Jul. 1, 2002. 01:00 AM
Canada's immigration department is the face we show the world. It can be a harsh one.
Angela Chesters would know. She was eager to come to this country, with her Canadian husband, Robin, in 1994. She was a native of Germany who spoke four languages, had two graduate degrees and an impressive work history. She was ruled inadmissible because she might make excessive demands on Canada's health-care system. She has multiple sclerosis.
Her husband chose to move to Germany, rather than see his wife treated this way.
But Angela Chesters refused to leave without a fight. She took the immigration department to court on the grounds that it had violated her constitutional right to freedom from discrimination based on physical disability.
This past week, the Federal Court of Canada ruled against her. Judge Elizabeth Heneghan said admission to Canada is a privilege, granted to those who meet the Canadian government's entry standards. "This case is not about disability, but the medical assessment of potential immigrants to Canada, within the context of Canadian immigration law,'' she wrote.
For the immigration department, this is a sweet legal victory. For Canadians who believe in fairness, tolerance and basic decency, it is an embarrassment.
The government of Canada was prepared to split up a married couple and turn away a woman who wanted to contribute to this country because she might someday need nursing care.
Fortunately, Canada's new Immigration Act, which takes effect today, will spare other couples the ordeal the Chesters went through. It exempts spouses and dependent children from Ottawa's test of medical fitness.
The change is welcome. It is a shame it wasn't in place when Angela
Chesters applied. She should have been judged on her merits, not her wheelchair.
Copyright 1996-2002. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited