of the sponsor arrived in Canada and immediately took off, ending up on social assistance. Of course, you enter into a contract with the Immigration Department to look after the immigrant relative and recognize that you are financially responsible over sponsorship periods ranging from three to 10 years.
This ought to make you re-weigh the consequences of sponsoring your girlfriend or new wife from Thailand, or Laos or Cambodia or Vietnam. Or anywhere else, for that matter.
Why make a fuss over this ruling? As Canadians, we always think authorities or regulators will use common sense in hardship matters such as joblessness and misrepresentation, and maybe ease off a bit on any orders or rulings, even to the point of erasing debts. The High Court says an immigrant sponsor is not absolved from repayment of welfare in any way, shape or form.
Justice Binnie, The Canadian Press reported, said Parliament has become “increasingly concerned” about the financial burden that is being shifted to the public treasury to financially support sponsored relatives in immigrant families.
The Toronto Star reported the lower courts had heard that some 7,500 sponsored immigrants were on social assistance in 2004.
“Family reunification is based on the essential condition that in exchange for admission to this country the needs of the immigrant will be looked after by the sponsor, not by the public purse,” Justice Binnie wrote.
“Sponsors undertake these obligations in writing. They understand or ought to understand from the outset that default may have serious financial consequences for them.”
Let the warning be heard.
I’ve known guys who have practically been engaged within weeks of meeting a girl in Thailand and hope to get her into Canada. I’ve known and read about guys who were taken to the cleaners by girls they’ve only known in Thailand for a few months or a year. Maybe this ruling will encourage you to take a lot more care in throwing open the doors to Canada to a girl you really, really hardly know. Your financial independence depends on it.
SOURCES FOR THIS REPORT: