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Majid Jowhari

Member of Parliament
Government of Canada
Constituency Office
9140 Leslie Street, Suite 407
Richmond Hill, Ontario L4B 0A9
Tel: 905-707-9701; Fax: 905-707-9705
March 5th, 2016

Dear MP Majid Jowhari

I am respectfully asking that you take a few minutes to read this in hopes that
you can take action to correct an injustice that tarnishes Canadas reputation.
When in 2012 I was offered a tenured position at the Faculty of Environmental
Studies at York University in Toronto, Canada, I was overjoyed. This faculty
embodied the ideals I shared of having the academic enterprise be at the
service of social and environmental justice and wellbeing. My new position as
Chair in Neotropical Conservation allowed me to bring together teaching,
research and community outreach to consolidate York Universitys Las Nubes
Project in Costa Rica, a project dedicated to improving rural peasant livelihoods
in ways that are compatible and conducive to environmental conservation,
especially of tropical forests and their rich and threatened biodiversity.
I am from Costa Rica, so one of the many wonderful aspects of this job was that
I would be able strengthen the ties between Canada and Costa Rica and
contribute to the social and environmental wellbeing of the country of my birth,
a country I am proud of for many of its visionary policies, including abolishing
its military almost 70 years ago, upholding the principle of neutrality in war and
opting for diplomacy in conflict resolution, placing one fourth of its territory
under diverse environmental protection regimes over 40 years ago, and for
being a long-time stable democracy, observant of the rule of law, protector and
guarantor of human and civil rights of its own citizens and foreign nationals,
alike. When I was offered a job in Canada, I saw in this country a kindred
nation, known around the world for being a beacon in upholding human rights,
for its peace-keeping role in international conflicts, its progressive social
policies, its spectacular natural landscapes and its welcoming policies toward
We packed our bags, leaving behind secure jobs (I was a tenured professor at
Costa Ricas largest public university, and my wife directed her own dance
company), leaving behind family and friends, but eager to embark on this new
adventure. We flew into Toronto on the evening of July 1 st, 2012, to a reception

of fireworks across the city celebrating Canada Day.

This seemed an
auspicious beginning. At the airport, immigration officials gave us a warm
welcome to this country. The next day we were busy looking into schools for
my daughter who would be starting high school and for my son with Down
syndrome who would need special education. We finally decided on settling in
Richmond Hill where our daughter could attend Bayview High School, a school
well known for its International Baccalaureate program and high standards, and
our son would go to Roselawn Public School, a primary school with an
established community classroom for children with special needs. My wife
quickly established herself as a dance teacher, and I began my job at York
We were all happily engaged in our new lives, learning the ropes of living in the
Greater Toronto Area, making new friends and getting settled in. The TTC was
a new and exciting experience, but Richmond Hill took us beyond the subway
lines, so we bought a car. On weekends we would drive into Toronto to get to
know the city, or take day trips to visit towns on the outskirts of the GTA. We
enjoyed the changing seasons of this temperate region, the wonderful human
diversity of Toronto, and we began thinking about buying a home. We also
began doing the paperwork to apply for permanent residency.
When I was offered the job at York, I applied for a work visa, which allowed us
to enter Canada and give my children the right to study, and my wife and me
the right to work. Because my job at York University was a permanent position,
it was contingent on us getting permanent residency. I knew about this from
the start. It was written in the contract I signed. But I was not at all concerned.
I would do the required paperwork. Although I knew that like in most countries
there were categories of people that could be denied permanent residency,
surely my case was within the realm of admissibility: York University had hired
me after two faculty searches, considering that I brought needed expertise that
they were unable to find among Canadian applicants. I was a Ph.D. with ample
teaching and research experience, along with community engagement for
environmental conservation in Costa Rica. I was hired as a tenured Full
Professor. So, when York Universitys Immigration & Relocation Coordinator
cautioned me on the phone while I was still in Costa Rica that I might face
stumbling blocks in applying for permanent residency, I found it difficult to
believe. I found it especially unbelievable when she told me the reason for my
possible inadmissibility. I was sure I had misheard her, and asked her to repeat
When she said that the reason was because my nine year old son had Down
syndrome, I was dumbstruck. No matter whom I mentioned this to in Costa
Rica, the reaction was the same: utter disbelief and indignation. Barbaric,
Medieval, and an affront to Human Rights, were some of the most common
expressions. Unsurprisingly, when I later mentioned this to people in Canada,

