News / Toronto

Canada's no Down syndrome immigration law a case of 'discrimination': DSA Toronto

Local association petitions government to change the law, in support of a York University prof's family

Nico Montoya, a 13-year-old boy with Down syndrome, smiles in front of his mother Alejandra Garcia, at their home in Richmond Hill, Ont., on Saturday, March 19, 2016.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

Nico Montoya, a 13-year-old boy with Down syndrome, smiles in front of his mother Alejandra Garcia, at their home in Richmond Hill, Ont., on Saturday, March 19, 2016.

The government is discriminating against individuals with Down syndrome by using the condition to block immigration cases, one advocate says.

“There are a lot of people with Down syndrome who are leading normal and very productive lives,” said Bhaskar Thiagarajan, president of the Down Syndrome Association of Toronto.

“You can’t just shut the door on them like that,” he said, noting the association counts more than 700 members, most of whom are “very gifted” in fields like music and theatre.

“Discrimination based on someone’s genetic condition has to stop.”

The association is petitioning the government in support of Felipe Montoya, a York University environmental studies professor from Costa Rica whose family was denied permanent residency status because his 13-year-old son, Nico, has Down syndrome.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada claims Nico functions at the level of a three-year-old and could cost the system between $20,000 and $25,000 a year for special education and treatment support. But the family argues Nico is using the same publicly available resources as their daughter, who has no disability.

It’s an issue that hits home for Thiagarajan.

His sister has Down syndrome and leads a normal life in India, where she lives with their father. She has come to Canada on a visitor visa, but the family knows she wouldn’t qualify for permanent residency.

Because of that, the family may one day be forced to ask tough questions and make tough decisions.

“What happens when my dad passes?” he questioned. “We might have to go back to India to take care of her. This law is so unfair.”

Immigration lawyer Julie Bond said the government is strict about qualifications when it comes to illness and disability. Hundreds of applicants with health conditions, including Down syndrome, don’t get through the system.

She agrees the laws need to change. But, until then, the Montoyas will face the same fate as others.

“If Canada makes an exception for this family, they’ll have to make exceptions for so many other people,” she said.

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