A Syrian man gave $120,000 to Canada to migrate here. Then he died. Now his family is out of luck
Elias Sabee applied to Quebec’s immigrant investor program in 2008, but was still waiting when he was killed in a bombing in Aleppo last November.
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With money from his family and profits from the skin care business he ran in Syria, Elias Sabee applied for the Quebec Immigrant Investor Program in 2008.
He invested $120,000 in cash into the province’s economy through Desjardins Trust Inc., an intermediary, and took out a loan to finance the balance of the required $400,000 total to meet the threshold of the immigration program in exchange for permanent residency. Then the waiting began.
As Syria plunged into a full-scale civil war in 2011, the 62-year-old businessman became desperate to get himself and his family to safety in Canada and repeatedly hounded Canadian immigration officials for updates on the application
That ended last November when Sabee was killed in a bombing. He had remained at his home in Aleppo with his wife to guard his property after smuggling his children out of Syria.
Now his wife and three grown children — all refugees in limbo across France and Germany — are fighting to get a refund on his investment in Canada after immigration officials rejected the family’s application because the principal applicant is no longer alive.
“If we had received our immigrant visa as was promised to my father, we could all be living together in Canada now in safety. But this is just a dream that can never come true now,” said Jeanine, Sabee’s daughter, 26, who was sent away to Lebanon by her parents in 2014 and is now a refugee in Heilbronn, Germany.
“We ask for our father’s life savings to be returned to us because we and our mother need the money to live and survive without our father, our caretaker.”
The Quebec investor program requires applicants to make a financial investment in the province. Applicants could choose to make a $400,000 deposit (which has since been raised to $1.6 million) or a partial deposit with the balance paid through financing with an approved lender in Quebec.
The immigrant investor program was created by Ottawa to attract foreign investment in exchange for permanent residency in Canada. Applicants must invest a required amount in Canadian businesses for five years.
Under the normal circumstances, investors who do not take out a loan to finance their investment are reimbursed the full amount after five years. Those who choose to take a loan may not be reimbursed the full amount of their deposit, depending on the amount of interest and other fees that are owed.
According to the family, Sabee signed an agreement with Desjardins Trust Inc. in November 2008. Rather than pay the entire $400,000 prescribed in the contract, he paid $120,000 and took out a $320,166 loan arranged through Desjardins with Caisse Centrale Desjardins Inc. Desjardins Trust’s business immigration operation was later purchased by Auray Capital Canada.
Citing client confidentiality, Desjardins declined to comment on Sabee’s case for this story, but a letter obtained by the Star to the family from the company in rejecting their request for refund, said Sabee was reminded that his total investment would be used to cover the financing costs.
“Desjardins duly accomplished its duties in this situation and we can only reiterate that at any moment, there is no money to be reimbursed or returned to your clients,” the company said in a letter to the family’s lawyer.
In response to the Star’s inquiry, Auray Capital said its purchase of the Desjardins business immigration program “did not include Mr. Elias Sabee’s file since his investment. . . had already been made in February 2010 and this file remained under the control of Desjardins Trust.”
A spokesperson for Quebec’s Immigration Ministry refused to comment on Sabee’s immigration application.
“It is important to remember that the (the ministry) does not intervene in the funding process. It is a private contract between the client and the financial institution of their choice,” the spokesperson said in an email to the Star.
The family said Sabee entered the Desjardins agreement under the understanding that his application would be processed within a year or two and the contract had no provisions about recourse to the investor if an application is not decided within five years or if the principal applicant dies while it’s in process.
“He was given a decision only as a result of his death. The Canadian government, as well as Desjardin and Auray, as agents of the Canadian governments, have benefited and continue to benefit from the investor immigrant program tremendously,” said Danielle Asaad, Sabee’s niece in Cleveland, who is helping the family.
“We urge Desjardins, Auray and the Canadian government to return my uncle’s money to his children as the money is rightfully theirs and they need it to live and survive.”
Asaad said the family was asked by immigration officials to submit a humanitarian application that would let them into Canada, but the door was closed after they failed to compile the documentation needed for the process.
Sabee’s elder son, Michel, said the family has lost everything in the war and everyone is in difference places in Germany and France.
“My father sent so many emails to the Canadian Embassy in Amman asking for an answer on his application and all he received is that it is under review or they could not verify his identity. He sent emails explaining the dangers he is living in and he was ignored over and over,” he said from his current shelter in Helmstadt-Bargen, Germany.
“We have lost our father, the soul of our family. We are living from the outside but dead from the inside. You see the many emails that my father sent to the Canadian embassy that were ignored, which haunt me everyday.”
While the family may not have a strong legal case under the terms prescribed in the contract Sabee signed, their lawyer, Robert Cohen, said it is “unfair and unconscionable” for the parties to profit from his client’s circumstances.
“If it’s not because of the (processing) delay, the family could’ve been in Quebec now,” said Cohen. “This is a tragic story. I feel Desjardins shouldn’t just hide behind the standard contract language. It has the moral responsibility to do the right thing.”