the reaction was practically identical. I did not carry out a statistical study, but
from my personal experience it seemed that almost nobody knew of this
immigration policy, and almost all were equally appalled.
The Immigration & Relocation Coordinator from York University was right. I
have encountered stumbling blocks because of my now 13 year old son and his
genetic condition, a genetic condition that, by the way, has not precluded him
from being happily in school where he recently was awarded the recognition for
Most Improved, or from being in hip-hop dance classes and participating
already in two year-end presentations to standing ovations, or from taking Tae
Kwon Do classes and slowly moving up the belt ranks. Here in Canada my son
learned how to ride a bike. He is now bilingual in his native Spanish and
acquired English. He still hasnt mastered ice skating, but now owns a hockey
stick and loves to watch Canadas favorite sport on TV.
Three years ago, when we began the paperwork to apply for permanent
residency, I was still in denial about the possible setbacks my son and his
genetic makeup might mean for us. I knew that in many places there were
archaic and often silly laws that remained on the books by inertia (such as the
unenforced law in Michigan that requires a woman to get permission from her
husband to get a haircut). I was convinced that something similar to this had
to be the case with the law that singled out people like my son for possible
inadmissibility into Canada. But I was mistaken. After going through all the
required paperwork for the entire family, and finally receiving confirmation that
our application was completed for evaluation, my son was then singled out for
further documentation in order to determine our familys admissibility for
permanent residency. Despite the fact that my son had no history of medical
complications, he was repeatedly required to undergo additional medical
examinations (x-rays, blood tests, thyroid examination, pediatric evaluation,
psychologist cognitive and developmental assessments), based solely on his
genetic identity as a person with Down syndrome.
Disheartened and disgusted, I sought out the law that was being applied to my
son. What I found only served to deepen my indignation. The law was not
some arcane legislation redacted in the misty past. The so-called Immigration
and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) was passed by Parliament in 2002 (the year
my son was born), replacing the Immigration Act of 1976 as the primary federal
legislation regulating immigration to Canada. The IRPA describes the different
grounds of inadmissibility, identified as such for their possible threat to
Canadas safety and security.
The first ground for inadmissibility is for Security reasons. People engaging in
espionage against Canada or its interests, or in subversion against a
democratic government, or in terrorism or acts of violence that endanger the
lives and safety of persons in Canada, or belonging to an organization that

engages in these activities, may be found inadmissible for security reasons.

The second ground is for Human and International Rights Violations. This
category includes people who engage or have engaged in terrorism, systematic
or gross human rights violations, genocide, war crimes, or crimes against
humanity. The third is on Serious Criminality grounds. People having been
convicted in Canada of an offence under an Act of Parliament punishable by a
maximum term of imprisonment of at least 10 years may be considered
inadmissible under this category. The fourth is on Criminality grounds, where
the person could be found inadmissible for having been convicted outside
Canada of an offence that, if committed in Canada, would constitute an
indictable offence under an Act of Parliament. The fifth is on Organized
Criminality grounds. This includes people who are or have been a member of
an organization involved in international criminal activity such as people
smuggling, trafficking in persons, or laundering of money, or obtaining other
proceeds of crime.
And then, without so much as a skip of a heartbeat to mark the abysmal
difference from the other five, is the sixth category of persons that may be
deemed inadmissible to Canada, which includes people like my 13 year old son
(based solely on his genetic makeup), and his accompanying family. The sixth
ground for inadmissibility is ostensibly for Health reasons. According to the
IRPA, these people are likely to be a danger to public health, are likely to be a
danger to public safety, or might reasonably be expected to cause excessive
demand on Canadas health or social services. At the end of a long line-up of
people engaged in espionage, subversion, terrorism, human rights abuses,
crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide, human trafficking and money
laundering, stands my son for having Trisomy 21.
Trisomy 21 is not a disease, much less an infectious disease dangerous to
public health, nor are people with Down syndrome a danger to public safety.
My son and people like him are singled out by the IRPA supposedly on health
grounds. But my sons medical records show no health issues that are any
different from children without Trisomy 21. Yes, he got chicken pox back in
Costa Rica when he was six, and in Canada he caught the flu during the last
two winters. But that is it. Yet, he is singled out for reasonably being
expected to cause excessive demand on Canadas health or social services.
We have complied with all the additional medical tests and assessments
requested by Citizen and Immigration Canada (CIC) for my son in this drawn
out process of applying for permanent residency. These medical exams and
assessments have run a bill into the thousands of dollars. Fortunately, my
insurance has covered most of it. Two days ago we received a response from
CIC to our request for permanent residency. The Case Processing Centre in
Ottawa determined that our son is inadmissible under Section 38(1)(c) of the

