Pressure mounts to stop deportation of Courtenay man who came to Canada as a baby

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen is facing calls to reverse the deportation of a 59-year-old man with bipolar disorder

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen is facing calls to reverse the deportation of a 59-year-old man with bipolar disorder who lived in Canada since he was eight months old.

Len Van Heest of Courtenay, B.C., was deported to the Netherlands this week after a string of criminal convictions for uttering threats, mischief and assault that his lawyer says were linked to his mental illness.

His brother Daniel Van Heest expressed his anger at judges and immigration officials who allowed the deportation to happen. He said his brother is now in the care of family in the Netherlands with the help of the Salvation Army.

“Needless to say his mental faculties have been stressed to the max,” he said. “The system is skewed. Mentally ill people should never be deported. It is wrong.”

Lawyer Peter Golden said Van Heest’s parents didn’t seek citizenship for him. The last time he was in the Netherlands he was in diapers, he doesn’t speak Dutch and doesn’t know his relatives there.

“However kind and well-meaning they are, the stresses of this whole process of removal will be difficult for him. He hasn’t made connections with people very easily in the past.”

Van Heest was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he was 16, said Golden. By the time he was old enough to seek citizenship for himself, he had a criminal record and could not apply.

His last conviction was in 2012. He has been ordered removed from Canada in the past but has previously won stays on deportation, Golden said.

In January, a Federal Court judge rejected Van Heest’s challenge of a Canada Border Services Agency officer refusing to defer his removal order. Last week he lost a last-ditch attempt for a stay, and on Monday he was deported to Amsterdam.

“It’s really an example of criminalization of mental illness,” said Golden. “The criminal justice system isn’t designed to deal with people like Len.”

He said Van Heest was ensnared by legislation introduced by the former Conservative government in 2012, which banned non-citizens from appealing deportation after being sentenced to six months in jail. Previously, people could appeal if they were sentenced to less than two years.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada was unable to respond to questions Wednesday.

The man’s 81-year-old mother, Trixie Van Heest, who Golden said has a very close relationship with her son, sounded distraught when reached by phone. She said she could not talk about the matter anymore and hung up.

Former British Columbia premier Ujjal Dosanjh, who also previously served in a federal Liberal cabinet, has written two open letters to the immigration minister about the case.

“It’s one of the most mind-boggling things I’ve seen this government do — totally heartless, without compassion and mercy,” Dosanjh said in an interview.

“We can talk about how compassionate we are to refugees. We’ve now made one of our own a refugee in a different country.”

Green party Leader Elizabeth May has also urged the immigration and public safety ministers to take action. She’s calling on them to repeal the Conservative legislation.

“This is just a heartbreaking case of harsh, rigid laws that did not allow for a sensible decision,” she said. “I do think the ministers should have intervened and I will continue to press them to do something to redress this injustice.”

The United Nations human-rights committee criticized Canada in 2015 over a similar case. A 52-year-old Jamaican man with schizophrenia, who had immigrated to Canada as a teenager, was deported in 2011 over criminal convictions.

Wendy Richardson, executive director of the John Howard Society of North Island, which represents northern Vancouver Island, said many people the society works with are involved in the criminal justice system as a result of trauma or mental illness.

“I believe we measure the quality of a society, the value of a society, by how we treat those who are vulnerable,” she said.

“I think it speaks poorly of our society that we would send away into a strange world with no supports a man who has lived his entire life here and who has suffered illnesses that were not his fault.”

 

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version misspelled Courtenay, B.C.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Comox Community Baptist Church celebrates 40 years

“For the Lord is good and His love endures forever: His faithfulness… Continue reading

Famed brother, Africa inspire Comox artist Monica Meyer Huisamen

She already sold several works since this week’s opening at Milano

Courtenay’s first privately-owned retail cannabis store now open

Courtenay’s first privately-owned retail cannabis outlet is open for business. La Pachi… Continue reading

Possibly stolen goods recovered by Comox Valley RCMP

Was your car broken into recently?

Herb Alpert tribute coming to Courtenay

One of the favourite Georgia Straight Jazz Society shows presented at Thursday… Continue reading

Comox Valley Beefs & Bouquets for the week of Jan. 21

Bouquets to and from the Adopt-a-Grandparent program; beef to people setting off fireworks

‘Presumptive case’ of coronavirus in Canada confirmed by Ontario doctors

Man in his 50s felt ill on his return to Canada from Wuhan, China

VIDEO: Drone footage shows extent of damage in Highway 4 rockslide

Tofino, Ucluelet still cut off from rest of the island, as crews work to repair roadway

People knowingly take fentanyl so make policy changes to reduce harm: B.C. study

Dr. Jane Buxton, an epidemiologist at the centre, says drug users need more resources,

‘My heart is going to bleed’: Bodies brought back to Canada following Iran plane crash

Remains of Sahar Haghjoo, 37, and her eight-year-old daughter, Elsa Jadidi, were identified last weekend

BCLC opens novelty bet on Harry and Meghan moving to the west coast

Meanwhile, real estate agency points to four possible homes for the family

Canada slips in global corruption ranking in aftermath of SNC-Lavalin scandal

The country obtained a score of 77, which places it at the top in the Americas

Wuhan bans cars, Hong Kong closes schools as coronavirus spreads

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said her government will raise its response level to emergency, highest one

Most Read