March 23, 2009

By Mike Damour, Cowichan News Leader and Pictorial

After more than 20 years of living and contributing to the Cowichan Valley, an ailing U.S. couple has been ordered out of Canada.

Patrick and Ann Little came to the valley more than 20 years ago to tend to Patrick’s sick mother, a Canadian citizen.

“We didn’t plan on staying in Canada until later on (in the mid-’80s) — when my mother died,” said Patrick who noted over the years the couple has traversed the border more than 100 times and never ran into a problem.

“We’ve been to China, Burma, Turkey and come back to Canadian ports of entry and nobody ever questioned us.”

Now the Littles have until Thursday to get out of the country.

“Our understanding, and it was a common understanding, that a seasonal resident could purchase a home in Canada and live in it as long as they got out for 24- or 48-hours every six months or so,” said Patrick, 73.

The retired legal administrator/insurance consultant said he was shocked at the demand to leave Canada.

“We’re not trying to make trouble for Canada, we want to comply and co-operate but they need to see us other than, to quote the man at the border: ‘illegal Mexican immigrants that are taking something from Canada’ when we’ve done nothing but give.”

The trouble started at the Peace Arch when Ann, 63, returned from a day trip to Washington State.

When questioned, she told Canadian officials she’d been to Bellingham to do some shopping and pick up her husband’s medication and was returning to her “cottage in the woods” in Duncan.

“A second immigration agent began rummaging through Ann’s purse and he held something up and said, ‘What’s this? You can’t go to school here,’” Patrick said.

It turns out “school” was Ann’s enrolment in a bridge class to learn and play the card game.

Patrick said his wife was interrogated for five hours.

Finally at 8 p.m., immigration officials let her go, but said she was to return to the same office at 11 a.m., Thursday with Patrick and any animals and belongings.

“They told Ann unless we can prove we’d been out of Canada for six consecutive months, you are being deported, no ifs ands or buts” he said.

“When my wife finally got home and told me what happened, I just wanted to curl up into a ball and die,” he said in a voice cracking with emotion.

Patrick said now he realizes he didn’t follow the letter of the law, but he and his wife love life in the valley, have never been in trouble with the law and have contributed much during their time here.

For example, a neighbour who lost a building and much equipment is receiving a truck and a tractor with all the implements from the couple.

The Littles also set up a fund at a local vets to pay for treatments some pet owners could never afford.

In the past couple of years Patrick suffered a stroke and is nearly blind. Wife Ann has suffered severe heart problems for the past several years.

The couple is now in need of a little charity of their own.

And that just may be possible, said a lawyer who specializes in immigration matters.

“It sounds like immigration is saying ‘you can leave or we’ll take proceedings against you that could lead to a deportation,’” said David Cohen, an immigration lawyer with the Montreal-based Campbell-Cohen law firm.

“A visitor has no absolute right to be in Canada, but in this case an application for permanent residence, based on compassionate and humanitarian grounds, may be in order.”

Canadian Immigration officials were contacted Friday, but said they would not be able to comment on the case until next week.

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