VANCOUVER – Women’s organizations, newcomer advocacy groups and ethno-specific organizations expressed concern over the federal government’s plan to introduce “conditional permanent residence” for some sponsored spouses.
The organizations believe that the proposal will increase the risk of spousal abuse, especially among newcomer women.
“Women will be forced to stay in violent or abusive relationships for fear of deportation,” said Angela Marie MacDougall, Executive Director of Battered Women’s Support Services in Vancouver.
According to the proposal, if a sponsored spouse leaves a relationship within two years of arrival in Canada, he or she could be stripped of status in Canada and deported.
The problems of sponsored women being abused by their partners is nothing new for those working in the settlement sector like Sarah Amies, Program Director at Lethbridge Family Services – Immigrant Services, who is frustrated that this measure will make newcomer women even more vulnerable to abuse. “We regularly serve sponsored women fleeing violent partners. If this measure passes, these women will no longer have the option to escape, and will be forced to withstand abuse in order to avoid being deported,” Ms. Amies said.
“The sponsorship system already makes sponsored spouses dependent, but this measure would open the door to situations of manipulation and control,” said Alexa Conradi, President of the Fédération des femmes du Québec.
There are already provisions in place to address misrepresentation by immigrants, including any who falsely claim to be in a relationship. “There is no evidence that this is a significant problem that needs to be addressed with further legal measures, especially one that increases the risk of violence against women. This proposal is part of an increasingly negative government discourse unfairly linking newcomers to fraudulent behaviour,” said Wanda Yamamoto, President of the Canadian Council for Refugees.
The organizations are also concerned that people from certain countries of origin may be targeted and the measure may be applied in a discriminatory manner. “The Indian community is being unfairly targeted – the claims of ‘marriage fraud’ by Indians are exaggerated. Given this stereotyping we fear that Indians will be discriminated against in the application of the proposed new measure,” stated Shalini Konanur of the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario.
Women’s organizations have denounced the impact of similar measures already in place in Australia, the UK and the United States. Women who have precarious status often feel forced to remain in an abusive relationship for fear of being deported, and in some cases separated from their children.
Citizenship and Immigration minister Jason Kenney has recently stated that he intends to introduce the measure before the year’s end.
Fifty organizations across Canada have signed on to a statement of opposition to the proposal.