More MS news articles for Jan 2002

Woman with MS challenges ban on immigration

German professor who has never been unemployed denied Canadian citizenship: Discrimination alleged

January 8, 2002
Anne Marie Owens
National Post

A German woman with multiple sclerosis is challenging Canada's long-standing policy of rejecting immigrants it deems to be a burden on society.

Angela Chesters, a 44-year-old woman who is married to a Canadian, is a professor who holds two graduate degrees, has never been without work and who requires no nursing care or special assistance with daily living.

But because she is in a wheelchair and has a chronic illness, she was refused citizenship under a controversial section of the law that allows the government to screen out immigrants who might make excessive demands on the country's health and social services.

This case before the Federal Court of Canada is a constitutional challenge of the medical inadmissibility clause and, if successful, could change the way immigration officials determine who to let into the country.

Ena Chadha, one of Mrs. Chesters' lawyers, said the case is of great importance because this provision of the guidelines is used regularly to keep people with disabilities and their families from immigrating to Canada, even when, as in Mrs. Chesters' case, the person is employable and has immediate family members who are Canadian.

Mrs. Chesters, who wants the law struck down as discriminatory, says she never imagined she would be refused citizenship.

"It doesn't go with the picture that you have of Canada, being a free country, being so generous, being so accepting of minorities," she testified in a Toronto courtroom yesterday.

"In a democratic country, I don't see why you should not allow the spouse of a Canadian citizen to enter the country."

Her lawyers will argue there is evidence as far back as 1992 that the federal government knew this provision of the guidelines was problematic.

Ronald Poulton said in his opening argument yesterday he will show there were so many warnings about the potential problems, including specific warnings that the section could run afoul of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that Parliament was seriously considering withdrawing the reference to disabilities almost a decade ago.

Mr. Poulton said he will be arguing "it is Parliament's wrongdoing in enacting and maintaining legislation that violates the Charter."

In an effort to resolve Mrs. Chesters' complaint, the federal government offered her a special Minister's permit that would allow her to live in Canada, even though she was from an inadmissible class.

Mrs. Chesters said she refused to drop her legal claim because she believed the issue still had to be fought in Federal Court, and the implications of the case have grown far beyond her own personal citizenship claim.

"Call it pride or what you want. I didn't need it. I didn't want to have this charity," Mrs. Chesters said.

She said she is not even certain she and her husband will move back to Canada if she wins the case.

The couple now reside in Germany, where they moved so Mrs. Chesters could resume her teaching career and escape a life in Canada where they felt in legal limbo.

Mr. Poulton said he will be seeking damages to compensate Mrs. Chesters for the consequences of the alienation and rejection that come from "feeling as if her life was on hold."

Angela and Robin Chesters were married in 1991, after meeting in England while he was working for a Canadian company and she was working on a master's degree in information technology and implementing a database for the BBC.

Much of the testimony during the opening day of the trial focused on Mrs. Chesters as an articulate, hard-working and independent woman, keen to travel the world, find interesting employment and remain self-supporting.

She said that when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1991, she was crushed.

"I knew it was something horrible," she said.

She then described how she rebuffed her parents' attempts to put her on a disability pension and eventually made the accommodations she needed to resume her regular life as best she could.

She said she never contemplated cancelling her marriage plans or quitting her graduate studies or demanding work responsibilities because of the debilitating disease.

But Mrs. Chesters "met a hurdle she couldn't overcome" when she was rejected for Canadian citizenship in 1994, her lawyer said.

Outside court, Mrs. Chesters said her husband "is the only victim in this case because he likes this country and he wants to live here and he misses it."

The trial, which is expected to continue for two weeks, will hear evidence from disability advocates and people with multiple sclerosis, and from immigration workers about how these provisions of the guidelines were used in determining who should be allowed into Canada.

The federal government will argue the section is not discriminatory and will defend the provisions under a separate section of the Charter that allows exemptions for laws justifiable "in a free and democratic society."

Copyright © 2002 National Post Online

Canada contends it tried to help disabled woman

Wednesday, January 9, 2002 Page A12

The Canadian government did everything it could to help a woman denied permission to immigrate because of multiple sclerosis, a lawyer insisted in court yesterday.

Although Angela Chesters was denied permanent residency by immigration officials who stated that she would make excessive demands on the health-care system, she was granted a ministerial permit to live here with her Canadian husband, lawyer Debra McAllister said.

"Everything Canada could have done it did, correct? It did everything possible," Ms. McAllister said in her cross-examination of Ms. Chesters, who is seeking damages and a declaration from the Federal Court of Canada that the Immigration Act discriminates against the disabled.

"Incorrect," Ms. Chesters snapped back. "I don't have the expertise to know what is possible. You are the one who knows that."

The 44-year-old schoolteacher, who holds a full-time job at a German technical college despite her illness, insisted that in denying her permanent residency because of her disability, Canada Immigration demeaned her and overlooked the economic and other contributions she would make to the country.

When Ms. McAllister confronted Ms. Chesters with a neurologist's report stating that she may require increasing nursing care as the years progress, Ms. Chesters responded: "With all due respect, you may require increasing nursing care."

Ms. McAllister questioned Ms. Chesters' physical capabilities, her motives for bringing the court application, and even the fact that she and her husband have not had children although Ms. Chesters says she wants them.

The lawyer suggested that the psychological damage Ms. Chesters says she has suffered from Canada's rejection is really the result of other events in her life, including a bad relationship with her parents and her medical condition.

She then asked Ms. Chesters whether she would accept permanent residency and settle the case if the government were to offer it now. Madam Justice Elizabeth Heneghan quickly intervened and told Ms. McAllister that was an improper question.

A retired medical officer from Canada Immigration testified yesterday that officers base their assessments of how much a person will cost the health-care system and of how employable they are on "generic" and "stereotypical" factors.

Employability is "generalized; it is not based on an individual's work record but on the likelihood of people with a certain illness being employable," Dr. Ted Axler told the court.

Excessive demand for health-care services is calculated from a formula that the average Canadian costs the system $12,500 over five years, said Dr. Axler, who was an assistant director of the Immigration Department's assessment unit in Ottawa from 1991 to 1993.

"Excessive demand would be costs above that line," he said.

Estimates of the costs of disorders are worked out in consultation with medical experts, he testified, and are based on expectations for all patients with a disorder, not individuals.

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