Art Melange’s owner Mariana Giaccaglia took one of her final orders for a specially made pair of stone earrings on Wednesday afternoon.
After 18 months in business she’s hung a sign on the door of her shop in the Horwood’s Mall that reads: “Last chance to buy this jewelry.”
“I’m not closing because the store is not profitable. It’s because the circumstances in my life don’t let me stay here during the days,” said Mariana, while her two-year-old daughter Valentina played with a My Little Pony doll at her feet.
“All of my customers are sad.”
Mariana’s mother, Maria Gabriela Tudela, used to help with childcare.
But Citizenship and Immigration Canada refused the Argentineans’ claim for refugee status and sent Mariana’s mother, father and little brother back to Buenos Aires three weeks ago.
In late February, the family received a call telling them they had two weeks to leave the country or face deportation.
“It took us by surprise,” said Mariana.
“It was before the Canada Winter Games and we couldn’t do a lot because everybody was busy,” she said.
So the family, armed with nearly 40 letters of recommendation from community members, applied to stay in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
Minutes before Mariana’s parents and youngest brother left for the airport, they received another call telling them that application was also refused.
The family doesn’t feel safe in Buenos Aires, but it had trouble proving it would be in imminent danger if it returned there, said Mariana’s 19-year-old brother Marcelo.
Mariana and Marcelo, whose immigration status is different from that of their parents, are the only two family members left in Whitehorse.
Mariana’s husband, who is from Colombia, was granted refugee status.
“When you apply for refugee status it’s either they believe you or they don’t believe you. My husband they believed. My parents they didn’t believe,” she said.
Instead of being forcibly removed from the country, the Giaccaglias left on their own accord before the government’s deadline.
They paid for their own airplane tickets, which ate up a lot of the family’s savings.
“They’ve got nothing back home,” said Marcelo. “They’re going back with their hands empty.”
Mariana’s youngest brother Lucio, who is 17, has a learning disability that makes it impossible for him to read or write.
“He, especially, is the one I’m most worried about,” said Mariana.
“There is a lot of discrimination in my country — people will make fun of them on the street and teachers won’t help them.”
More than the loss of her shop, Mariana is pining for her family’s love and support.
“For me there will never be a good enough reason to split up a family,” said Mariana.
“Families are the most important group —when you’re alone who’s going to take care of you?
“It doesn’t make sense,” she said.
“My child will ask for her grandparents and I don’t know what to tell her.”
Mariana is also asking why a government policy is turfing capable workers from a city that’s suffering a staffing shortage.
“It’s contradictory because the industry needs workers and they’re kicking workers out of the country,” she said.
While Mariana’s mother helped her with childcare and running the store, her father, Daniel, worked as a janitor at the High Country Inn and her youngest brother, 17-year-old Lucio, worked at the Superstore.
“These people fill all the positions nobody else wanted,” said Marcelo.
The Giaccaglias are speaking out because they want change.
“Some people get deported and they don’t say anything about it,” said Marcelo.
“We want to let people know what’s happening so that the government can hear it and there’s a chance of changing,” said Mariana.
The Giaccaglias arrived in Canada five years ago, crossing the border near Niagara Falls in a taxi.
“We came to Canada in hopes that we might fit in here,” said Marcelo.
They were one of a dozen immigrant families who moved to Whitehorse in 2005. They hoped living in the sparsely populated North would give them a better chance of staying in the country.
People will do whatever they can to stay in Canada and the families headed north under that false assumption.
It was a common misconception, said Refugee Centre director Francisco Rico Martinez from Toronto.
“People were dreaming — they thought that if they moved to a place that was less populated than southern Ontario, Immigration Canada would be more inclined to accept them.
“But if you review the immigration act, that concept doesn’t exist.”
A few weeks later, the centre managed to stop a second group of 50 immigrants from leaving Ontario for the North.
As a small Canadian city, Whitehorse doesn’t have the capacity to deal with the needs of dozens of immigrants on a daily basis, said Martinez.
“The people who were in Whitehorse were phoning and saying that the situation was not that happy — they didn’t have lawyers, they didn’t know what to do, they didn’t have people to help them fill out the application.
“We received plenty of phone calls in the first month.”
Now two years later, Martinez believes the misconceptions have been corrected.
“Now I think the rumour has disappeared from the community.”
Citizenship and Immigration Canada does not comment on the status or outcomes of individual cases.
So where is home for the Giaccaglia family?
“Home?” Mariana said, and looked out the window of her small store for a few minutes in silence.
“Home was here,” she said.
Then she started crying.
“When I think about them there … it’s really risky and if something happens to them I cannot do anything,” she said.
“You hear gunfire all the time; people get robbed and people get knifed.”
Mariana is in the process of becoming a permanent resident of Canada.
Once she’s given that status, she can sponsor her parents to move back to the country.
But the process will take years and money that the family doesn’t have, said Mariana.