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act on health grounds. We have 30 days

to respond to this determination.
Now, our plans for buying a home in Canada are on hold. My daughter, who
will be graduating from high school in a few months, has to be ready to leave
the country and apply to a university elsewhere, should we finally be denied
permanent residency. I have to be prepared to enact Plan A or Plan B regarding
my employment options. My wife is facing the same situation. My son is fine,
whatever the option. Fortunately for us, we do have options.
So, while I have only presented my sons case and its impact on my family and
me, I am more concerned with other worthy migrants who eagerly come to
Canada to contribute to this country, and maybe, leaving all options behind,
suddenly find themselves denied the possibility of remaining in Canada
because a member of their family has a disability that is considered likely to
cause an excessive demand on this countrys health and social services.
My major concern, however, lies with what all this means for Canada, itself. I
completely understand and endorse any countrys attempts to ensure the
safety, security and wellbeing of its people. The precautions Canada takes
regarding the admittance of persons who may threaten the safety and security
of the people within its borders, is worthy of emulation. But I ask myself,
should a country with the stature of Canada, or any country, for that matter,
not be grand enough to differentiate between the noble duty of securing itself
against dangerous criminal activity, on the one hand, and the pettiness and
demeaning act of considering what a person with a disability might cost the
state, on the other. It is clear to me that the true Canada makes this
distinction. The true Canada is revealed in its Charter of Rights and
Freedoms, where it clearly states: Every individual is equal before and under
the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law
without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race,
national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical
disability. In contrast, what may be an aberration and anti-Canadian, is Article
38 (1c) of the IRPA, where it states that A foreign national is inadmissible on
health grounds if their health condition might reasonably be expected to cause
excessive demand on health or social services. What is undoubtedly beyond
the pale (and against Canadas Charter of Rights and Freedoms), is to
presuppose that a person with Down syndrome is by definition unhealthy, and
to discriminate them for manifesting a particular form of mental or physical
disability. To place people with Trisomy 21 under the category of Health
reasons for inadmissibility is, if anything, medically incorrect. Were Article 38
of the IRPA to place them correctly under a category, it should read Grounds
for Inadmissibility based on Disability. But then, this would reveal the
blatant discrimination and unconstitutionality of the article.

Many others before us have been denied admissibility to Canada for the same
reason my son could be denied. Although I would like to see my application for
permanent residency have a positive outcome, and be able to continue working
at the amazing Faculty of Environmental Studies of York University, alongside a
fabulous interdisciplinary team of colleagues, to dedicate ourselves to
improving social and environmental justice and wellbeing in Canada and
around the world, it is not to defend my particular case that I am moved to
write this letter. It is rather, to spark a debate that might lead to erasing this
blemish on Canadas honor, a blemish that is unbelievable and abhorrent to
most people who learn about it, foreign nationals and Canadians alike. It is, to
say the least, unbecoming of this country. I am sure the majority of Canadians
would agree. If I might contribute to the discussion that one day eliminates
this aberration, then our adventure in Canada, whether temporary or
permanent, will have achieved its greatest goal.
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter, and I would ask you to do
what you can with the power and authority invested in you to revise Section
38(1)(c) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, if for no other reason
than, as our Prime Minister would say, because its 2016!
For a five minute video about our case, you can watch Inadmissible Nico:

Felipe Montoya-Greenheck, Ph.D

James and Joanne Love Chair in Neotropical Conservation
Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University