More MS news articles for Jan 2002

Disabled immigrants add to society, lawyer argues

German woman challenges Immigration Act in landmark case

By Peter Small
Toronto Star Staff reporter
Canada's rejection of disabled immigrants because they may place a burden on the health system ignores what these people can contribute to society, a lawyer argued yesterday.

Ron Poulton, making final arguments in a landmark constitutional challenge in a Toronto court, argued that medical officers who examine immigrant applicants have trouble determining what exactly "excessive demand" on the system is.

"It reflects the vagueness of the term," Poulton argued. "It doesn't give notice to somebody in clear terms of what they have to prove or not."

Poulton represents Angela Chesters, 44, a German with two master's degrees and diverse work experience who is married to a Canadian citizen. She was denied landed immigrant status in 1994. She had developed multiple sclerosis in 1991 and uses a wheelchair.

Her challenge of section 19 (1) of the Immigration Act, which excludes immigrants deemed likely to cause an "excessive demand on health and social services" is the first of its kind.

Chesters was allowed to stay on a minister's permit in 1995 and was granted a one-year renewable work authorization, but with no guarantees for the future.

"She was devastated," Poulton said.

Angry at her treatment and frustrated by her uncertain employment status, Chesters returned to Germany in 1995 to take a teaching job.

Poulton told Madame Justice Elizabeth Heneghan that rejection based solely on one's disability has a "profound effect on the psychological integrity of a disabled person," and breaches Canadian Charter rights to life, liberty and the security of the person. The rejected immigrant "is relegated unequivocally to the status of other."

Earlier, federal lawyer Ann Margaret Oberst argued that the court should not render its decision in the case because the issue, for Chesters, will soon be moot. Amendments to the Immigration Act that exempt spouses of Canadians from the excessive demand rules have been passed and are likely to come into force in June, she said.

Justice Heneghan reserved her decision, saying she would like to hear all the arguments first.

Chesters' lawyers' final arguments continue today, followed by the government's.

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