Wish you were here

Leziel Johnstone really needed her mom this week. The young Filippino woman gave birth to her first child - a healthy baby boy - and she wanted her mom, who's also a midwife, to be with her through the birthing and aftercare.

Leziel Johnstone really needed her mom this week.

The young Filippino woman gave birth to her first child – a healthy baby boy – and she wanted her mom, who’s also a midwife, to be with her through the birthing and aftercare.

But Immigration Canada said, “No.”

Clarita Mahilum was not allowed to visit Canada for the birth of her first grandchild.

Her only crime?


“We are indigenous” says Leziel, who married Whitehorse resident Vaughan Johnstone and moved to Canada early last summer.

“Back in the Philippines my parents grow sugarcane, rice and corn, but they don’t get money every week – only a few times a year when the crop is ready.”

The newlyweds began the paperwork to get Mahilum to Canada for a visit as soon as they learned the exciting news that they were to become parents in March. And while citizens from affluent countries simply hop on a plane to visit Canada, those from poor countries like the Philippines must apply for a temporary resident visa.

After months of legalities, the Canadian Embassy in Manila issued a letter of refusal to the 51-year-old Filipino. It states:

“I am not satisfied … that you would leave Canada at the end of the temporary period if you were authorized to enter … I am not satisfied that you have sufficient funds, including income or assets, to carry out your stated purpose in going to Canada or to maintain yourself while in Canada and to effect your departure.”

Simply put, immigration officials think Mahilum will skip out and hide in Canada rather than return to her homeland.

Vaughan is outraged.

“It really is insulting to (Mahilum) to imply that she is only anticipating a chance to set foot in Canada so that she can abandon a husband of 35 years, six children, a family farm, friends and relatives. She doesn’t speak English and has no connections other than us,” he says.

Vaughan even indicated he would pay the return-ticket flight, buy medical insurance and cover all of his mother-in-law’s expenses during the five weeks they hoped to have her here. He even provided documents to prove his employment and financial status are both sound.

Immigration spokesperson Johanne Nadeau, in Vancouver, says she understands that people feel disappointed. Nadeau could not say how much money a citizen of the Philippines would need in order to be eligible to visit Canada.

“There are no formal guidelines. It is up to the visa officer’s judgment.”

The Johnstones would like to ask specific details about the refusal but the letter states “the application is closed and not subject to reconsideration.”

Nadeau says the only appeal would be through the courts, not directly with Immigration itself.

Meanwhile, Leziel wants to ask her mom questions about recovery from childbirth. In their culture the umbilical cord would have been cut longer and preserved for good luck, long life and for medicinal uses.

“My mom delivers all the babies in our rural area and takes care of their health until they are two or three years old. She uses traditional herbs to make medicines. If she was here she would rub her special coconut oil on my back for the pain.”

The proud father who grew up in Ottawa has had his faith in Canada shaken.

“We see the Canadian government providing help to earthquake victims in Haiti and in other needy places around the world and we figure Canada is very kind, generous, fair. But this situation really speaks to what is most valued by the government of Canada. And that is wealth. If my mother-in-law lived in a wealthy, western, white country, she’d be here with us right now – no problems whatsoever.”

In a day or two the couple will walk out the doors of Whitehorse General Hospital with their tiny baby. They’ll go home. From there they will call the homeland of their baby’s grandparents to share the good news of the birth.

Vaughan says he’ll hear his wife talking excitedly in her native language, she’ll become animated with pride, and then, on the other end of the phone, he will hear weeping.

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