‘I married a man I don’t know,” says Evangeline Ramirez, 61, between sobs.
Her husband, Benjamin Toquero, 64, filed for divorce in the autumn. At that time, the Whitehorse woman learned his big secret.
He already had a wife and five children back in the Philippines, his country of origin.
Toquero admits to the existence of his previous marriage in court documents. That plainly contradicts his immigration papers, marriage certificate and even his divorce statement of claim against Ramirez, which all claim he’s single.
Yet, in Yukon’s Supreme Court, Ramirez is the one being punished.
Toqero is seeking half of Ramirez’s assets in a messy divorce settlement. He’s also seeking spousal support payments.
Earlier this month, Justice Leigh Gower awarded an interim payment of $1,500 to Toquero. So far, Ramirez has refused to pay.
“I’d rather go to jail or kill myself,” she says.
Now she runs the risk of being found in contempt of court.
So it goes in Canada’s topsy-turvy legal system when it comes to allegations of marriage immigration fraud.
“I hear it again and again across the country,” says Richard Kurland, a Vancouver-based immigration lawyer. “Because, at the family law bar, you don’t want to hear anyone’s story. First, you determine the money. This stuff may be relevant for later, but it ain’t relevant now. So it looks like she’s being strung up twice.”
Even if Toquero is found to have falsified his immigration documents, it could take many years before he’s deported, thanks to several levels of appeal, says Kurland.
“If he has good council, he may have a good case for compassionate humanitarian relief here.”
Toquero declined to comment for this story.
But, in a statement filed in court, he asserts he disclosed his other marriage to Ramirez early in their relationship and that it was her idea that he apply to immigrate as a single man.
Ramirez disputes this.
“I thought he liked me,” she says. “I thought he was a nice man. I thought he was single.”
Either way, Toquero’s court-filed explanation doesn’t get him off the hook, says Kurland.
Bigamy, or being married to two people, is illegal in Canada. So is entering false information on immigration papers.
“A bigamist is a bigamist is a bigamist,” he says. “Even if she did know, it’s still bigamy. He’s still out. The guy is facing the door. There’s no getting around that. And, because he never became a citizen, he’s exposed, in plain, open view.
“There was no gun to his head to hide a marriage and five kids.”
Such stories are especially familiar with Filipino immigrants, says Kurland, “because there’s no divorce in that country.”
Ramirez reported Toquero to immigration authorities and the RCMP in the autumn. To date, she’s heard nothing.
Their case is to go to trial in September. In the meantime, Toquero is living in one of Ramirez’s houses and driving her white Chevy Malibu.
Immigration officials are frequently swamped with complaints, says Kurland. Allegations of marriage fraud don’t attract the same attention as “drug-pushers, terrorists and guys who beat up on women.”
But recent changes made by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney should help, says Julie Taub, an Ottawa-based lawyer who considers marriage immigration fraud to be her “pet peeve.”
Last year, Kenney assigned one immigration officer the task of solely working on marriage fraud complaints. She plans to pass Ramirez’s complaint on to him.
To Taub, “This is an open-and-shut case.” And she’s more optimistic than Kurland about the possibility of Toquero being deported.
“This guy will be kicked out of Canada very shortly.”
Ramirez and Toquero struck up a pen pal relationship in 1989. Both originally hail from the Philippines, and both were working abroad at the time.
He was a boilermaker in Saudi Arabia. She was a nanny in Singapore.
He visited. They liked each other. They stayed in touch.
Ramirez arrived in Whitehorse in February of 1991. Toquero followed her in September of 1994. They married two months later at Whitehorse’s Sacred Heart Cathedral. By both accounts, it was not a happy relationship for long.
In court documents, he accuses her of making him labour away at her cleaning business from the moment he arrived and for little compensation. She accuses him of being sexually abusive.
A statement by one of Ramirez’s daughters, Sarah Yvonne, accuses Toquero of making sexual advances to her and other employees at the cleaning business. Toquero denies this.
In court documents, he admits to having committed adultery with a woman in 1997. The couple separated twice, but made amends.
Toquero lost his job as a janitor with the Department of Education. Two supervisors accused him of kissing them and touching their groins, according to court documents.
Toquero denies all this in a court-filed statement, accusing one woman of being “a big liar, jealous, mean and bossy” and the other of plotting a “conspiracy to destroy my life.”
He eventually received a $12,000 settlement from the government, he says in a court filing.
During the lead-up to divorce, in the summer of 2010, Toquero accused Ramirez of hiding his passport and immigration papers to prevent him from applying for citizenship, according to court documents.
Ramirez called the RCMP after the argument and told them Toquero had threatened to burn their home down – something he disputes.
She received a restraining order for one year. It expires in August.
Toquero insists he’s the one being harassed. In court statements, he alleges that Ramirez routinely threatened to have him deported.
From the moment he arrived at the airport, Ramirez put him to work at her janitorial business and only provided him a monthly allowance of several hundred dollars, he writes in a court document.
He denies being abusive.
“I have never hit her, but she has hit me,” he writes in a statement filed with the court.
Since their separation, Ramirez cancelled his vehicle insurance and the fuel delivery and electricity hookup to his home, he writes in court documents.
His two stepdaughters have been intimidated into denouncing him, he alleges.
“I do not think they will want to testify for me as I think they are afraid of losing their jobs.”
And Ramirez racked up a $12,000 Visa bill in his name, he alleges in court documents.
The one thing Toquero doesn’t contest is his previous marriage.
He wed Carmencita Duclayan August 27, 1966 in San Juan, La Union, according to documents filed in court. The marriage still appeared in the database of the Philippines’ National Statistics Office, as of March 23.
Also on record is a blurry photo of a young bride and groom, and a saccharine “pledge of love” certificate offered to Duclayan as a Valentine’s gift in 1990.
“I love you and I’ll always do, through every hour of everyday. I’m always thinking of you. For my greatest happiness in all my lifetime through is my only feeling of always loving you.”
Ramirez’s sister in the Philippines dug up these documents, following the divorce application, along with the birth certificates of five children.
All these documents have sat in court files since the autumn. It goes to show how the family court system is “ignorant” to the reality of immigration marriage fraud, says Taub.
“The court is actually, financially rewarding her estranged husband,” she says.
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