Stateless teen wins against the government, fight to get to Canada continues

Mar 13, 2020

Faiza Amin

A 14-year-old girl deemed stateless has taken the Canadian government to court and won, but her fight to get to Canada is still ongoing.

Widlene Alexis Earle, a teenager currently living with her Canadian family in the Dominican Republic, was the applicant in a federal hearing. The respondent was the former Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Minister Ahmed Hussen.

Widlene was born in the Dominican Republic to a Haitian mother who died when she was just a few years old, but both countries have refused to claim her, which means she is considered stateless. She lives in the DR with her adoptive father, Vaden Earle, his partner and their toddler.

For the last 10 years, the family hasn’t been successful in getting the government to approve Widlene’s immigration to Canada.

The response they get, Vaden says, is usually that the teen doesn’t have proper registration papers.

Vaden said Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has denied a total of three applications since 2010, one for permanent residency ten years ago, and two temporary resident permits (TRP). The most recent was a temporary resident permit application submitted in 2018, which was rejected one year later.

This is when the Earle family sought out legal action, and was advised to pursue a federal court appeal. The Judge, the Hon. Mr. Justice Barnes, reviewed submissions that characterized Widlene’s circumstances as one that is extremely unique and deserving of “Ministerial intervention”.

“There was a bias against Widlene’s case for some reason,” Vaden said. “There were all kinds of anomalies. There’s no legitimate grounds to reject this visa.”

Multiple rejections

The court documents also outlined why the most recent plea was refused: there’s proof Widlene has a Haitian birth certificate issued in 2006 and there were insufficient grounds for adoption, a biological father is listed on the documents and the documents signed by her grandmother are invalid because she signed using three crosses instead of a thumbprint.

In addition, the court says there aren’t sufficient grounds to warrant an approval on humanitarian and compassionate considerations.

Speaking with CityNews, Vaden said the government has a fake birth certificate on file and adds no one knows the girl’s biological father. The name the government has on file is actually Widlene’s uncle who has also signed an affidavit to that effect.

He also said their reasons for rejecting the applications are baseless. For instance, Vaden says they were told the applications which included her grandmother’s affidavit were submitted in the wrong language.

Earle said the government told him because Widlene’s grandmother speaks Creole, her affidavit should’ve been completed in a language she understood. But, that contradicted the government’s instructions that the paperwork must be submitted in either English or French.

The judge wrote that the officer considering the application, “almost entirely ignored Widlene’s personal circumstances,” adding that if the teen was separated from Vaden and sent to live in Haiti, she may not have the same protection.

In responding to the officer’s concerns about guardianship, the judge stated that Widlene’s grandmother swore before a Canadian consulate official in support of the TRP application. The decision also referenced Widlene’s status as stateless and an orphan, responding to the officer’s belief that this was a “minimal significance.”

“On the record presented, she was a de facto orphan if she left the care of the Earles,” the judge wrote. “The fact that she may have been a citizen of Haiti did not dissipate the concern that, without the care of the Earles, she would be at substantial risk in that country and in the Dominican Republic. The fact that, until the Earles came along, Widlene was living in poverty should have been a significant concern. Instead, that fact was effectively ignored.”

The court found that Widlene’s application is allowed, and should be re-determined by a different “decision-maker” who should take the findings into consideration. When the decision came in on Feb. 4, Vaden says the family was elated, optimistic that they’d all be able to come back home to Canada, with Widlene by their side.

“It felt good that after ten years, finally somebody in that level of authority says what should’ve been done a long time ago,” Earle said, speaking to CityNews from his home in the Dominican Republic. “She’s going to get justice finally, but here we are now, approaching the middle of March, no visa. We’re still stuck in this country. She’s still in danger.”

Earle now says the application is supposed to go back to the closest Canadian consulate, to be considered by another immigration officer who wasn’t connected to the case. They also can’t use any reasons listed in Widlene’s other applications that were denied by the government. Though the court decision is considered a win for them, Earle said the future remains unclear for Widlene, and their growing family, which also includes a toddler.

“They’re never going to find a visa officer that’s unbiased by this file, this has been in the news hundreds of time,” Earle said. “There’s no statute, there’s no time limit. They can sit on this file for ten years, never open it and have not broken the law.”

The government’s response

Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada says following the court’s ruling, an officer is currently re-determining Widlene’s TRP application, and will take “into account all relevant considerations.” Though it’s unclear when a decision will be rendered. To give the government an opportunity to respond to the claims made by Vaden, CityNews requested an interview and sent a series of questions in an email to the Ministry on Tuesday. The Ministry responded more than four hours after the deadline, with a statement citing privacy in reference to Widlene’s case.

“We understand that cases like these are complex and challenging for the families and individuals involved,” Shannon Ker writes on behalf of Nancy Caron, both spokespeople in the Ministry. “For privacy reasons, we cannot comment on specific cases, nor can the department release case details without the consent of the individuals involved.”

In previous years, Vaden has provided CityNews with the consent to access the information, however, the government spokesperson didn’t list that as a specification when confirming receipt of the request on Tuesday, or in the follow up emails explaining that their response would be delayed. In the original email, one of the questions the ministry was asked was how Widlene was supposed to meet certain requirements set out by the government, when her circumstances were unique. Also, how is the ministry responding to claims that the refusal of Widlene’s application is personal.

CityNews also reached out to Office of the Prime Minister, but a spokesperson said Minister Marco Mendicino’s office is best to speak on this, who replaced Hussen in cabinet following the federal election last year.

Widlene’s journey

This isn’t the first time Widlene’s story has been in the media. The teen’s case has been on the table of at least three different immigration ministers, all of each Vaden says he has personally confronted in person.

Back in 2017, Vaden flew to Hamilton to personally confront Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at an event, where both shook hands after the PM can be heard telling him, “We’re keeping an eye on it”, in reference to Widlene’s documents being submitted.

One year later, Earle came face to face with Minister Hussen, whose office ultimately rejected Widlene’s TRP application.

“Widlene’s interests still need to be paramount, they still need to be the number one consideration in this case,” Vaden said. “They went through lengths, to get Widlene’s file off the desk.”

In the last 10 years, the Earles have faced countless barriers, both in officially adopting Widlene and then in bringing her back to Canada.

Vaden met Widlene and her mother when she was an infant in a garbage dump in the Dominican Republic, where he ran a non-profit program that built homes for vulnerable people. When her mother died, Vaden, who was also adopted, said he made numerous attempts to adopt the little girl, even tracking down her family members and getting their blessings.

Months after the applications were submitted, the 2010 earthquake that hit Haiti further complicated matters, leading to the loss of adoption documentations.

“They put a three year moratorium on adoptions, to combat the potential of child trafficking and all other things that happens after a natural disaster, which is a good thing,” he said. “Now international adoption is absolutely impossible. Because you need a sending country and a receiving country. There’s no sending country because Widlene doesn’t belong to any country.”

Her stateless status has further complicated matters in the Dominican Republic and made her vulnerable to mass sweeps in the country. In recent years the Dominican Republic has escalated its controversial racist practice of mass deportations of Haitians.

That has left Vaden fearing for his daughter’s life, and there have been close calls where they’ve been chased, left stranded because of deportation roadblocks and Widlene has had a rifle pointed at her.

“I have nightmares about that incident every single night since that happened,” he said. “IRCC doesn’t care about human life.”

Widlene is currently in contact with her grandmother and two older sisters, and all three have been supportive, signed affidavits and signed oaths.

“Her grandmother was so supportive, she signed guardianship rights to us in 2009,” Vaden said. “She said, if you adopt her maybe she won’t die, that’s her exact quote.”

“A perfect storm”

Andrea Bastian, a regulated immigration consultant based in Vancouver, called Widlene’s case “a perfect storm,” a case unlike any other. Bastian added that she was surprised their TRP was refused because it was well-researched and the government’s rejection was a blow for everyone on the team.

“No one is really considering the welfare of a 14-year-old girl,” Bastian said. “There’s a lot of conversation about the possibility of a biological father or the current biological family members not signing a document properly, or could she repatriated. All sorts of possible scenarios that don’t really reflect the best interest of Widlene herself.”

Bastian, who was part of a team that worked on Widlene’s case, said Canada has legislation for these types of cases. Though she’s satisfied with the judge’s ruling, there are some outstanding challenges on the horizon that creates a certain of uncertainty. Though the courts are advising the government to reconsider Widlene’s case, there’s no exact time frame on how long the immigration officer can take in rendering a decision, leaving the Earle family and their immigration team here in Canada frustrated and cautiously optimistic.

“We would hope that given the dire circumstances of Widlene’s life and the pressure that her family is under, that the embassy would prioritize her case,” Bastian said. “I haven’t heard from the embassy, we don’t know what’s gong on. In the moment, we’re just waiting.”

Political support

Vaden has spent countless hours travelling back and forth between the Dominican Republic and Canada, at many times to meet with Canadian leaders to share Widlene’s story. There have been politicians from a number of parties, including the Liberals, who have openly supported the Earle family.

In an email statement, Scott Simms, the Liberal MP for Coast of Bays-Central-Notre Dame, tells CityNews he’s been communicating with the family over Widlene’s request to begin her life in Canada.

“This has been a very frustrating file going back for quite some time and I continue to keep in touch with the family and the Minister’s office so that Widlene can finally come home,” a statement from MP Simms read.

MP Peter Kent, who represents Thornhill, referenced the most recent court decision when posing a question to Minister Mendicino during Question Period.

“You can send the case back to Canada’s office or it can languish on an officer’s desk for years, or you could under the powers that you hold… grant a foreign nation permanent resident status or an exemption from the act,” MP Kent, the immigration critic, said. “Will you take a compassionate and humanitarian decision on this case now and end the risk that this child is facing now in hiding in very difficult circumstances in the Dominican Republic.”

MPP Kent also asked the Minister to commit to a time frame for a timely decision, and Minister Mendicino responded the review will be taken in a timely fashion. The Immigration Minister said he also had the opportunity to meet with Vaden, but wouldn’t commit to personally granting Widlene a permanent resident status.

“It is my position and the position of our government that we should let due process unfold, and we look forward to providing an update,” Minister Mendicino said.

Vaden flew to Canada a few weeks ago to confront Minister Mendicino at an event in Toronto. This week, he speaks to CityNews from his home in the Dominican Republic, with a full beard on his face that he’s grown for nearly three years, promising Widlene that he will only shave when she is granted her visa. Vaden said they are currently stranded in the Dominican Republic, not willing to leave their daughter Widlene alone, or without a family.

“From that moment, we made a commitment this little girl is going to be our daughter and she’s going to be our whole world,” Vaden said. “We’ve never wavered from that commitment.”