Broken Vows: Marrying for immigration, not love
Published Saturday, October 24, 2009 9:10PM EDT
Lainie Towell had the kind of wedding any bride would envy. A handsome, charismatic groom, an exotic location, and hundreds of people dancing in the streets. Little did she know the love of her life was really only interested in her for her Canadian citizenship.
Towell met her future husband, Fode Mohamed Soumah, when she traveled to Guinea West Africa in 2004 to study choreography. He was a drummer in a band and they seemed to have an immediate connection. "We spent a lot of time together and we became very close and we became romantically involved," said Towell.
Three more trips followed and in 2007 Lainie and Soumah -- known as Akra to his friends -- were married in a spectacular ceremony that culminated in 300 guests dancing and drumming in the streets. "I was the happiest woman alive."
But that marital bliss wouldn't last long. Ten days after the couple returned to Towell's hometown of Ottawa she caught Akra writing an email back to Guinea. She was shocked to see the man of her dreams was writing about a baby that he had fathered while they were engaged. Confronting Akra about his duplicity, led to an admission that, in fact, he was the father.
A few days later, Akra disappeared. After a frantic search, Towell finally reached her husband on his cell phone. "He said to me he never loved me. He told me that he could go on welfare and that I was responsible for paying back the government."
Towell's dreams were shattered and she realized that, as his sponsor, she would indeed be responsible for him for three years, until he could apply for Canadian citizenship.
Every year over 30,000 new immigrants get married, become permanent residents and move to Canada. While most of those marriages are legitimate and long lasting, some people will go to any length to make Canada their home. Citizenship and Immigration Canada insists that it does what it can to make sure the marriages are legitimate, but admit that there are thousands of Canadian men and women who find out, once their spouse arrives here, that they have been duped, and have become victims of marriage fraud.
Immigration lawyer Julie Taub has heard dozens of stories like Towell's. "Unfortunately, Citizen and Immigration Canada and Canada Border Services Agency doesn't get around to investigating the vast majority of complaints that are submitted," said Taub.
She argues that the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which gives people their permanent residency the minute they land in Canada, is the root of the problem. "In the United States and Australia, for example, citizens of course can sponsor their spouses. But the spouses, once they are accepted and processed, do not acquire permanent resident status upon landing," says Taub. "They acquire conditional status or temporary status for two or three years. And if the marriage is still intact...then they can apply for their permanent status."
It may sound like a sensible idea to some, but don't expect that kind of change to Canada's immigration laws any time soon. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says he sympathizes, but that victims like Towell need to acknowledge their role in creating the problem. "They have to accept some responsibility though for marrying this person and for vouching for them and for sponsoring them into the country," said Kenney in an interview with W5's Victor Malarek. "At the end of the day, the government's not responsible for people's individual decisions."
As for Lainie Towell, she complained repeatedly to immigration officials and eventually her husband was ordered deported. Not for marriage fraud, but because he didn't disclose the fact he had fathered a child. As a permanent resident though, Soumah has appealed the decision and until all his legal avenues are exhausted he can continue living in Canada.