December 20, 2015
Bipolar man on verge of deportation to a country he left as a baby - 57 years ago
By Tom Blackwell
Len Van Heest is now planning a last-ditch application to the new Immigration minister, John McCallum, for a permanent stay of deportation, said his...
A 57-year-old man who immigrated to Canada as a baby is on the verge of being deported from the only country he's known because of a string of crimes triggered by severe mental illness.
Len Van Heest - diagnosed with bipolar disorder in British Columbia at age 16 - is just the latest, dramatic example of a growing trend, say some immigration lawyers.
Increasing numbers of adult immigrants who came here as small children and developed psychiatric or neurological conditions now face removal after the previous government toughened the law on non-citizen criminals, they say.
The Canada Border Services Agency detained Len Van Heest last Wednesday and plans to send him to the Netherlands, though he doesn't speak Dutch and has not lived there since he was in diapers.
We're just dumping someone in another country
The Vancouver Island man neglected to become a Canadian citizen, so falls under legislation that lets the government expel immigrants who commit serious crimes.
A Federal Court judge has just upheld the denial of Van Heest's application to remain on humanitarian and compassionate grounds - and rejected his claim that deportation to the Netherlands would be cruel and unusual punishment.
"I don't think it's fair at all," said Peter Golden, his Victoria-based lawyer. "I don't think we can treat someone who has these vulnerabilities just like we treat everybody else ...We're just dumping someone in another country."
Golden said he is worried that his client will end up on the streets in Holland, without his required drug treatment. "In all probability, it's a death sentence for him."
Van Heest is now planning a last-ditch application to the new Immigration minister, John McCallum, for a permanent stay of deportation, said his lawyer.
But a spokesman for the Canada Border Services Agency said the decision to remove someone from Canada "is not taken lightly," and that various avenues of appeal are open to those facing deportation.
Van Heest was twice given a reprieve from removal, only to relapse into criminal activity, noted another immigration lawyer."I think in this particular case, as the court notes, there were just too many strikes against this fellow," said Sergio Karas, vice-chair of the Ontario Bar Association's immigration section. What's more, "in the Netherlands, you're going to get perhaps even better (mental-health) support than here."
There were just too many strikes against this fellow
Still, the United Nations' human-rights committee criticized Canada earlier this year for another, similar decision: the 2011 deportation of a 52-year-old Jamaican man who had immigrated as a teenager and committed crimes related to his schizophrenia.
Since the Conservatives tightened the law in 2013, lawyers are seeing more such removal cases, "where people came to Canada as children and developed either mental illness or brain injury due to an accident," Golden said.
The deportation rule now kicks in with a sentence of six months or more - down from two years - and there is no longer a right to appeal to the Immigration Appeal Division.
"Across the board, immigration lawyers would say they have been seeing more of these cases," echoed Jennifer Stone, a lawyer at Neighbourhood Legal Services in Toronto. "This fact scenario is one that I see somewhat commonly, and it's a real problem."But Karas said the six-month rule makes sense, since under the old law many judges were imposing sentences of just below two years solely to avoid deportation.
According to the Federal Court ruling earlier this month, Van Heest arrived in Canada at eight months old and was a teenager when diagnosed with bipolar - where altered brain function triggers occasionally severe and disabling mood swings.
The disease causes manic episodes where he becomes agitated and hostile, harming himself and others, said Justice George Locke. He has a lengthy criminal record - usually racked up when he goes off his treatment - with about 32 police reports filed just in 2012.
Van Heest was first ordered removed from Canada in 2008, but twice won stays on deportation, and each time breached the conditions by getting in more trouble with the law, said the decision. Most recently, he was charged with uttering a threat and possession of a dangerous weapon - which Golden said was a kitchen knife.
He applied for reinstatement of his permanent residence on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, but an immigration officer rejected the request.
Golden says his client is tall, burly and bearded - making him look somewhat threatening - but he has never done serious harm to anyone.
Justice Locke - who could only review whether the immigration officer's decision was reasonable, not retry the case - cited evidence from a Dutch psychiatrist that as a citizen of Holland, Van Heest would receive treatment there, and that most Dutch people speak at least some English.