Family, Facts, and Finally, Flexibility

January 15th, 2021

Kitti Toris is a young woman who turned 18 a few days ago. Born in Hungary, she came to Canada in 2016 to live with her sister and brother-in-law, Viktoria and Laszlo Radi.  

Kitti is estranged from her mother, and Viktoria and Laszlo Radi are Kitt’s legal guardians, in both Hungary and Canada. However, due to the complexity and expense of adoption procedures, the Radis never formally adopted Kitti. This important discrepancy meant that the Radis could not sponsor Kitti as a family member even though she was clearly a member of the family.

Instead, Kitti attempted to gain additional status in Canada variously through the pathways for temporary residents, students, and permanent residents, but all of these applications proved unsuccessful. In 2019 Kitti was ordered to leave Canada, but, having no remaining ties with Hungary, remained illegally in Canada.

Happily, in November 2020, Kitti learned that Canada now considered her a permanent resident. It appears that IRCC determined that Kitti qualified for family sponsorship as an orphaned minor relative. This designation is technically wrong, but correct in practical terms: Kitti’s mother is still living, but the two have no relationship, and it does not appear Kitti’s father has any role in Kitti’s life.  

Despite the legal uncertainty and ambiguity she experienced, Kitty is, in a sense, lucky. She qualified as a minor orphaned relative only a few months before she turned 18 and was no longer a minor. She benefited from media attention to her case, the activism of her family’s Member of Parliament, and the support of her family and community. She also found a decision-maker in IRCC who was more sympathetic to her case than others had been.

Others may not be so lucky. While Kitty’s situation has an apparently happy ending, the fact that she and her family were subjected in the first place to the anxiety and insecurity of her unclear immigration status is deeply disturbing. I would recommend that IRCC amend its regulations to make clear that it will treat minors who are practical, if not literal, “orphans” as orphans. In other words, the formal adoption requirement should be waived if there is other compelling evidence, such as guardianship, of the practical adoption of the orphan.

As I noted in a recent blog, the Canadian family continues to grow. Only a few months ago, the Federal Court of Canada made very clear mixed-orientation couples who are committed to building a life together also deserve recognition. Kitty Toris, an adoptee in all but name, is another example.

While in both cases the facts – and family ties – ultimately prevailed, stories such as Kitty’s indicate that family is too important a matter to leave to vague, varying, and arbitrary, discretion of government officials. Flexibility is good, but clarity and certainty are better. Canadians, and their families, deserve nothing less.

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